Coaching Corner: The best and worst NFL coaching decisions of the week

New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin takes the field before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

Bill Barnwell, football genius and one of Grantland’s premier NFL writers, used to write a column called, “Thank You For Not Coaching.” In his articles, he eviscerated pro football coaches for terrible decisions made in game and often used numbers and statistics to disprove conventional football wisdom.

Barnwell ended his column in 2014, but this week, I’ll be doing my own version called “Coach’s Corner,” my own tribute to his amazing column.

The Best

2. John Fox goes for it on fourth and goal from Green Bay’s 2-yard line, down 16-24

Often against superior teams you will hear television analysts and color commentators say that underdogs should “take the points” at whatever opportunity they have. This couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Rather than thinking about taking field goals as a guaranteed three points, coaches should consider that they are actively losing an opportunity to score four more points – which is incredibly valuable against a team like the Packers! Though the play didn’t work, Green Bay ended up going three-and-out from their own two-yard line, while the Bears received great field position at Green Bay’s 41-yard line. The execution of going for it ended up in an incomplete pass, but the process behind the call was valid as a good example of a low-risk and high-reward decision. 

1. Andy Reid fakes going for it on fourth and 8, forces Houston to burn a timeout, kicks a field goal

While it might seem to be an example of a dominating team shouting “YOLO” at its opponent, this is another example of a high-reward and low-risk play call. Up 17-6 and on the Texans 30-yard line, the Chiefs quickly lined up their offense on a fourth and 8 in the middle of the second quarter. Naturally, Houston was caught completely off guard. Down 13 points, they could not afford to give Kansas City a chance at possibly extending their drive and Texans coach Bill O’Brien was forced to call one of his three timeouts and re-adjust his defense.

The Chiefs proceeded to kick a field goal and go up 20-6. In worst-case scenario, the Chiefs are forced to burn a timeout, but Houston cannot afford it the same way Kansas City can. Andy Reid is historically on the worse side of dealing with clock management, but in this case he brilliantly duped his opponents. 

The Worst

2. Pete Carroll goes for a squib (or onside?) kick to start off overtime

The confusion about the play’s legitimacy after the game certainly didn’t help either. Initially looking like a failed onside kick recovered by the Rams, the kick to start off overtime was apparently an attempted squib kick, according to Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka.

Not only does this make no sense, as squib kicks are usually done by teams with a lead to run out the clock, but it also seems unlikely to work on a Rams team that last year beat the Seahawks partially because of St. Louis’ own special teams’ trickery.

Per a 2012 study from Sports Reference, NFL teams recover their onside kicks a little less than 20 percent of the time. I can’t imagine that much has changed in the last three years to ultimately validate Carroll’s ridiculous play call.

1. Tom Coughlin elects to kick a field goal on fourth and 1 up 23-20 late in the fourth quarter

Coughlin’s playcall of a late game pass play on third down was not as bad as it may have appeared. Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was rightly hailed as aggressive for calling a pass play in a similar situation with his team up 24-19. If anyone's to blame, it’s quarterback Eli Manning for not taking a sack and burning another 40 seconds off the clock.

Coughlin’s biggest mistake was choosing to send his special teams unit on the field, just one yard away from the goal-line and a possible two-possession lead with a minute left – a virtual lock for victory. Forget about statistical analysis and just use common sense here: Does it make more sense to trust your offense’s ability to get a single yard or to trust your defense’s ability to stop last year’s No. 5 scoring offense for a whole drive?

Even in a situation where the Giants fail to convert, a running play can burn even more clock and force Dallas to start from their own goalline. The only way Dallas can win in this situation is if they drive 99 yards down the field for a touchdown or play for a field goal with no timeouts. Add in what Barnwell’s Monday column estimates was 75 seconds of possible wasted time that could have been burned off the clock in New York’s final drive, and we have the worst coach of Week 1.


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.