The 2020 NFL season will forever be linked with COVID-19 and Tom Brady leaving the New England Patriots, but it should also be remembered as the year that NFL coaches got considerably more aggressive. You could say 2020 is the year the NFL's balls collectively dropped, onto the table.
It didn't happen overnight, Bill Belichick infamously went for it on 4th & 2 against the Colts in 2009, but never in the 101 year history of the National Football League was there a season with more points scored or fewer punts than in 2020.
For reference in how much philosophies have changed in relatively short time; in 2004 the Philadelphia Eagles went for in 4th down only FOUR times (fewest in the NFL). This season the Eagles lead the NFL with 35 4th down attempts.
A major reason behind the changes is a simple word that's not so simple to spell: analytics. Teams are using data and advanced statistics to help realize things like you have a better chance of advancing 10 yards in four tries as opposed to three.
It looks like Titans coach Mike Vrabel and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did not get the message, as both chose to punt instead of keeping the ball in their offense's hand while trailing in playoff games that they would ultimately lose.
Let's start chronologically with the Titans.
Down 17-13 with 10:06 left in the 4th quarter, Tennessee chose to punt on 4th & 2 on the Ravens 40 yard line. Statistically speaking it was the most cowardly punt of the 2020 season.
Going back to at least 1994 (when data this specific started being tracked) a punt has literally never happened in this same situation.
I am the king of putting in a bet, backing out and then having it happen when I pussied out. As a gambler I know how annoying people like me are, but I genuinely have it happen all the time (yay anxiety). The point is that scared money don't make no money!!! Maybe someone should've told the Mikes?
Mike Vrabel won three Super Bowls during his playing days with the Patriots, but claimed he'd cut off his dick for a Super Bowl win as a head coach. Vrabs would become a Ken doll for a 4th ring, but won't give the ball to his 2,000 yard bell cow on 4th & short? Unless he's trans (which is completely cool) and looking for a way to break the ice, don't get it.
You don't even have to give it to Derrick Henry on 4th down, but to have 2nd & 2 and not give it to your 2000 yard back once warrants second guessing at the very least.
Now I get it, I'm just a former player who was a key loss on a 1-7 team over a decade ago who thinks they know football, but I have learned a few things from my Madden days. One is you play to your strengths.
The Tennessee Titans finished the NFL regular season 4th in points scored and 24th in points allowed while giving up more yards than all but four teams. It doesn't take Warren Sharp or the perfect Cynthia Frelund to tell you their strength is their offense.
To the Titans credit, their defense put up one of their best performances of the season, holding Lamar Jackson and the Ravens to only 20 points, but you can only ask so much out of unit that is simply not very good. How can you think you have a better chance of keeping the Ravens out of the end zone than gaining 6 feet with the a top 5 offense in the NFL? After the Titans punted for a net gain of 25 yards, the Ravens still drove into FG range and extended their lead to seven.
Now, Derrick Henry had an awful day and that could've played a factor in the decision, but Vrabel's play calling and predictability set up Tractorcito for failure. More bad coaching yay!
When asked about the decision, Vrabel gave a bullshit, coach speak answer. Via.
Not to be outdone, Mike Tomlin did all he could to take Vrabs off the hook.
In the final game of Super Wild Card Weekend, we saw the Cleveland Browns play their first playoff game since 2002 (which was happened to be against the Pittsburgh Steelers); that game saw the Browns blow a 24-7 lead, before losing 36-33.
When the coach-less Browns were up 28-0, between that nugget from 2002 and the low-hanging (but true) fruit about Cleveland sports "struggles" a Pittsburgh comeback was not out of the realm of possibility.
I've been banging the Steelers are frauds drum all season, but I thought they'd be able to get past a team playing without its Head Coach. When the Steelers were able to battle back to make it a 35-23 game going into the 4th quarter it was clear they had all the momentum. They were in the midst of a 23-7 run and had forced three punts on three Cleveland drives in the 3rd quarter. The proverbial pendulum had swung in the Steelers favor.
On the first play of the 4th quarter, facing 4th & 1 from their own 46 yard line, the Steelers opted to punt and hand deliver the pendulum back to the Cleveland Browns. Not only did they opt to punt, but they tried force the Browns to jump offside from the punt formation in the most obvious "we're trying to get you to jump" moment of Super Wild Card Weekend.
On the ensuing series, the Browns scored a touchdown in only six plays to extend their lead to 19. Pittsburgh had the Browns on the ropes and gave Cleveland the ball back to put the final nail in their coffin.
Now with the Steelers, I can at least fathom why you would punt; there's basically an entire quarter left and despite a poor start, the Steelers are built on their defense that finished 3rd in both points and yards allowed AND the Steelers running game has been all but nonexistent this season.
But sometimes you gotta use your gut. Cris Collinsworth said he'd 1000% go for it. The Steelers had the Browns on the ropes and instead putting the pressure on, they ran out of the ring. Earlier in the first half they punted deep in Cleveland territory down 28-0.
At what point can people stop saying Mike Tomlin is a good coach? How do you not have your guys ready to go against a team WITHOUT ITS HEAD COACH???
Football games are never won or lost on single play (I don't know if I truly believe that), but these two plays certainly hurt their respective teams chances. Which call do you think was worse? I was on Titans ML so I'm a little biased, but either way I'm certainly glad to see #14 on my Personal Power Rankings go home.