Week #1 – Loser of the Week

For our first loser of the week this year, it’s a tough choice between Dan Mullen, Head Coach at Mississippi State, and Sean Payton, Head Coach of the Saints (see posts below for greater detail on their mistakes).  I’m going to give it to Mullen for a couple reasons.  1.  They were on the 1 yard and had a chance to run at least 3 plays to tie or win the game.  2.  Coach Mullen was 100% responsible for calling the 1st down run play that failed and let the clock run out.  In Payton’s case, I’ll put partial blame on Drew Brees who was executing the last minute drive and also had a hand in the decision making of not spiking the ball to stop the clock.  Congrats to Dan Mullen, Week #1 Loser of the Week.

Who was the worst clock management coach in 2010 for NFL and CFB?

As my first post for the 2011 season, I thought I’d review what happened in 2010 to determine the worst clock management coaches in the NFL and college football.  I looked at my blog and counted the number of times each was mentioned for any type of clock management mistake (I excluded a few that had minimal impact like not taking a knee).  These mistakes included the typical improper use (or non-use) of timeouts, bad play calling based on down/distance/time remaining, punting instead of going for it, etc.

First let’s look at the NFL.  This one is a slam dunk!  By far, the worst coach is Rex Ryan of the New York Jets.  I counted 11 mistakes he made across seven games (including three games with two mistakes in them).  He made four mistakes in three playoff games and he was the “loser of the week” twice last year which tied him for top honors with Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell and Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy.   Interestingly, despite his bad decisions, the Jets won four of the seven games in which he made a mistake.

Second place may also surprise you.  Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy is the second worst coach with five mistakes across five games including the two on national television on Sunday night against the Patriots and Monday night against the Bears (meaning everyone saw them).   McCarthy was also “loser of the week” twice (shared one week with Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin).

Based on numbers, third place would go to Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith with five mistakes as well (McCarthy wins the tie-breaker with his weekly awards) but I have to at least give him a tie for third with Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell who only made two mistakes but boy were they big one’s.  His decision in week 4 to call a timeout while on defense gave the Jaguars incentive to try for a game-winning field goal.  And he committed a FIREABLE OFFENSE violation in the playoffs against the Jets when he inexplicable called timeout on defense late in the game to stop the clock for the Jets.  I can’t imagine Peyton Manning tolerating this incompetence for much longer.

The tie for fifth place with four mistakes is split between Marvin Lewis (Bengals), Eric Mangini (ex-Browns), Chan Gailey (Bills), Sean Peyton (Saints). Lewis, Mangini and Gailey all had one “loser of the week” award.

Honorable mention needs to be given to former Cowboys Head Coach Wade Phillips who sabotaged the Cowboys season in the first game right before halftime with the dumb short pass that was fumbled and returned for a TD by the Redskins (our week 1 “loser of the week”).  That set the tone for a miserable Cowboys season and I attribute this play to Phillips’ firing.

3 Mistakes – Steve Spagnuolo (Rams), Tom Coughlin (Giants), Ken Whisenhunt (Cardinals), Pete Carroll (Seahawks), Jim Schwartz (Lions), Mike Smith (Falcons)

2 Mistakes – Mike Singletary (ex-49ers), Tony Sparano (Dolphins), Norv Turner (Chargers), John Harbaugh (Ravens), Jeff Fisher (ex-Titans), Gary Kubiak (Texans),

1 Mistake – Bill Belichik (Patriots), Todd Haley (Chiefs), Brad Childress (ex-Vikings), Jason Garrett (Cowboys), Andy Reid (Eagles)

Finally, these coaches were also “loser of the week”:  Tom Coughlin (Week 15), Josh McDaniel (Week 13), Ken Whisenhunt (Week 9), Mike Singletary (Week 2 – this was a tough one as his team scored too quickly).

College Football

This is a little tougher to score because there aren’t nearly that many close games in college football and thus fewer opportunities to make clock management mistakes.  So I’ll just highlight a few “winners”.

Top honors go to Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and LSU’s Les Miles for three mistakes each (Les made two in one game even though they won it).

Two mistakes go to Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, Mack Brown at Texas and Lane Kiffin at USC.

Weekly college football loser of the week awards went to Butch Davis (ex-North Carolina), Brian Kelly, Kirk Ferentz, Steve Spurrier (South Carolina) and Andy Talley (Villanova).


Steelers vs. Packers – Super Sized mistake in Super Bowl.

In the biggest game of the year, Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin made a clock management mistake that arguably could have cost the Steelers the game.  I’m not saying they would have won but they would have put themselves in a better position to win the game.  Here’s the situation.  The Packers are leading 28-25.  They have 2nd and goal from the Steelers 7 yard line with 3:01 left at the snap of the ball.  The Packers throw a wide receiver screen that gains two yards and keeps the clock moving.  The Steelers have one timeout left.  Call timeout.  There are 175 seconds left in the game after the second down play.  A timeout can save 40 seconds or nearly 1/4 of the time remaining.  40 SECONDS SAVED ON DEFENSE IS 40 SECONDS SAVED.  You are not saving that much time when you save a timeout for your offense because you can get a play off faster than 40 seconds when you are in the hurry up offense.  If they called timeout, there would have been around 2:55 left in the game.  On third down, if the Packers had thrown an incomplete pass again (and most likely they would have thrown a pass to the end zone because they needed a TD, not a FG), there would have been 2:50 left in the game.  A FG attempt plus the ensuing kickoff would have left the Steelers with 2:35 – 2:40 left in the game plus the two minute warning to stop the clock.  Instead, they didn’t call a timeout, the Packers snapped the 3rd down play with 2:15 left and the FG with 2:10 left.  They then kicked off with 2:07 left and because the play ended with 1:59 left, the two minute warning was wasted on the kickoff return.

Certainly the Steelers could have benefited from the additional time and the two minute warning.  They were not very organized on their last drive and certainly it seemed like they began to panic a little bit.  After the first play for 15 yards, a first down pass for 5 yards kept the clock rolling and took :28 off the clock in between snaps.  That was not very efficient.  And, on 4th down, they didn’t seem ready and Big Ben barely got the play off before the play clock expired.  Perhaps they should have used their last timeout as they ended the game with one timeout left.  This was typical of the Steelers sloppy play all day.  Not a good way to end the game for Mike Tomlin.

Jets vs. Steelers – No Guts, No Glory!

I have to give Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin a lot of credit for playing to win the game instead of playing not to lose late in their win over the Jets on Sunday.  The Steelers got the ball with 3:06 left in the game after a Jets TD made in 24-19 in favor of the Steelers.  The Jets had 3 timeouts and the 2 minute warning.  The Steelers needed 1 first down to nearly run out the clock and 2 to ice it.  After a first down run for one yard and a Jets timeout, the Steelers didn’t play conservative and run the ball again forcing themselves to make a big decision on third down.  They instead threw the ball on 2nd down and got 14 yards and the first down.  After 2 Jets timeouts and the two minute warning, the Steelers faced a 3rd and 6.  The could run the ball and if they didn’t get the first down, they would give the Jets the ball back with about 1:10 left in the game deep in their own territory with the Jets out of timeouts and needing a TD.  Instead, the Steelers threw it again and got 14 yards and the first down.  Game over.  Nice job by the Steelers and Head Coach Mike Tomlin to take the game into their own hands.

Jets vs. Steelers – Bad Play Calling

I am not a Rex Ryan fan.  He makes too many mistakes that cost his team.  He probably doesn’t make the offensive play calls but I’m still holding him responsible.  Jets are trailing the Steelers 24-10 in the middle of the fourth quarter.  The Jets are on a long drive and have 2nd and goal from inside the 1 yard line.  RUN THE BALL.  AND THEN RUN IT AGAIN.  AND THEN RUN IT AGAIN.  Instead, two incomplete passes and an unimaginative run up the middle and the Jets turn the ball over to the Steelers.  That sequence cost the Jets a chance at winning the game.  For all the tough talk by Rex and his team, they aren’t that tough when they can’t run the ball in from inside the 1 yard line.

Packers vs. Bears – Bad Play Calling.

The Bears were driving for the game tying TD with less than 2 minutes left.  They had 3rd and 3 at the Packers 27.  Just as they snapped the ball, someone on the Bears called a timeout.  They had a nice run play set up.  So they come back instead with an end around run that loses 2 yards with WR Earl Bennett.  At least run it with Devon Hester.  I didn’t mind the run, it was just the play call and the personnel.  Then on 4th and 5, give your inexperienced QB some short yardage options instead of throwing downfield.  Bad play calling by Mike Martz (not the first time).

Packers vs. Bears – Coaching Scared.

Well, Lovie Smith has supplanted Rex Ryan as the initial inductee into the Hall of Fame for pussy coaching.  Twice in the first half of the NFC Championship game Smith punted from inside the Packers 35 yard line.  The first time was midway through the first quarter after the Packers took a 7-0 lead, the Bears drove down and had 4th and 7 at the 34.  Punt.  It only took the Packers two plays to pass the 34 yard line.  While the Packers didn’t score on this or the next drive, it set them up to win the field position game and they eventually scored a TD on a short field.   Then again midway through the 2nd quarter, the  Bears now trailing 14-0 had 4th and 11 at the Packers 31.  Punt.  Again it only took 2 plays for the Packers to pass the 31 yard line.  Is Lovie trying to win the game?  Sure doesn’t look like it.

Packers Head  Coach Mike McCarthy had his coaching scared moment punting from the Bears 36 yard line on 4th and 1 with 4:29 left in the first half and a chance to really put the game away.

Jets vs. Patriots – Even the Master makes mistakes.

The Patriots made two big mistakes in the 4th quarter of their loss to the Jets on Sunday.  Actually, the first mistake was a series of small mistakes.  The Jets had just scored a TD to go ahead 21-11 with 13 minutes left.  The Patriots proceeded to drive from their own 18 yard line with 12:55 left in the game to the Jets 34 where they turned the ball over on downs with 5:15 left.  They used 7:40 and got no points.  But the series of mistakes they made was that they weren’t in a hurry at all on this drive.  There were two incomplete passes on the drive that stopped the clock (excluding the incomplete pass that turned the ball back over to the Jets).  Otherwise, the Patriots ran 11 other plays that kept the clock moving.  And on those 11 plays, here’s how much time expired on the clock from the beginning of one play to the beginning of the other play (about :45 runs off the clock between plays to account for the play and the 40 second clock):  :35, :52 (penalty), :38, :42, :35, :41, :24, :59 (penalty), :35, :40, :39.  Only one play was executed within :30 from the previous play.  Now, I’m not expecting Oregon like execution but that was not one of Tom Brady’s  best drives.  And this is also surprising given that Bill Belichek is one of he better clock management coaches in the league.
The second mistake happened on the next Patriots drive.  The Patriots were still down 21-11 and got the ball back at the Jets 43 yard line after a great punt return with 3:29 left in the game.  The Patriots had 2 timeouts left and the two minute warning to stop the clock.  Therefore, the Patriots needed to get one score (preferably a TD) before the two minute warning (ideally kicking off the ball to the Jets with about 2:10 left in the game).  If the Patriots could do that, they could use their timeouts and the two minute warning to stop the clock after the Jets three plays and get the ball back with around 1:40 left in the game to try and tie the game.  More importantly, they wouldn’t have to try an onside kick.  So here’s where they made a mistake.  They had 3rd and 10 at the Jets 18 with 2:21 left in the game.  Certainly a first down would be great, even if it kept the clock rolling.  But short of that or a TD, don’t throw a short pass that keeps the clock rolling to the two minute warning.  What did they do?  Tom Brady threw a one yard pass to Wes Welker that ran the clock down to the 2 minute warning.  Then they kicked a FG.  Then they tried the onside kick that allowed the Jets to score another TD.  Game over.  I’m not saying they would’ve tied or won the game had they executed properly but they didn’t get themselves a chance.

Jets vs. Patriots – Lucky Rex.

Rex Ryan gets lucky again.  His mistakes get masked in this victory.  One – not going for it late in the 2nd quarter in Patriots territory ended up not hurting him as the Patriots tried an ill-fated fake punt.  Two – up by 11 in the latter part of the 3rd quarter, the Jets were moving the ball on the ground and had 2nd and 6 at the Pats 38 when they killed the drive and the stopped the clock with two incomplete passes.  I thought not runnng the ball, possibly gettingr the first down and not running a least another 90 seconds off the clock would come  back to haunt them. I still say Ryan is a top 5 worst clock coach in the NFL.

Seahawks vs. Bears – Playing Scared.

I knew Pete Carroll had it in him.  He just needed the right opportunity to show his expertise on coaching scared.  The Bears score a TD the first time they get the ball.  The Seahawks start to move the ball and have 4th and one at the Bears 40 still early in the first quarter.  GO FOR IT.  You are on the road.  You need some momentum.  You are coming off an emotional win.  Scared football.  And I won’t elaborate on kicking a FG down 28-0 late in the third quarter.