Coaching Corner: 49ers' Tomsula takes top spot for second straight week

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, left, shakes hands with San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula after an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015. The 49ers won 25-20. (Ben Margot/AP)

We’re officially done with Week 8 of the NFL season. At this point, you should all be familiar with the names usually on this list. Football fans have already seen coaches get fired during the season.

Joe Philbin from the Miami Dolphins and former Tennessee Titans coach Ken Wisenhunt, who made his way into my column in past weeks, were fired. This week I’ll be taking a look at other names who may lose their job by the end of the year.

3. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton doesn’t go for 2 after scoring a TD late in the fourth quarter to be down 49-48

This is Payton’s second straight week on my list. This decision baffles me. The logic behind tying the game favors extending the game into overtime rather than risk losing on a failed conversion.

Yet consider the context of the game. Drew Brees may have had one of the greatest quarterback games of all time, throwing 7 touchdowns and looked incredibly dominant on the field. The Saints scored their seventh touchdown for the game and a two-point conversion would placed the ball on the 2-yard line. You’re telling me that an offense led by a red-hot Brees can’t get two yards? Even if an extra point and defensive stop would extend the game into overtime, Payton essentially delayed the outcome of the game and played for the tie rather than play to the odds.

The decision also comes as a surprise because Payton played aggressively earlier in the game; for it on fourth down while down 7 earlier in the corner. The Saints ended up winning the game, but Payton’s call was curiously conservative and it gave 40 seconds to a team that put up 49 points against the New Orleans’ defense. It was more of a risk for Payton to trust his team with containing Eli Manning than it was to put faith in his team to get two yards.

2. Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano calls two halftime draws against the Panthers 10-6

What is the rationale for calling a halftime draw, let alone two? As seen before in the case of Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid in Week 2, this play has needlessly cost a team a chance at victory. One result shouldn’t change how coaches think, but the flawed process should still stand out as a low-reward and high-risk call - the exact opposite of what coaches should do.

According to Pro Football reference and data from every NFL team in 2015, non-QB kneel rush plays in the second or fourth quarter, from the offenses 1 to their 30, with less than a minute remaining, gain an average of 4.89 yards per play.

Out of these examples, the most successful came from an 18 yard run from Colts running back Frank Gore against the Tennessee Titans. Extending these parameters to NFL games since 1994, it only gets worse for defenders of the halftime draw: the average yards gained per play is 3.94 yards. It’s not exactly reasonable for a team starting on their own 8 to run two consecutive draws with less than a minute left in the half.

Simply put, this was a stupid decision. For Pagano to do it twice in one game is the equivalent of spilling ketchup on your pants and using mustard to clean it up. If he was scared that his team would turn the ball over, he could have easily asked quarterback Andrew Luck to kneel. Instead, he lazily opted for a half-assed play call.

1. San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Tomsula waves the white flag, punts on fourth and 2 down 21 points with six minutes to go against the Rams

Before I go into what makes Tomsula’s decision especially awful, consider the group that he’s rolled out onto the field on offense. By almost every statistical measure, this is a dreadful unit. Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA had them ranked dead last out of every NFL team - and that was before their dismal showing against St. Louis. Meanwhile, SRS, which takes into account strength of opponent and points scored, has them ahead of only the Tennessee Titans, who have had their starting quarterback replaced by Zach Mettenberger.

Given that they recently traded arguably their most talented player in Vernon Davis, I cannot see things getting much better for San Francisco later in the season. That said, these results don’t excuse Tomsula’s horrendous play calling throughout the game, which included an absurdly high pass ratio and totally ineffective running plays. If anything, when an offense is especially bad, it calls for a more aggressive risk-taking attitude. 

Tomsula’s insistence on maintaining this kind of laziness and cowardice is unacceptable for an NFL coach. Is he paid that kind of money to just openly surrender to another team? Either way, we’ll see next week if Tomsula can win a third straight top spot in this column and perhaps cement his status as totally unfit to be an NFL head coach by the end of the season.


Anokh Palakurthi is associate life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at anokh.palakurthi@uconn.edu. He tweets @DC_Anokh.