There has been plenty of time to digest what went down in Super Bowl LI. The Patriots completed the ultimate comeback, pairing their tactics of out scheming the Falcons with a little magic of their own, courtesy of a Julian Edelman catch for the ages. We can talk about what happened in the final 23 minutes for eternity, but one thing sticks out over the rest.
With just under five minutes to play, Matt Ryan scrambled out of the pocket and fired a dart to Julio Jones, who made an incredible sideline catch at the New England 22 yard line. All Atlanta had to do was run it three times and kick a field goal. The Lombardi comes to the city of Atlanta for the first time.
But, it wasn’t meant to be. The Falcons got extremely cute once they reached the 22 yard line. The run with Freeman that lost a yard wasn’t a big deal. If they had done that twice more, a 42 yard field goal would have been no problem for Matt Bryant. Game over. Instead of running it on second down, the Falcons came out throwing. With the play taking a while to develop, Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers sacked Matt Ryan for a 12 yard loss. Now, you have to get some back for a field goal try. Matt Ryan dumps it short for Mohamed Sanu, who works his way back to the 26 yard line. Crisis averted. Except, Jake Matthews got called for holding. And now, backed up to the 45 yard line, Atlanta watched their Super Bowl hopes disappear right then and there.
Kyle Shanahan defended his play calling in his press conference, stating that he wanted to give kicker Matt Bryant a shorter field goal try. But, in the Super Bowl, up eight points, you need to churn clock and get points to ensure a two-score game. Atlanta didn’t do that. They ignored the situation at hand in order to go for the jugular. It cost them, and here we sit with New England back on top.
As I sat and digested what I had just watched, the same thing hit me that hit me after Green Bay’s collapse in Seattle two years earlier. How in the world is there not a position on the coaching staff that can be in everyone’s ear in certain game situations?
With this aspect of puzzling decisions in mind, I will provide the most recent examples where this new position would have been imperative for teams.
January of 2015. The NFC Championship game is looking like a snooze with Green Bay out ahead 16-0 in the second half. Seattle finally puts a solid drive together, but they stall in the red zone. Seattle lines up for a field goal, but runs a fake. Green Bay comes up to stop the punter, but a Seattle player leaks out for a touchdown. That completely changes the momentum and ends up leading to a monumental collapse by Green Bay. The funny thing about it? After the game, Packers coaches said they usually have an alert put on for the defense to watch for the fake. That play? They didn’t have the alert on and weren’t expecting a fake. I don’t know the idea behind lining up to block a field goal rather than playing base defense and watching for the fake.
Next, we head to Kansas City. The Chiefs have always had clock management issues with Andy Reid at the helm. The most recent issue? We could talk about the issues against Pittsburgh in the divisional round this past season, but I want to go back to 2015 one more time. The Chiefs had a road divisional tilt against the Patriots two years ago. They were trailing 27-13 with 6:29 to go in the game. The funny thing about this? Had the Chiefs hurried up instead of running their normal offense with zero urgency, they might not have needed to attempt an onside kick. But, Andy Reid didn’t play with urgency. The Chiefs scored with 1:13 remaining, and an onside kick remaining as their only option.
Finally, let’s take a look at one regular season game in 2016. The Browns were visiting the Titans in mid October still searching for their first win. They were trailing 28-13 with under seven minutes to play. The Browns marched down and scored with just over two minutes to go, bringing the score to 28-19. Then, in a bonehead move, the Browns decide to go for two. Of course, the conversion fails. So, instead of taking the extra point to secure a one possession game with a chance to get the ball back, the Browns fail on the conversion, and it remains a two possession game. The worst part of it all? The Browns recovered the onside kick and got in the end zone. But, because it was a two possession game, they had no way to tie it up. Had they taken the extra point the previous possession, they were in perfect position to tie it up. Alas, the comeback failed, thanks to poor awareness.
So what am I proposing? I want the coaching staff to form a new position called “Game Flow Management”. This position would consist of a person who would see the game as a whole, and be able to diagnose momentum and advise the coaching staff.
What would this position do? Here are just a few things that the person would do.
- Clock management (knowing when to speed up the offense or when to slow things down)
- Be sure coaches are ready for trick plays that could shift momentum
- Make sure coaches know when to go for two (don’t do it too early)
- Tell coaches when to challenge plays or when not to
This position could have prevented all of the scenarios above, utilizing the point above, amongst others. Whether it is preparing a team to watch out for a fake, to advising a coach to challenge a play, this position could help teams out in key moments during a game. There are ways to avoid big blunders, and this position would fix those mistakes.
Obviously, coming from the other side, we do criticize coaches very often for decisions they make during a game. Yes, down on the sideline you have to make instant judgments. Yes, sometimes you aren’t prepared for trick plays because you are focused on getting the personnel that you need out on the field. Yes, coaches do stick to their plan most of the time and it usually pays off.
When it comes to the Falcons in the Super Bowl, it’s not an easy call in that situation. Two big plays on that drive in the passing game got them down to the 22 yard line, so it makes sense to go for the jugular instead of playing not to lose. But, they were in a safe spot to settle for a field goal.
Obviously, some coaches would be opposed to something like this. But the evidence does not lie. There are certain situations throughout the season where having one more person in coaches’ ears would be a good thing. With all this laid out, I think it’s time to consider making this an official position.
Jake Schyvinck covers the NFL and the NFL Draft for The Sports Guys. Follow him on Twitter @JSchyvinck13 for all things NFL and NFL Draft.