Going for it on fourth down in the NFL has never been more popular.
But Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel passed up what appeared to be a golden opportunity to do so late in the Titans’ wild-card game Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, which Tennessee lost, 20-13.
With the Titans trailing, 17-13, early in the fourth quarter, Tennessee made a series of questionable decisions. Facing a second-and-2 at the Baltimore 40-yard line, the Titans attempted a deep shot to A.J. Brown. That one missed the mark.
Ignoring Derrick Henry, who ran for more than 2,000 yards this season, twice in short-yardage situations was bad enough. The real head-scratcher came from Vrabel on fourth down. The Titans punted (and for only 25 yards), which was a shocker.
What makes it such a bad call?
The numbers strongly suggest going for it there, or in almost any other situation in a game.
In fact, this might be one of the most conservative calls in the entire 2020 season — and maybe further back than that.
TEN decided to punt to BAL from the BAL 40 on 4th & 2 with 10:06 remaining in the 4th while losing 13 to 17.
With a Surrender Index of 138.87, this punt ranks at the 100th percentile of cowardly punts of the 2020 season, and the 99.92nd percentile of all punts since 2009.
— Surrender Index 90 (@surrender_idx90) January 10, 2021
— EdjSports (@edjsports) January 10, 2021
This is the first time in our database (complete back to 1994) that a team in the playoffs punted on 4th and 2 from this field position, down by one score in the 4th Quarter https://t.co/DNdUZL4fzw https://t.co/LLUp1yMUgt
— ProFootballReference (@pfref) January 10, 2021
— Henry Bushnell (@HenryBushnell) January 10, 2021
On their next series, the Titans went for it on their own 30 with the clock approaching the two-minute warning. That drive ended with a Tannehill pick and the Titans lost the game.
So why did Vrabel do it?
"Just decided to punt. Thought we were playing well defensively...play the field position game." - Vrabel when asked to take us thru his thought process on the 4th quarter, 4th down punt. #Titans
— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) January 10, 2021
That would be more acceptable an answer if the Ravens hadn’t driven into scoring possession (not counting the end-of-half kneeldown) on four of their previous five drives and Lamar Jackson wasn’t dicing up the Titans with his legs.
Also, why no Henry there? Yes, the Ravens held Henry to a scant 40 yards on 18 carries in the game, and that had to factor into Vrabel’s decision.
That begs the question: Why have a $12.5 million-per-year running back if you’re not going to use him in situations such as that?
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