Boldest Coach of the Week:
John Harbaugh’s Ravens were the only team to go for it on 4th down twice before the 4th quarter, as Baltimore converted a 4th-and-5 in the 3Q after going for it in the 2nd quarter on his own 27. The latter decision was particularly bold: the Ravens were the only team to attempt a fourth down conversion in the first 20 minutes of the game, and going for it so close to a team’s own end zone is practically unheard of in the first half of games. Harbaugh’s aggressiveness was rewarded, as Anthony Levine took a fake punt right end for 3 yards. On this play, fortune favored the bold: Cedric Peerman tackled Levine behind the line of scrimmage, but in the process, he caused Levine to fumble. Levine fumbled forward and recovered, picking up the first down.
Half-Hearted Decision of the Week
Ken Whisenhunt wisely went for it on 4th-and-1 from the Indianapolis 4-yard line when up by 10 points with 20 minutes remaining. That’s a smart decision, for many reasons, not the least of which is that being up by 13 can be a double-edged sword. And while the Titans converted, Whisenhunt then kicked a field goal from the 3-yard line three plays later. That came back to bite Tennessee. The Colts scored two touchdowns to take the lead, and ultimately won by two points after a Titans failed on a two-point try in the final minute.
Bad Coaching Decision of the Week
Jim Tomsula elected to punt with the 49ers (i) down by 21 points, (ii) facing 4th-and-1, and (iii) at the San Francisco 40-yard line. That would normally be the worst decision, but…
Most Pathetic Coaching Decision of the Week
John Fox was only eligible for this award while using a generous definition of the word “coaching.” The Bears somehow managed to record zero 4th down attempts in a game where Chicago lost 26-0. The Bears ended every drive in a punt, which included punting on 4th-and-1, 4th-and-2, and 4th-and-3. A 4th-and-1 punt at the Chicago 46-yard line late in the 3rd quarter (while trailing by 20) was the coaching version of waving the white flag.
Worst 4th-and-1 Punt of the Week (tie)
Okay, Fox had a gutless, unjustifiable 4th-and-1 punt, but the Bears weren’t winning that game. So let’s have him share the award with Mike McCoy, whose Chargers punted at the Vikings 44-yard line on 4th-and-1 in the first quarter. San Diego traded up in the first round to draft Melvin Gordon, and just gave Philip Rivers a mammoth contract extension. Why do these things if you can’t trust your offense to gain one yard in a critical road game?
Worst Field Goal Attempt of the Week
Kicking inside the 3-yard line in the first three quarters of a game is almost never advisable, and the Steelers and Patriots both got away with those decisions. So while we could focus on those, let’s look at one that turned out to be a bit more critical to a team’s win probability. The Ravens kicked a 21-yard field goal on 4th-and-goal from the Cincinnati 2-yard line, while trailing 14-10 with 13 minutes left the fourth quarter. The NYT 4th Down Bot estimated that this decision dropped Baltimore’s chances of winning from 31% to 26%. Being conservative in advantageous situations early often forces a team to be hyper-aggressive in disadvantage situations later, and sure enough, the Ravens wound up having to go for it on 4th-and-17 later in the game.
Gutsy Decision That Didn’t Work Out
On a day where the Rams offense accomplished little, give Jeff Fisher credit for at least recognizing this issue early in the game. In the middle of the 2nd quarter, punter Johnny Hekker attempted a fake punt on 4th-and-3 from the Steelers 48-yard line. The pass was underthrown, but it was an aggressive call on a day where the Rams couldn’t seem to move the ball.