Armchair coaches were busy during the 2015 NFL divisional playoffs.
Some of the coaching decisions made this weekend will provide fodder for conversation well into the spring.
The most boneheaded play call of the weekend was made by a winning team, so that coach got away with it. There were several debatable decisions, however, that could be the reason why a couple of teams are cleaning out their lockers today.
Andy Reid’s clock management
Once again, an Andy Reid-coached team took its sweet time moving the ball up the field down two scores to the Patriots in a postseason game.
The Chiefs trailed the Patriots 27-13 with 6:29 left in Saturday’s game at Gillette Stadium and used 5:16 of that time to score one of two touchdowns they needed.
Jason Avant caught a 13-yard pass on 4th-and-8, but the Chiefs took 25 second to run their next play. After getting their next first down, they used 37 seconds to run another play.
With three minutes left, Alex Smith completed a 19-yard pass to Albert Wilson to put the ball on the Patriots’ one-yard line, but the Chiefs ran just one more play before the two-minute warning. They lost a yard on a Charcandrick West run.
A false-start penalty moved the ball back to the seven-yard line. Smith threw a four-yard pass, then the Chiefs didn’t run another play until the 1:22 mark. They finally scored with 1:13 left, then had to try an onside kick that went right into Rob Gronkowski’s hands and the Patriots held on for the 27-20 win.
Running an Andy Reid 2 minute drill. Be back in 10 minutes.
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) January 17, 2016
Had the Chiefs moved faster, they’d have had a chance to get the ball back with a defensive stop and not needed an onside kick.
It was reminiscent of 11 years ago, when Reid’s Eagles trailed the Patriots 24-14 with 5:40 left in Super Bowl XXXIX. They used three minutes and 45 seconds and finally scored a touchdown with 1:55 left.
Donovan McNabb took a lot of heat for that. This time, Reid will be the butt of the clock-management jokes during the offseason.
Alex Smith throwing 50 times
Alex Smith threw a career-high 50 passes in Saturday’s 27-20 loss to the Patriots. He’s 0-8 when attempting 43 passes or more.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs ranked sixth in the NFL with 127.8 rushing yards per game and third with 4.7 yards per carry. They didn’t shy away from running the ball Saturday. They ran it 32 times for 135 yards, an average of 4.2 yards per carry.
However, there was one key juncture early in the game when they should have run the ball but didn’t.
The Chiefs’ first 11 rushing plays went for 55 yards, but they didn’t run it after Frankie Hammond returned a punt to the Patriots’ 36-yard line down 7-3 early in the second quarter. They ended up losing a yard on three passes and had to punt.
Perhaps the Chiefs wouldn’t have been down 14 points with 6:29 left if they had used their running backs more earlier in the game.
Cardinals blitzing on Hail Mary attempt
Bruce Arians might have ditched the Kangol hat for the playoffs, but the Cardinals went all hipster and decided to be different with the game on the line.
Seven Cardinals rushed Aaron Rodgers on his Hail Mary attempt at the end of regulation. Jeff Janis beat double coverage in the end zone to catch the 41-yard touchdown pass that sent the game into overtime.
While Janis deserves credit for beating Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson, double coverage doesn’t cut it on a Hail Mary. There needs to be a sea of bodies in the end zone with defenders ready to bat the ball down. Instead, the four defenders in the end zone had to worry about covering receivers.
“Cool Uncle” Bruce and the Cardinals should have just gone with conventional wisdom there.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald bailed them out by covering 80 yards in overtime on a 75-yard catch-and-run and a five-yard TD reception on a shovel pass that gave them the 26-20 win over the Packers.
Steelers going long on 4th-and-1
The Steelers had a habit this season of airing it out when all they needed to do was move the chains.
They trailed 3-0 in the first quarter when on fourth-and-1 from the Broncos’ 32-yard line Ben Roethlisberger threw an incomplete pass to Markus Wheaton in the end zone.
Had they just tried to bang it up the middle for a first down, they could have moved into field-goal range with a few more yards.
On a day when both teams scored only one touchdown, field goals were the difference in the Broncos’ 23-16 victory.
Steelers punting from 34-yard line in fourth quarter
The Steelers clung to a 13-12 lead over the Broncos with 13:21 left in the game. On fourth down from the Denver 34, they could have attempted a 52-yard field goal.
Chris Boswell made 36 of his 39 field-goal attempts this season, including a 51-yarder.
Sure, there were wind conditions to deal with, but a field goal would have put the Broncos in a position where they needed a touchdown. Peyton Manning’s playoff gag reflex might have kicked in at that point.
Chris Boswell was making them from 56. Markus Wheaton and Brandon Boykin returning punts. Wheaton let one smack off his facemask.
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) January 17, 2016
But the Steelers punted, and potentially squandered another three points with the ball in Denver territory.
On their previous possession, the Steelers were pinned at their own 6, but instead of trying to get the ball into the hands of Martavis Bryant (nine catches, 154 yards) or Markus Wheaton (five catches, 30 yards), they handed the ball to third-string running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint (who later fumbled the game away) and Jordan Todman. The Broncos took advantage of their field position and kicked a field goal on their ensuing possession.
For a team that went for the home run on fourth down in the first half, the Steelers went awfully conservative in the second half.