Lessons Learned From The NFL Playoffs During Wild Card Weekend
Never Pay A Kicker
Ryan Pace is getting some buzz in NFL circles for Executive Of the Year, but the final product of the Bears roster seems like a miscalculation to me. Pace did do a great job of choosing Matt Nagy to coach his roster (though Nagy did have some issues in the Eagles game) but one of his biggest mistakes was paying Cody Parkey real salary cap dollars. According to Spotrac, Parkey has a four-year contract with nine million dollars guaranteed. Obviously, Parkey is very unlikely to be on the Bears roster next year but Chicago will still have to pay the dead money on his contract. Realistically, with how conservative some of these NFL coaches are, they are better off with a kicker that they DON’T rely on because it forces them to go for it on fourth down more often.
Coaches Are Still Far Too Conservative
Every single coach was a victim of this conservative trend during Wild Card Weekend. The Colts raced to a 21-point lead against the Texans and ran Marlon Mack 24 times. Indianapolis did win handily against Houston, but if the Texans were able to string together anything offensively, the Colts would have found themselves in a close game when there was no need for it. Conversely, the Texans passed the ball plenty (49 times) but punted in plus territory several times and punted five times total in a game that they didn’t score in until the fourth quarter.
Seattle featured perhaps the most egregious conservative play-calling of the entire weekend. They have All-Pro quarterback Russell Wilson and chose to run the ball 24 times to 27 pass attempts and ran on first down more often than not. It was truly an embarrassing performance from Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer. For once, Dallas was actually the team that was close to optimal in terms of running to passing ratio given the scoreline.
Both the Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore Ravens coaches put on a shameful performance. The Chargers continually took field goals instead of going for it on fourth and short and the Ravens did the same thing. In one particular instance the Ravens chose a 50-yard FG attempt instead of running on fourth and one despite having the best running QB in the playoffs. The Chargers defensive strategy of using three safeties against Lamar Jackson was quite brilliant and the Ravens made no adjustments to their play calling. This game in particular was just miserable to watch as both Rivers and Jackson played poorly.
I’ve given Matt Nagy plenty of credit and to be honest, he proved that he doesn’t deserve all of it. In the end game, he mismanaged his timeouts in homage to his former mentor, Andy Reid. The real troubling part was during the course of the game where the Bears continued to give the ineffective Jordan Howard carries at 3.5 yards per carry, called no designed runs for Trubisky and gave Tarik Cohen only four touches. No coach covered themselves in glory.
Running The Ball And Good Defense Does Not Win Games
The key to winning NFL football games is to score a lot of points, not to limit the other team’s ability to score points. While having a good defense does seem to matter to betting lines, the teams left in the playoffs are the good offenses, while the good defenses are setting up tee times. The best seven defenses in terms of yards per play allowed are all out of the playoffs (Chicago, Baltimore, Buffalo, Minnesota, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh and Tennessee) while six of the eight teams left in the playoffs were amongst the best 12 offenses in yards per play.
After Seattle lost, there was a rush of national media types defending the Seattle game plan by stating how important it is to control the ball, own time of possession and wear the opposing team down. Unfortunately, in the NFL, none of that matters. The forward pass is king in 2018, as teams gained an average of 6.4 net adjusted yards per play while throwing and 4.4 yards per play on rush attempts.
The Public Does Not Remember Joe Flacco Properly
I am not exactly sure how this happened, but during the first three quarters of the Baltimore/Los Angeles mactchup, there were people clamoring for Joe Flacco to get into the game for Baltimore. There is no doubt that Lamar Jackson was having his worst game as a pro but Flacco would not have been an upgrade. Before being benched this season, Flacco had only one game with more than seven yards per attempt and had not won a playoff game since 2014. In fact, Flacco has not been above seven yards per adjusted attempt since 2014 as well; he is just a bad quarterback. Jackson was horrible for three quarters but led two straight scoring drives in the fourth quarter before fumbling on what would have been the game-winning drive. Regardless of that fumble at the end, keeping Jackson in the game was the proper move for both the singular playoff game and for the development of the potential franchise quarterback. If you personally thought that bringing in Flacco was the right coaching call, I would ask you to re-examine your philosophy on football