The Top 10 NFL Coaching Decisions of Week 2
This is the second edition of our weekly column where we analyze the top 10 head coaches' decisions from the prior weekend. The decisions in question don't always have to be about in-game strategy moves. It could be about player personnel decisions, specific game plans or a host of other potential topics that could lead to a coach winding up on the list.
These decisions can either be judged as good ones or bad ones. Some weeks there could be more than five good or five bad candidates, and in those cases, we will do our best to go with the most obvious choices.
It is not outside the realm of possibility that a coach could actually appear for both a good decision as well as a bad decision in the same week. In fact, we do have at least one coach who will appear on the list twice this week, for both a good and a bad decision.
Since everyone is an armchair quarterback, I am looking forward to the weekly challenge, and we will see what you think of the choices each week. If you feel strongly that some coaching decision should have made this list, but it didn't for some reason, then feel free to include your thoughts in the comments section.
Best Decision No 1: Tom Coughlin, New York Giants
The New York Giants were trailing the St. Louis Rams 3-0 in their "Monday Night Football" game, and it was mid-way through the first quarter. The Giants had already punted once before on the drive, but they got a gift when Rams rookie receiver Greg Salas muffed the punt, and the Giants recovered. Perhaps Giants head coach Tom Coughlin had a feeling that they could do no wrong on this drive.
But Coughlin found the Giants again faced with a fourth down on the drive. This time it was a 4th-and-4 at the Rams 32-yard line. Coughlin either could try a 49-yard field goal or attempt to go for it. He chose the latter.
Eli Manning attempted a pass down the sideline to Hakeem Nicks for 23 yards to the 9-yard line. The pass was incomplete, but the referee ruled that there was pass interference on the Rams, so the Giants were bailed out once again, with a 1st-and-goal. Manning eventually threw a touchdown pass to Nicks, and the Giants never looked back.
Worst Decision No. 1: Tom Coughlin, New York Giants
We will end the suspense of who the mystery coach is that is honored with both one good and one bad decision in the same game, but it is none other than Tom Coughlin.
Now I realize that some people are going to applaud this decision that he made, but I am not one of them. In their "Monday Night Football" game last evening against the St. Louis Rams, the Rams were driving down the field in their hurry up offense, and they got down inside the red zone.
All of a sudden, as if they were reading from a big cue card on the sidelines, two different Giants defenders (DB Deon Grant and LB Jacquian Williams) feigned that they were injured simultaneously and fell over on the turf. The referees had to stop the clock and wait for them to get off of the field. The Giants had time to regroup their defense.
While Coughlin accomplished his objective, he was making a travesty of the game in the process. It takes away from the integrity of the sport and from sucking it up and playing your best when you are tired. I equate this to tax attorneys looking for loopholes in the tax laws. Sure, you can do it, but it doesn't necessarily mean it is right.
Based on the poor acting of the Giants on the play in question, I would not be upset at all for the NFL to fine the Giants and Coughlin for conduct that is unprofessional to the sport.
Best Decision No. 2: Chan Gailey, Buffalo Bills
For those of you that were watching your normally schedule NFL game on Sunday, and then were told that the network was switching over to the conclusion of the Buffalo Bills versus Oakland Raiders contest, you were treated to a thrilling finish.
The Bills were on their way to finishing off a perfect second half of football, five total drives that resulted in five touchdowns. That specific feat had not been accomplished since 1988. As good as it gets.
But there was a key decision made by Gailey that I wanted to call attention to. The Bills were not only battling the Raiders defensive line, as they were frantically dialing up whoever they could to blitz Ryan Fitzpatrick and force him into a turnover, but they were battling the clock as well. The Bills had the ball at the Raiders 15-yard line and the game was hanging in the balance.
The key decision came with 27 seconds left in the game, after a second-down pass by Fitzpatrick was almost intercepted in the end zone by Chris Johnson, (except that Donald Jones turned into a defensive back and stripped the ball away from Johnson or the game would have been over).
The clock was already stopped due to the incomplete pass, but Gailey sensed that Fitzpatrick was somewhat frazzled. So, he wisely called a time out and settled down his quarterback.
They reviewed the situation, discussed their options, and Fitzpatrick calmly came back and hit on his next two passes to David Nelson to complete the final 15 yards and score the winning touchdown. As somebody who regularly watches the Bills play every week, this is the kind of drive last year that could have easily resulted in a turnover—and almost did.
Gailey is learning more about how to properly coach Fitzpatrick, and that was very evident to me in the last 27 seconds.
Worst Decision No. 2: Norv Turner San Diego Chargers
I am quite certain that if you ask Norv Turner, head coach of the San Diego Chargers, if he would want to take back the second quarter decisions he made last week at New England, he would jump at the chance.
Early in the second quarter, it was a tight game with New England up 10-7. The Chargers had the ball at the 1-yard line and on 4th-and-goal to go at the one, Turner could either kick a tying field goal or go for the touchdown.
He decided to have Mike Tolbert run on a play that wound up going more east-west than it did north-south. As a result, Tolbert was easily stopped in his tracks and the Chargers wasted their field position with no points. Brady drove the Patriots 99 yards for a touchdown.
Then when they are driving for a possible field goal at the end of the first half, Philip Rivers winds up throwing an interception to Vince Wilfork of all people. The Patriots take over at the San Diego 47 with only nine seconds left in the half.
For some reason, Turner allows his corners to play way off the wide receivers. Brady uses the huge cushion to complete two quick sideline passes which are good for 18 yards, and the end result is that Gostkowski kicks a 47-yard field goal as time expires.
These are just some of the examples of things that Turner does that turn the Chargers from a great team to just a very good team. They can't win enough big games against better teams, and this is why.
Worst Decision No. 3: Andy Reid Philadelphia Eagles
In the Sunday Night Football game, when the Philadelphia Eagles played the Atlanta Falcons, Eagles head coach Andy Reid came up with some interesting decisions. Unfortunately for Reid and Eagles fans, most of them did not turn out so well. Where do I start?
In the second quarter, the Eagles had the ball at the 5-yard line and goal-to-go. Michael Vick was asked to hand the ball off on a play that took far too long to develop (for that specific situation), and the Falcons defensive line was able to break up the handoff. The Falcons' Ray Edwards pounced on the fumble and returned the ball 64 yards to the Eagles 24. Huge momentum change on that one play.
In the Eagles opening drive of the second half, Vick threw a pass that Kelvin Hayden intercepted. Earlier in the game, Reid had made a successful challenge, so he had challenges still available to use.
Replays showed that the ball clearly bounced off the ground, which meant a challenge would have allowed the Eagles to retain the ball. Reid never challenged the play, and the Falcons scored a touchdown two plays later.
The third and final straw occurred late in the fourth quarter. Down 35-31 in the fourth quarter, and faced with a 4th-and-4 to go, Reid called a time out to discuss the play, even though the clock was already stopped.
The Eagles failed to convert the first down and Atlanta wound up killing the majority of the remaining clock. Had Reid not burned that time out, they would have two time outs left to preserve most of the clock and had more time to work with for the final drive.
For all of the above, Reid earned his spot on this week's list.
Worst Decision No. 4: Bill Belichick New England Patriots
During the New England Patriots game against the San Diego Chargers game, Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko was injured during the game, when one of his own players was blocked into him and hurt his knee. As a result, Mesko was not able to punt for the rest of the game.
We suspect that head coach Bill Belichick has worked out an emergency plan for what to do if either his kicker or his punter gets hurt in the middle of a game. However, when the Patriots were up by the score of only 20-14 with 11:41 left in the game, they were faced with a decision. They had the ball at the San Diego 49-yard line, and it was a 4th-and-4 to go for a first down.
The Patriots could try to make the first down and keep the drive going. Or they could go to whatever their backup contingency plan was for a second punter (maybe their field goal kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, or put Brady back in shotgun and let him do a pooch punt).
But if they went for it and missed, the Patriots would be giving the Chargers excellent field position and a chance to take the lead. It is not exactly like the Patriots defense was shutting down the Chargers offense (they gained 372 yards on the day).
Anyway, Belichick went for it, and the pass that Brady threw went incomplete. The Chargers managed to take the ball down to the Patriots 34, when Matt Tolbert decided to run in reverse on a dive play and fumbled away the ball.
Some coaches lead a charmed life, but then again if I had Tom Brady as my quarterback, I might be tempted to try things that most coaches would want to pass on attempting.
Best Decision No. 3: Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys had just forced the San Francisco 49ers to overtime. The 49ers had the ball first in overtime and weren't able to do much with it. So, they punted the ball to Dallas, who took over at their own 22, needing to drive the field to get in position for a win.
That was when Jason Garrett made a brilliant call. He employed seldom used rookie wide receiver Jesse Holley to become the hero of the game. Holley had caught just two passes during regulation for a total of 19 yards.
But on the first play of overtime, Garrett had Holley drift out like he was going through the motions of being a down-field blocker. Holley then turned on the jets and sprinted down the field. He caught the pass around midfield and sprinted down to the 1-yard line, where the Cowboys kicked the game-winning field goal.
Garrett sensed the urgency that the Cowboys needed to come away with a victory in Week 2. For taking an injured Tony Romo and inserting him back in the game took courage and conviction. For making the right calls this week, Garrett makes our list of best decisions for Week 2.
Best Decision No. 4: Jim Harbaugh San Francisco 49ers
Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers were up by seven points, 21-14, with roughly 12 minutes left to go in regulation. They had the ball at the Dallas 37, and were forced with a fourth down and one yard to go. Harbaugh decided to try a long range 55-yard field goal attempt by David Akers rather than going for the first down.
Akers makes the field goal, putting the 49ers up by 10 points. But, the Cowboys commit a 15-yard leverage penalty on the play, which would move the ball to the Dallas 22 with a fresh set of downs. Rather than take the ball at the 22 and a chance to score a touchdown, or run time off of the clock, and kick a shorter field goal, Harbaugh decides to not take any points off the scoreboard, and stay with his 10-point lead.
His decision showed a certain degree of faith in his defense, that they would be able to stop the Cowboys defense. But, at the same time, doesn't the decision show some lack of faith in his offense, that they couldn't take it in for a touchdown from the 22?
I debated about whether to list this as a worst decision or as a best decision. I know that fans could take this either way, and they could have a good argument. I ultimately chose to go with a best decision because so many things can happen that would make him regret the decision later on. He made a decision and stuck with it. Too bad, it did not turn out to be a better ending.
Worst Decision No. 5 Hue Jackson Oakland Raiders
I really don't have a major problem with Hue Jackson. He did a great job of game-planning on a short week to build up a 21-3 half time lead on the road in Buffalo.
I will cite a couple things here that warrant him being on this list however. If you disagree, I understand, but let's move forward.
For one thing, the Raiders were running the ball pretty well most of the game against the Bills. They were averaging 4.4 yards per carry. But something happened to change Jackson's mind, and convince him to throw the ball. In the Week 1 victory over Denver, Jason Campbell threw for only 100 yards. But in the Buffalo game, Campbell threw for 323 yards. In fact, Oakland had more passes (33) than rushes (30) in the game.
The only problem with that was from a clock management standpoint. Oakland kept coming up with long pass plays to Denarius Moore, while the Bills would have these longer steady drives that were wearing out the Raiders defense in the second half. The Raiders left too much time on the clock, and the Bills were able to capitalize on that for the win.
Oh, and one other thing, but this is really minor. Hue Jackson threw a challenge flag to challenge a touchdown. Since all touchdowns are already reviewed up in the booth, the referee threw a penalty flag on Jackson for a 15-yard penalty for an illegal challenge. You have to read the rule book first Hue.
Worst Decision No. 6: Jim Harbaugh San Francisco 49ers
We gave 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh credit for sticking to his decision and keeping the points on the board in an earlier slide. Now we have to talk about his clock management skills—or lack of them.
The situation was that the 49ers had two timeouts left towards the end of regulation time. If they had applied them properly, they could have controlled the clock in the last minute and forced the Dallas Cowboys to kick a field goal, which would have still left 43 seconds left to work with.
With a tie score and a dynamic kick returner in Ted Ginn, you want to give him a chance to break one. As it turns out, the 49ers let the clock go down, and only had one chance in overtime to do something with the ball. They couldn't score on the one possession, and they proceeded to lose the game on the Cowboys first possession in overtime.
Coach Harbaugh will have many more situations to work on his clock management skills. Everything the NFL head coaches does is put under a magnifying glass, but we are pretty sure he already knew that before he agreed to take the job.