The Best Coaching Decisions of 2019
There have been many coaching decisions made during the course of 2019 that have changed the fortunes of many teams. In this article I’m going to concentrate on some higher level decisions rather than in-game decisions that have swung a season. These will be single decisions rather than whole organisational changes, so the Baltimore Ravens changing their entire organization to make the most of Lamar Jackson’s talents will not appear in this article. Hopefully my first example will set my stall out for what I want to discuss.
The Minnesota Vikings Decide to Lean on Play Action Passes
During the first four weeks of the season, I was very frustrated with the Minnesota Vikings. They seemed to be perfectly set up to be a play action pass team. They had a dominant run game and two receivers who have the ability to stretch the field and get open. Also, Kirk Cousins, historically, has been a much better quarterback when throwing play action passes. Through the first four weeks of the season the Vikings leant heavily on their run game and had a more traditional passing attack. They were successful with this formula; however, they didn’t always look convincing while they were winning despite Dalvin Cook balling out on the ground. They were not dominant and I personally felt very frustrated that they weren’t using play action passing more.
However, sometime after week 4 the Vikings began to see the light. Since then they rank 2nd behind only the Baltimore Ravens in percentage of plays which are play action passes. Cousins has blossomed and the Vikings have turned into a high-powered offense since that decision was made. He ranks number 1 in the next-gen stat of Longest Completed Air Yards which make sense as the Vikings are going deep on a number of their passes. Cousins also ranks 4th in completion percentage with 69.1% completion percentage. The Vikings rank 7th in offensive DVOA according to football outsiders and have secured the 6th seed going into the playoffs. It could all have been so different if they had not embraced the play action pass as the core of their offense then they could have been sitting at home in January.
The Tennessee Titans Benched Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill
Through the first 6 games of the season, the Tennessee Titans were 2-4 after only beating the lowly Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns. If you just look at Mariota’s stat line then it doesn’t look like he performed too badly in those four losses. However if you watched even the highlights of Titans games then it was clear to see that Mariota was inspiring no confidence and not leading his team to victory. In three of those losses he had no passing touch downs. In Mariota’s career he had 25 games where he didn’t record a single passing touchdown. Having started 62 games that’s a percentage of 40.32% of his games where he didn’t pass for a touchdown. That’s an incredible stat and not in a good way.
So in week 7 Mariota was benched for Ryan Tannehill. In the last 10 games of the season Tannehill has been truly excellent. In just 10 games he leads the league in yards per attempt and has the highest overall QB rating during that stretch amongst all quarterbacks. Those are not the only accolades that Tannehill possesses. He’s the third in completion percentage, has the third longest completion this year
and he’s second behind the probably league MVP in percentage of passes that result in touchdowns. Tannehill lit a spark underneath the Titans offense and the Titans went 7-3 with Tannehill at the helm. Eventually they would make the playoffs as the 6th seed in the AFC, something that seemed unimaginable when they sat at 2-4.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cut Vernon Hargraves
There was a point last season where the Buccaneers were on track to have the worst defense since the formation of the NFL. Fortunately after the sacking of Mike Smith the defence ‘turned it around’ and managed to finish 28th in the league. At the beginning of this season it appeared that the Bucs were right back on track to repeat the feat of finishing 28th. They were awful, especially against the pass where backup quarterback after backup quarterback would carve up the woeful Tampa defence. Just as an example Teddy Bridgewater had his most yards and best passing game against the buccaneers in week 5. For Buccaneers fans this state of affairs was perplexing. A lot of off-season capital had been invested in the defensive front seven and by all accounts they were doing a decent job of pressuring quarterbacks. It looked like every single investment made in the defensive secondary over the last three drafts were total and utter busts.
After week nine of the season the Buccaneers decided to cut Hargraves. Almost instantly the defense improved over the last six games of the season. The young secondary worked out how to cover receivers culminating in holding Deshaun Watson to 19/32 for 184 yards and holding DeAndre Hopkins to 5 catches for 23 yards. With the number one ranked rushing defence all of a sudden the buccaneers could hold decent offenses to modest gains. Coverages sacks returned to Raymond James stadium. The defence started to ball out and the wins started piling up towards the back-end of the season. With the third ranked offense, two receivers in the top 5 in yards, a quarterback who has the second most passing touchdowns means that the future is bright for the bucs and they should definitely be a contender for next season, right…right
Like the article? Hit Will up on twitter (@WClaringbold) or the gents (@gridirongents). Don’t forget to listen to this week’s pod where we discuss the new Head Coaching hires and the Divisional Round of the Playoffs.