Aggressiveness, when applied correctly, is an admirable trait for an NFL coach. But Mike Vrabel did not apply aggressiveness correctly on Sunday. He took an unnecessary risk.
After scoring a late touchdown in the Tennessee Titans’ game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Vrabel and company were still trailing by one. There were 31 seconds left on the clock, and the Chargers had two timeouts left.
The common decision is to take one point, defend Los Angeles’ final drive and prepare for overtime. This was not the time to be uncommon.
Vrabel, however, immediately signaled to his offense that they were going for two. They wanted to take the lead.
“If there was less than 40 seconds, we were going to go for two and win the game,” Vrabel told reporters after the game. “… I’ve got a lot of faith in our players. They’ve been converting third downs and converting in those situations. Marcus was doing everything we need him to do, keeping plays alive. Not going to second guess the call. Just didn’t work out.”
To be clear, this 2-point conversion attempt was not a dagger. When Vrabel says he wanted “to go for two and win the game,” he’s being misleading. It could have been the game-winner, but didn’t clinch victory by any stretch.
The Chargers had plenty of time to get back into field goal range and attempt a game-winning kick, regardless of whether the Titans tied the game or went up by one point. So even with the knowledge that getting ahead by one point would not guarantee victory, Vrabel was willing to lose the game in the name of that insecure 1-point lead.
That was the first flaw in his logic. Then came the poor play-calling.
On the 2-point conversion attempt, Marcus Mariota got bailed out by a defensive holding call after he threw an incompletion. The Titans got another attempt at their two points. This time, they were 1.5 yards away (instead of the typical three yards).
After averaging five yards per carry, why not run the ball?
The Titans decided to throw the ball, and set up with an empty backfield. They set up the possibility for a run with jet-sweep motion. But why not put a running back in the backfield and also use jet sweep motion? At the very least, they should have presented a greater threat of running the ball. Regardless, the pass fell incomplete. With a one point lead, the Chargers recovered an onside kick, and Phillip Rivers took a knee, which ended the game.
Vrabel wanted to be aggressive. He wanted to trust his players. He wanted to win the game. But none of those desires justified the risk of attempting a 2-point conversion. He should have taken the point-after attempt, defended the Chargers on the following drive and prepared for overtime, especially considering how much momentum they seemed to gain in the final quarter.