Here were five poor coaching decisions from Sunday’s Week 5 NFL games:
Less Bell leads to Bad Ben — The script appeared to be laid out in Week 4, when the Pittsburgh Steelers set an early tone against the Baltimore Ravens. They gave the ball to Le’Veon Bell five straight time to open the game, and the Steelers dominated with a physical approach. They also killed two birds with one stone by getting the ball in the hands of their best playmaker.
That’s not to say that Antonio Brown isn’t a rare player. He is, but the nature of the wide receiver position is such that it’s almost entirely dependent on the play of the quarterback in order to get them the ball.
In Sunday’s Steelers game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, there were early indications that Ben Roethlisberger didn’t have his best stuff. He threw 21 times in the first half, misfired on a few passes he should have hit on (as he has much of the season) and barely averaged five yards a throw outside of one gorgeous bomb to Brown for 49.
Bell was busy early, too, and there’s a limit to what he can do. He had 15 first-half touches, which put him on pace for a 30-touch game for the third time in four games. Bell got the ball on four of the 14 plays on the field-goal drive to open the second half. That’s when the Steelers led, 9-7. There were almost 24 minutes remaining. He’d touch the ball a mere five more times all game.
Roethlisberger, as you likely know, fell apart from that point on. He threw four of his five picks in that span, two of them returned from touchdowns. There’s a fluky nature about that, especially for a quarterback who had not had one pass run back for a score against him in more than 2,000 pass attempts, much less two.
But the Steelers are best when Bell is the workhorse. He needs the ball an inordinate number of times for this team to win. The Steelers need to treat him like the Cowboys did DeMarco Murray in 2014. He touched the ball a whopping 449 times that season. It’s not stunning that the four games the Cowboys lost that season were the four games Murray was used the least.
Murray was 26 years old that season, with 656 touches coming into the year. Bell turns 26 in February, and he had 799 touches before Week 1. That’s not that big a disparity. Murray was a free agent after that 2014 season, just as Bell will be when this season is done.
If the Steelers want to move on from him, they might as well use him as much as possible now. On the flip side, if they to win games now — as Roethlisberger’s struggles grow — there’s no downside in making Bell the focal point of the offense.
The Steelers missed this chance on Sunday. They should avoid doing so for the rest of this season.
Another late collapse — The New York Giants are 0-5. They’ve lost their past three games by a total of 10 points. They led the Philadelphia Eagles with less than two minutes left and lost. They were up on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers entering the final seconds of the game. They had the ball and the lead against the Los Angeles Chargers with less than four minutes remaining, and even after disaster struck after that, the Giants had a chance to win the game on the Chargers’ side of the field with just under a minute left.
Giants head coach Ben McAdoo appeared to be an adequate clock manager in 2016, when the Giants were an excellent 8-3 in one-score games, but that appears to have been a mirage. The common theme in the past three losses has been poor situational football. Some of that certainly is on the players, but we can’t deny the role the coaches played.
Odell Beckham Jr. suffered a season-ending injury on the Giants’ second-down play on their penultimate drive, leaving them with one healthy wide receiver. It was now third-and-7 with four minutes remaining. They opted to throw the ball. And not in the form of a live-for-another-day screen pass to help drain some more clock.
Manning dropped back, was sacked and — quirky as the play might have been — fumbled into the Chargers’ hands. They had a mere 11 yards separating them from the end zone. It took the Chargers three plays and 48 seconds to score. On their previous 12 possessions, they only had driven more than 49 yards twice.
The Giants needed to run the ball there, or perhaps throw a safe screen to one of the backs, and punt it away. It would have taken valuable time off the clock, or forced the Chargers to call timeout, and flipped the field. Brad Wing had been directionally punting much of the game but easily could have dropped the ball 60 or 70 yards away for the touchdown instead of a measly 11.
Fade to Dez? Really? — Another noted clock mis-manager, Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, hurt his team’s chances of winning on Sunday.
There were big things and little things in the Cowboys’ loss on Sunday to the Green Bay Packers. Just as in the Cowboys’ divisional-round loss to the Packers, Garrett passed up a low-risk chance at points before the end of the first half.
In the playoff game, they made a fair catch off a punt that would have given the Cowboys an extremely rare, but makeable free kick that could have counted for three points. There was no time on the clock, but Garrett opted against a 72-yard try without the Packers able to try to block it. It essentially would have been like a kickoff for Dan Bailey, with no one standing in his way, but Garrett said no to that. They lost that game by, yep, three points.
On Sunday, Garrett didn’t want to try a Hail Mary before the end of the half, content on going into the break with a lead. Dak Prescott was sacked at the Dallas 44-yard line, and the Cowboys had timeouts in their pocket to go for the touchdown on one final throw in the waning seconds. They passed on that, too.
That’s a little mistake. Another one was burning a timeout when the Cowboys had only 10 men on the field early in the third quarter before the Packers’ Mason Crosby tried a 22-yard kick. Granted, Crosby had missed two extra points, and the Packers might have called a trick-play audible against the man-down Cowboys. But burning a timeout there felt a bit rich.
Now for the biggest one. The Cowboys got the ball back with just under 10 minutes remaining, down 28-24, and in essence opted to try to milk every last second of the game as they scored the go-ahead points. Amazingly, it almost worked.
The Cowboys’ run game flexed its muscles and wore down the Packers defense. They ran almost nine minutes off the clock and did score the go-ahead TD, going up three points. But leaving a whopping 1 minute 18 seconds on the clock gave Aaron Rodgers all he needed to go win the game. If Garrett — having seen Rodgers do this before to the Cowboys — didn’t think the Packers would at least try for the win and not just settle for the tie and overtime, he badly mismanaged that thought process.
Ten-minute drives at that stage of the game are exceptionally rare. Prior to Sunday, the Cowboys had never had a fourth-quarter, go-ahead TD drive last longer than seven minutes, 37 seconds under Garrett’s reign. Since the start of the 2011 season — in more than 1,600 games, mind you — only six teams were able to pull off a touchdown drive to take the lead in the fourth quarter that lasted longer than nine minutes.
Garrett could have had the league’s seventh such drive. But on second-and-2 from the Green Bay 11-yard line, he called for Prescott to throw a fade to Dez Bryant. FOX announcer Joe Buck immediately (and correctly) understood how poor a choice this was. Your only options in that situation were to run Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott, who had eaten up the Packers on the drive.
Prescott ran a play on third down that should have been the second-down play call, and scored easily. If Prescott had scored on second down and Rodgers comes back to beat you, so be it. But stopping the clock there was absolutely the wrong call. The Cowboys absolutely could have tried to run the clock down more and at least made life tougher on Rodgers, who drove 75 yards in just over a minute — and the Packers ran the ball three times, incredibly.
The Cowboys should have run it at least once more on the prior drive. That falls on Garrett.
Mishandling Kizer — We wrote extensively about the Cleveland Browns’ failures on Sunday in our post mortem “3 and Out” piece, as they fell to 0-5 and Hue Jackson’s record as head coach dropped to a stunning 1-20.
We won’t go too much deeper on that at the risk of piling on. But for a quarterback he’d soon bench, Jackson sure did ask DeShone Kizer to do a lot once the Browns got into the red zone. Those had to be the biggest missteps in the Browns’ 17-14 loss to the Jets.
First trip down there, Kizer was asked to throw on second-and-goal from the New York 3-yard line. There was a touchdown to be had there if Kizer gets rid of the ball faster, but he didn’t trust his eyes, hesitated and then overthrew Isaiah Crowell in the flat. Bad throw.
The next play, the Browns run a speed option and Kizer botched it. He didn’t press the end hard enough, made a bad pitch to Crowell and the Jets recovered. That’s three or seven points lost right there.
Same went for the next trip down in the red zone, when Kizer stared down Seth DeValve on a one-option pass. Basically, if DeValve isn’t open, it’s a throwaway. Sure, that’s bad quarterbacking. But help the kid out. Don’t ask him to win games for you in this way.
The Browns just don’t have the receiving talent to play like this and ask Kizer to deliver in key situations, and Jackson has to realize this. He’s a limited, one-read QB at this point, and what’s the point in paying boatloads of money for your offensive line if you can’t line up and run the football in crucial situation while Kizer grows?
Jackson can have all the fancy plays he wants, but sometimes what makes a great play caller is what he doesn’t ask a limited player to do.
Forgotten man — We love the way Jared Goff competed and gave the Los Angeles Rams a chance to win at game’s end. We appreciate almost everything Sean McVay has done to this point as head coach, and the fact that he clearly trusts Goff to deliver in big situations goes hand in hand with the Rams’ and Goff’s transformations this season.
But we think the game plan could have been a little better thought out in the second half, when the Rams forgot about the run game.
The Rams ran the ball pretty effectively early on, rushing for 70 first-half yards on 11 carries. Four of those carries went to wide receivers, but that wrinkle proved to be effective; they gained 35 yards, including a 27-yard TD. Goff, meanwhile, was 8 of 15 passing at halftime for 82 yards.
Not counting a 22-yard Goff scramble, the Rams ran the ball a mere 10 times out of 45 offensive plays. That resulted in a missed field goal, two interceptions, a punt, a fumble and a turnover on downs. The Rams got into the red zone four times in the game and failed to score on all of them.
We think too much was asked of Goff, who finished the game 22 of 47, and not enough of Todd Gurley, who finished with 14 carries for 43 yards and a mere 7 yards receiving on four targets (including one pass that glanced off his hands for a pick), as a runner.
For all the cute wrinkles the Rams have folded into using Gurley as a pass catcher, we still believe his best work is done as a runner. It appeared that McVay just tried too hard not to challenge the interior of the Seahawks’ defense and avoid giving it to Gurley and more bread-and-butter runs.
Throwing 40-plus times against the Seahawks seldom turns out well. Quarterbacks with that many attempts are 4-15-1 against them since the start of the 2012 season. Aaron Rodgers, as he did in Week 1, can get away with that kind of pass total. Goff is not yet at that level.
The two prior quarterbacks to throw 40-plus times and beat the Seahawks, Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton in 2015, both faced three-score deficits and were pretty much forced into forcing the issue. Sunday’s game was a one-score game for more than 52 of the 60 game minutes, and actually, it was the Rams who led by 10-0 when they stopped giving Gurley enough carries.
McVay will get back to this once he sees the tape, we suspect. And the Rams almost won in spite of this in a mistake-filled game.
— Eric Edholm is an NFL writer for Pro Football Weekly.
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