Sunday, December 15, 2013
On the Titans' decision not to go for 2
By Paul Kuharsky
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Dowell Loggains pleaded with Mike Munchak when the Titans scored the tying touchdown with 10 seconds left.
The offensive coordinator didn't want to go to overtime. He wanted to try to win the game right there and then. Munchak declined the option, and the Titans lost in overtime, 37-34.
I imagine momentum factored into it. But I believe in Ryan Fitzpatrick's propensity to throw a big interception as much as I do in the idea that a team that had just stormed back from a 17-point deficit somehow carries an advantage into overtime. (Bill Barnwell of Grantland has written convincingly that momentum is a myth.)
They kicked the extra point but still had a chance. A defensive offsides call could have given them another attempt, needing just 1 yard, not 2.
But they passed on the opportunity.
Virtually every player I asked about it told me he wasn't the coach and it wasn't his call. Bravo to Munchak for having a team of guys willing to jump on board his groupthink and not publicly challenge their boss. Those are important things to have on a losing football team lacking identity. That and effort will be the top two things Munchak points to when he tries to sell Tommy Smith on keeping him for a fourth season.
The team could use a couple players, frankly, that might be brave enough to challenge his logic at times, since his logic is a staple ingredient in a 5-9 season.
The only guy I can recall questioning him this season was Rob Bironas, after the terrible, tee-less, spinner onside kick failed the Titans a second game in a row at the end of the home loss to Indianapolis.
Lo and behold, Bironas effected change.
On two onside attempts against the Cardinals, he used a tee. And the second succeeded in conventional fashion. He smashed in into the ground, it took a high bounce, Larry Fitzgerald went up and got it, Jackie Battle crushed him and he lost it, Daimion Stafford recovered it.
No player was looking to effect change after this one, really. They were looking not to ruffle feathers.Understandable, I suppose. Though it signals the lack of star power that only one guy said something amounting to, "Damn right I want to go for it there."
Munchak has built this team in his image with a revamped offensive line and a lot of lip service to the running game. He saw the offense score on a lovely play-action pass to Delanie Walker from a yard out in the third quarter. This end-of-game scenario should be right in the Titans' wheelhouse.
Instead, Munchak preferred an extra series or multiple extra series to one snap.
“I'm not the head coach,” Walker said. “I believe in whatever he wants to do.”
Receiver Kendall Wright was a monster when the Titans needed him, finishing with 12 catches on 20 targets for 150 yards.
“I definitely wanted to go for it,” he at least conceded before turning to the company line. “But I'm not the offensive coordinator, I'm not the head coach. I can't control that. I thought the penalty might have changed it, but it is what it is. We can't control what our coaches do. We've just got to go out there and play.”
Said Munchak: “I would hope the offense always wants to go for it.”
An unconventional decision grounded in percentages would have been healthy for this team at that stage.
Make it and you were courageous. Miss it and you showed faith in your guys.
“I thought about it a lot,” Munchak said. “I just felt that we played so hard to get back into it, to put it on one play, that all of a sudden the game is over, the high to low. Now you sit there and think, ‘We might as well have done it. We had a better chance to win.' I felt the momentum was on our side. We got the ball, which I hoped we would. We were in position to take over the game. We have to make plays there and win it. Now that we didn't get it done, I wish we did go for it.”
The distance needed for the conversion shrinking after the penalty wasn't really a factor in his thinking, Munchak said.
In my thinking a team that has consistently failed to make plays, plural, this season, would have been better off trying to make a play, singular.
Including Sunday, the Titans have snapped the ball 11 times in 2013 from the 1-yard line. Five times they've scored the touchdown.
Including Sunday, the Titans have 56 snaps needing a yard for a first down. They have 35 first downs and 6 touchdowns. That's 73 percent success -- 23 percent better than the 50 percent that is overtime.
I am not an analytics guy, but I know several who are brilliant on this stuff.
I asked Chase Stuart of FootballPerspective.com how he looks at it.
“If ‘on average' the two situations are equal, then the characteristics of the team come into play,” he said. “Honestly, considering the quality of the Arizona D, notwithstanding the last 3 minutes of the game, I'd probably lean towards playing for OT.
“However, the penalty makes a huge difference. Since 2012, teams have scored TDs on 60 percent of 4th-and-goal from the 1 situations."
His bigger point departs from numerical analysis and melds with mine, looking at the philosophy and structure of the Titans.
Munchak has a team he's spent three years helping craft. The team has spent money, draft picks and resources to be a team that gets a tough yard.
“It's a huge indictment of the organization's philosophy, in my opinion, for THIS team to not go for 2 and run it up the gut,” Stuart said. “You can't devote so many resources and time and effort to being a physical running team and then not run in a situation where even average teams convert.”
Munchak lacks faith in the offense he's constructed just as much as I do, it appears.
Even lacking faith, I would have gone for it from the 1.