NFL head coaches are supposed to be the brightest football minds in the world, at least that's what everyone wants you to think. But even smart people make dumb decisions. Maybe because they're so smart? Sure enough, each week some of those coaches make dumb decisions.
Each week I'm going to highlight three bad coaching decisions by NFL teams, using the power of hindsight.
Mike Smith - Falcons vs. Saints
The Atlanta Falcons have a new starting right tackle in Lamar Holmes, selected in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He got his first taste of live-action in the regular season against the Saints on Sunday. All through the preseason Holmes struggled in pass protection, giving up a total of three sacks and seven hurries in the preseason according to Pro Football Focus.
That struggle continued into the regular season as Holmes gave up a sack, four hurries, and three hits on quarterback Matt Ryan in the 23-17 loss. The Falcons decided to leave Holmes on an island for much of the first half against the Saints, and Ryan was under duress as a result.
Mike Smith and his staff had all preseason to know that Holmes was going to have some growing pains. The failure to give him assistance from either a tight end or back was a big mistake, especially when it was clear early on he was struggling.
Mike McCarthy - Packers vs. 49ers
In the second quarter of the the Green Bay PackersSan Francisco 49ers matchup, the game was tied 7-7 with the 49ers beginning a drive in Packers territory after a fumble by Eddie Lacy. The Packers defense forced the 49ers into a 3rd-and-1 situation, stuffing Frank Gore to force 4th-and-1. The 49ers picked up an illegal formation penalty, which Mike McCarthy accepted and gave the 49ers a second chance with 3rd-and-6.
On the next down there were offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties which gave the 49ers a do-over with 3rd-and-6, but it was the wrong call and the 49ers should have had a 4th-and-2 after the 4-yard scramble by Colin Kaepernick. On the very next play the 49ers scored a touchdown to take a 14-7 lead.
Had McCarthy declined the illegal formation penalty he likely forces the 49ers to kick a field goal rather than getting what amounted to three shots at a score. It's possible that the 49ers would have gone for it on fourth down. It was also early enough in the game for Jim Harbaugh to take the points from a the field goal.
Mike Shanahan - Redskins vs. Eagles
Despite taking an early lead on a turnover, the Redskins were throttled early by Chip Kelly's quick pace offense. Later in the game, with the Eagles leading 10-7, Washington was pinned back inside its five-yard line after a downed punt. On 2nd-and-10, Shanahan thought it might be a good idea to call a pitch play inside the five-yard line.
As you can see, the high-risk running play resulted in a safety and gave the ball right back to the Eagles. Shanahan tried to pass the ball on first down, but RGIII still hadn't shaken off the rust from not playing since January. Running on second down backed up in your own territory isn't a bad decision, but calling a riskier play like a pitch had the feeling of a desperation move for a team on its heels and falling behind.