With 3:28 to go in last night’s Chargers-Colts game, Indianapolis was backed up on their own 18 yard line, 4th and 2, down 16-9. Jon Gruden, as good as he is at analyzing a game, was silent when the Colts decided to punt. The kick was a poor one, only 34 yards to the Chargers 48 but even if it was 64 yards, i.e. to their 18, would it really have mattered?
Both play-by-play man Mike Tirico and partner Gruden had shared with the viewing audience that the Colts’ defense was decimated with injuries (some that occurred that evening) with the latter pointing out the mistakes made by the guys from Indy who were forced into action. Why did the Colts’ coaching staff feel, even with three times out and the 2:00 minute warning left, that their banged up defense could stop San Diego when it mattered? Was it a macho thing – or one “by-the-book?”
Sure enough, the Chargers got a first down, ran more clock, got into field goal range and shunned Gruden’s worries about having the kick blocked or missing the 51-yarder and giving Andrew Luck such good field position (at his own 34). The made FG gave San Diego an insurmountable 19-9 lead with a little over a minute to go.
One thing that bothers me greatly – and I have mentioned it time and time again – is second guessing coaches and yet here I am doing it. Actually, I felt this way while I was watching and have a couple of witnesses in case someone challenges my veracity. What this blog is about is the way so many coaches – even at the professional level – seem to think during crucial situations. Last night’s Colts-Chargers game was a classic example of how coaches make decisions based on an archaic strategical book that, often, fails to take into account reality.
Example 1: It was 4th and 2 with 3:28 to go and, while the Colts’ defense had only given up one touchdown and three field goals up to that point, they had to have more confidence in Andrew Luck converting two yards, and continuing their drive, than hoping a tired defense would force a three-and-out. Even it if was from their own 18. OK, if they don’t make a first down, it’s a loss but, . . . Andrew Luck, the face of your organization, the man you felt comfortable enough to take over re-signing Peyton Manning (knowing you’d have to let him go if you did), with the game on the line, needing two yards, c’mon man, you’ve got to play to your strength.
Example 2: With 4th and a foot and the running game moving “downhill” most of the night, why take a chance on a field goal – and the bad things Gruden pointed out: a block or a miss, giving good field position to Andrew Luck? If your “O” line has dominated the game, isn’t that a slap in their collective faces when they’re told “the book” says not to go for it?
I haven’t coached football in over 40 years, yet I watch games more as a coach than a fan (it’s pretty much how I watch all athletic contests). The coaching decisions – and how the players play the game – interest me more than anything else.
Maybe football coaches should follow the words of the late Steve Jobs – from his commencement speech to Stanford (Andrew Luck could have told them):
“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”