Here were five poor coaching decisions from Sunday’s Week 1 NFL games:
Bill O’Brien and his QBs
It’s very easy now to say that, in hindsight, the Houston Texans should not have started Tom Savage in the opener. After all, Savage was awful in his third career start, and things at least looked marginally better when Deshaun Watson came in. Not great, mind you, but not Savage-level depths, either.
The thing is, it was pretty clear watching preseason action that Savage was the steadier option. Watson had some nice moments in his preseason debut and had received praise from O’Brien for the way he grasped the offense so quickly. But Watson also looked hurried and panicked at times in the exhibition season, forcing passes up for grabs.
So we understand why Savage was the choice out of the chute. But perhaps O’Brien completely misevaluated his offensive line heading into Week 1 — and what affect that might have on Savage. That group was torn apart in the first half, and Savage really had few good options on many of the team’s pass plays.
They faced third downs of 16, 11 and 12 yards in the first 16 minutes of the game. The results: two incomplete passes and a sack. Savage dropped back 19 times in the first half and was sacked on six of them. Even accounting for mistakes in other facets outside of the offensive line, that’s an absurd ratio.
With Watson in the game, he managed to avoid a higher percentage of the pressures, getting sacked four times on his 27 pass plays. That’s also unacceptable. Getting your prized rookie QB killed is no easy course of action, it must be noted.
Did O’Brien have a great choice coming in? No, and his decision of how he will manage the position — especially with a short week coming — will be parsed very closely. The Texans head to Cincinnati for a Thursday game in Week 2 and then to New England in Week 3. That’s a tricky spot for either quarterback, frankly, and O’Brien truly will have to strip things down and build them back up in a serious hurry here to avoid a terrible start to the season.
Mike McCarthy timeouts
The Green Bay Packers had played incredible defense through the first 29-plus minutes against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. They held Russell Wilson and crew to 25 yards of offense in the first five series. So when the Seahawks got the ball back with just under a minute left in the first half of a scoreless game and were facing a 1st-and-10 from their own 11-yard line, Mike McCarthy wanted to try to get the ball back to his offense.
“[Our] defense was dominating,” the Packers head coach said. “Make [the Seahawks] be disciplined. See if they would try to get the first down. We were in total control of the game. Good decision. Didn’t work out the way I would have liked, but I have zero issue with the decision. Our defense was dominating the game.”
McCarthy is right about that last part. But Game Management 101 says he was 100 percent wrong to use the timeouts. The Packers had to burn one on the second play of the game, so when they called one each after first and second down late in the second quarter, they were out of timeouts.
The Seahawks had 43 seconds left on the clock on third and 3. Had they not gotten the first down on the play (they did), the clock would have just run out and the half ended. There was no way for the Packers to legally stop the clock. That’s just simple math.
Perhaps McCarthy thought his defense could have forced a fumble or interception deep in his own zone, given the way it had indeed owned the action. But that’s pretty faulty logic. The smart move is to force the Seahawks to use their timeouts first, or just live for a scoreless half.
Instead, the Seahawks hit on quick plays for 34 and 29 yards and flipped the field in a heartbeat. They kicked a field goal for the halftime lead. It ended up not mattering in a 17-9 Packers victory. But as Kelly McGillis’ character from “Top Gun” wisely said years ago: “Unfortunately, the gamble worked. … The encounter was a victory, but I think we’ve shown it as an example of … what not to do.”
Seahawks move too slowly
The Seahawks’ offensive line was dismantled in Sunday’s loss. Wilson was running for daylight all day. The run game never got going consistently. The Seahawks accounted for 141 of their 225 net yards on four big plays; the other 44 offensive snaps netted a mere 1.9-yard average.
The one thing that seemed to help was going up-tempo. On that drive at the end of the first half, Wilson at least was able to get some rhythm going and dent the scoreboard. The only other time the Seahawks went no-huddle late in the game down two scores, they went 52 yards on seven plays in 1 minute, 44 seconds and kicked another field goal.
Wilson seemed to be begging for more tempo going forward — and not just in gotta-have-it situations.
“I think we can do it as much as we need to,” he said.
Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell can be too easy a mark for his play calling from fans, and the no-huddle offense is not a 60-minute, cure-all. It’s something that can be sprinkled in here and there to give this unit a shot in the arm. It also can help the offensive line, which seemed to do slightly better when things moved more quickly.
The Seahawks defense is maybe the best in the NFL. It was on the field a ton as it was, with the Packers owning the ball for more than 39 minutes in the game. That unit only seemed to wear down late in the game. Only two of the Seahawks’ 10 possessions took more than 1 minute, 44 seconds off the clock, so the defense was going to get worn down no matter what.
Maybe the Seahawks can open their next game against the San Francisco 49ers in Seattle in no huddle. The crowd noise will be in their favor, and the 49ers’ defense didn’t face much up-tempo from the Carolina Panthers in Week 1.
“Bad call on the head football coach”
Absolutely nothing went right for the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1’s lambasting by the Los Angeles Rams. There was a feeling of doom going into the game, even vs. a Rams squad that had a lot to prove, given what the Colts were rolling out offensively. Putting themselves in a 10-zip hole three-plus minutes in didn’t make that challenge any easier.
But there also were some coaching errors from Chuck Pagano that must be pointed out. One came on the ensuing drive, when Colts rookie running back Marlon Mack was ruled out at the 1-yard line after a nice 21-yard catch. It appeared that Mack was close to crossing the goal line — close enough for a challenge, we thought.
Instead, Pagano inexplicably tried to hurry up and stuff the ball in. The Rams shoved it back in their faces with a 1-yard loss, a no-gain run and an incomplete pass. The Colts kicked a field goal. They wouldn’t score again until there were fewer than 12 minutes left in the game, down five scores at that point.
Let’s be clear: On the list of Colts’ mistakes in Week 1, that might be No. 9 or something. The Colts were not winning this game in any way. But it was a clear judgment error from a coach whose job might be very much on the line with a new general manager in town.
Chris Ballard already has shown a willingness to shake up the roster considerably since his arrival, and he has no prior ties to Pagano. The coach needs to show the GM that he’s the best man for the job, and mistakes such as these just look bad.
Do the Colts need better players? Is not having Andrew Luck a detriment? Yes, and very much yes. But that also doesn’t mean that Pagano isn’t on trial here, too. Credit Pagano for admitting his mistake afterward.
“[That’s] squarely on the head coach,” he said. “I should have waited, let them look at it. Let us look at that thing. Hindsight is 20-20, obviously, but that’s on me. We tried to rush the ball, catch them off guard. It was a bad call on the head football coach. I take ownership on that.”
Too little Joe Mixon, too late
Like the Colts, the Cincinnati Bengals did not look like the better team in their matchup on Sunday. The Baltimore Ravens might not have dominated the scoreboard quite as much as the Rams did, but they owned the action in a 20-0 win at Cincinnati. A lot of that clearly has to fall on the shoulders of Bengals QB Andy Dalton, who had a miserable game.
Dalton was picked four times, including once in the end zone and once inside his own 15-yard line. And although two of those were tipped, he very much had a bad game. But so did the coaching staff, who didn’t target A.J. Green enough early and had a poor plan for pass protection with a crummy offensive line. Dalton was also sacked five times and hit more times than that.
But slow-playing rookie running back Joe Mixon also felt like a mistake. In a two-play couplet late in the first quarter, Mixon gained nine yards on a catch and eight more on a run, appearing to find a weak spot on the left side of the Ravens’ defense. Mixon was given the ball for a third straight play, and then … he was hardly thought of again.
The Bengals were down 20-0 the next time Mixon touched the ball early in the fourth quarter. He ended the game with eight carries and three receptions, which is just far too few. Three of those carries came in the game’s final minutes, with the last two netting minus-9 yards. His final rushing line of 8-9-0 looked far worse because of that.
Mixon is not going to singlehandedly transform the Bengals into world-beaters by the way this line looked. But he can help add a dimension that needs to be there and help prevent the offensive line for pass blocking in long-yardage situations. Jeremy Hill gained 12 yards on his first touch and was quiet after that. He and Mixon need to flip roles, and Gio Bernard — who looked spry coming off knee surgery — has to be a big part of things, too.
The Bengals have a lot to fix heading into Thursday’s game against the Houston Texans, but this small change might help. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis can be too slow to adapt at times, and this suddenly is a crucial season for him and his staff, all of whom do not have contracts beyond this year.
— Eric Edholm is an NFL writer for Pro Football Weekly.
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