So I already previewed the NFC Divisional game between the Cowboys and Packers, but after publishing, I had one more thought I wanted to put out there. While watching the Texans-Patriots game, I was repeatedly frustrated at Texans coach Bill O’Brien’s refusal to play aggressively, especially in the redzone.
The first occasion came in the first quarter on fourth-and-four from about the Texans 15-yard line. This was still very early in the game and it was the drive directly after the Patriots first touchdown, so I can understand that O’Brien wants to get his team on the board and “answer” his opponents’ score.
But, the other school of thought is that you’re playing one of the best defenses in the NFL and you have a terrible offense. You know the Patriots are likely going to score at least a few touchdowns against you, and maybe more, so you NEED to take advantage of your redzone opportunites with touchdowns.
O’Brien kicked the field goal and made the score 3-7. I don’t like the call, but I don’t hate it.
The second time O’Brien made a way-too-conservative call wasn’t long after that. Dion Lewis took the kickoff back for a touchdown after the Texans first field goal, the Texans went 3-and-out and then Tom Brady threw a pick.
Tom Brady threw an interception! Do you know how many teams have gotten a chance to score after a Tom Brady interception this year? Two. Seattle and Baltimore – possibly the two best defenses in the league this season. And now the Texans lucked into one at their own 35-yard line.
They moved the ball down to the 8-yard line for a fourth-and-two. The score was 3-14. Step into the mind of the Texans head coach…
A field goal makes it a one-score game, but should we really be worried that this early? No. The second quarter just began and we’re expecting an offense like New England’s to score multiple more times. What we should be worried about is getting the most points we can after lucking into great field position and a redzone opportunity – especially when we don’t know how many more we will have. I’d be willing to gamble three points on our ability to get two yards, if it means we can get four more.
Obviously, there’s the risk that we might not pick up the first, or get stuck on fourth-and-long even after picking it up. But when you’re a 17-point underdog, you need to take those risks if you want to win.
The Texans were playing to keep it close into the fourth quarter (according to what Bill O’Brien told the announcers), but that can’t be the strategy of a huge underdog. It’s the same thinking that encourages coaches to go for two at the end of games and “go for the win” rather than take an extra point to tie. If your team is worse, wouldn’t you rather bet the game on winning one play from the two-yard line than winning an extra overtime period? The Texans should have been playing like that from the beginning.
But how does this apply to the Packers game against the Cowboys? Green Bay isn’t a 17-point underdog, not even close. In fact, many experts are picking the Packers to win the game outright, and most are at least expecting a competitive contest.
Well, we all remember the 2014 NFC Championship game against Seattle. It gets brought up all too often for Packers fans’ liking. And one of the most popular criticisms of McCarthy in that game was his very conservative decisions on the goal line early in the game. They kicked field goals from the Seattle 1-yard line twice and another from the Seattle 22 on fourth-and-one. With the best player in the league as your quarterback, you would think at least two of those fourth-and-ones would be converted, resulting in more points for your team. And even if they aren’t, your defense is playing incredibly and you’ve pinned them deep in their own territory. You very well might get another shot at a short field on your next possession.
Conservative playcalling has cost McCarthy and the Packers in the playoffs before, and we watched it destroy Houston’s slim chance of winning last night. I would hope the Packers come out firing with aggression and trusting Rodgers’ hot hand to pick up important chunks of yardage in high-leverage situations. It could mean a trip to the NFC Championship.