clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How coaching not to lose is costing NFL teams

Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz tackles the scourge of coaching scared and looks at how one NFL coach is winning because he’s not afraid to lose.

Dallas Cowboys v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Week 5 — I know, already — is almost in the books with one game remaining. The Chiefs and Rams are 5-0, both on a collision course for a Week 11 affair in Mexico City.

It feels like after five weeks, we’ve settled into the flow of the season. Teams and coaches start to separate themselves from the pack, with some clearly having issues.

Let’s start with the best of the NFL before we get to the bad of coaching from the week.

The Rams and Chiefs are legit, especially on offense.

The Rams went up to Seattle, a difficult spot to play and escaped with a victory, just as the Chiefs did in Denver last week. It’s not always going to be pretty, and we’ve seen the Rams win close games two weeks in a row now.

The Chiefs picked apart an excellent Jacksonville team at home, with the help of bad Blake Bortles. The much maligned Chiefs defense entered the game ranked 32nd in yards allowed, and still are after Sunday’s game, but they forced Bortles into multiple red zone turnovers. They also collected a defensive touchdown from a big fella up front, Chris Jones. It was complete defensive effort that I didn’t expect, especially with the Jaguars rushing attack. Jacksonville’s running game was humming on the first few drives too, but then they abandoned it. It cost them when bad Bortles showed up.

We need to talk about the state of coaching

Week in and week out, we see coaches outsmart themselves, especially in high leverage situations. We often see coaches decide to be conservative, when aggressiveness is the right call. Maybe it’s panic, stubbornness, a lack of creativity or just plain bad coaching, but it happens often, and we saw more of it this week.

The Jaguars ran the ball just 13 times (filtering out Bortles’ scrambles) and they averaged more than 5 yards a carry. On the other hand, Bortles attempted 61 passes! Sxity-one freaking passes.

I know some will say, “The Jaguars were behind.” Yes, they were, but they weren’t behind early in the game when they should have been running it in the red zone. The Chiefs were up 10-0 and the Jaguars moved the ball inside the five. It’s third-and-1 at the 3. The Jaguars passed the ball twice. They didn’t convert.

After that, the Chiefs drove down to tack on a field goal. Then Bortles threw a pick 6, and that was the ball game.

What was Jason Garrett thinking?

Coaching mistakes that occur on Sunday Night football are magnified because of the attention paid to the contest. So we should probably start with the losing team in this week’s Sunday night game, the Dallas Cowboys.

First, they are a mess on offense. They are 24th in yards per play, 30th in passing, 30th in sacks per attempt and 30th on third downs. Yikes. This season was supposed to be a bounce back year for Dak Prescott and the offense; it’s been anything but. The Cowboys offense is boring, bland and unimaginative. Dak hasn’t thrown for over 300 yards since 2016 and it doesn’t look likely it’s going to happen soon. Their one saving grace on offense is Ezekiel Elliott. While the offensive line is missing Travis Frederick, they are second in yards per carry on the ground.

Back to Jason Garrett. The Cowboys had to a chance to win this game in overtime but decided to punt on fourth-and-1 at the Houston 42 with six minutes left. The Cowboys have this big offensive line with two more than qualified options, Zeke and Dak, to handle the rock. On top of that, the Cowboys are 19-for-20 on fourth-and-1 over the last two seasons. It seems like a no brainer. But not to the “clapper.”

In his post game presser, Garrett said it was “a long one yard.” Yikes. Only a few more months until Lincoln Riley is the head coach of the Cowboys.

Houston’s lack of creativity

On the opposite side of the field is Bill O’Brien. Last season, O’Brien did a fantastic job with Deshaun Watson in the limited amount of time he played before his season ended with a knee injury. I expected to see that offense again this season in Houston. We haven’t.

There are some reasons for that. Their offensive line is bad, and that’s putting it mildly. Watson is also still recovering from that knee injury, and we know that, ideally, ACL injuries take two years until you’re fully healthy again.

Ok, back to the game …

The Texans had a total of nine offensive plays inside the 5-yard line. Let’s see what happened:

Play 1: third-and-1, DAL 1 — Jet Sweep TD

Play 2: third-and-2, DAL 2 — incomplete pass

Play 3: fourth-and-1, DAL 1 — incomplete pass

Play 4: first-and-goal, DAL 4 — incomplete pass

Play 5: second-GL DAL 4, QB sweep, Watson for 1.

Play 6: third-and-goal, DAL 3 — incomplete pass

Play 7: first-and-goal, DAL 1 — Alfred Blue for no gain

Play 8: second-and-goal, DAL 1 — Watson stuffed on a sneak

Play 9: third-and-goal, DAL 1 — incomplete pass

So that’s, ummm, not good.

We could put some blame on the players for not executing the plays, but there was no imagination outside of the first touchdown. You have Deshaun Watson, a dynamic athlete, and O’Brien didn’t call anything that had him rolling out of the pocket or include some unique backfield action to confuse the defense, like the Rams or Chiefs would be doing.

Also, how about getting under center? It’s not illegal for that to happen.

McVay showed us how to do fourth down

On the flip side of those coaching decisions, we had Sean McVay of the Rams.

McVay is uber aggressive, as are most younger head coaches, and it always seems to pay off. It helps that he’s got a big, veteran offensive line and some excellent offensive weapons.

The Rams were up 33-31 against the Seahawks with under two minutes left in the fourth quarter. It was fourth-and-1 from the LA 43. The Rams could have punted the ball and played defense, and it looked like that’s what they were going to do. The Seahawks had no timeouts left at point either. Instead, they went for it and got enough yardage to win the game.

Here’s what McVay told Peter King about this decision:

“I think the biggest thing was this: Our offensive linemen had the confidence to be able to get those six inches. I thought Jared did an excellent job of mixing up his cadence a little bit, and I felt like he could catch them off guard. We attack success. We don’t fear failure. We want to go for the win in that situation. Getting six inches to close it out was something that we felt the percentages were in our favor.”

I would have loved to play for McVay. His confidence rubs off on the whole locker room. The Rams play like they aren’t scared to lose, and that’s a big reason they haven’t lost.