Hooley: Coaches in spotlight = deer in headlights

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley look chummy here, but they sure screwed up Sunday

NFL coaches are the best in their profession, which means they should be the smartest 31 men in the world at what they do.

Yes, I know there are 32 teams in the league.

I'm taking Hue Jackson of the Browns out of the equation because, well, have you watched his teams play the past two years?

Back to my premise, about NFL coaches being the best in the world at what they do.

That said, I'm continually amazed how the supposed experts at everything from clock management to play selection can whiff so badly in the pressure of the moment.

This happens routinely in the regular season (again, have you watched the Browns play), but it happens on average even more frequently in the post-season when the spotlight burns brighter.

Let's start with Wild Card weekend, when the Kansas City Chiefs blew a 21-3 halftime lead at home against the Tennessee Titans.

The Chiefs are at home, with the NFL's rushing leader in Kareem Hunt at their disposal. But they ran him just five times in the second half, failing to take time off the clock, allowing the Titans to formulate a prolonged rally built around Derrick Henry's rushing that led to a 22-21 victory.

Now to the Divisional round.

Take your choice of bad Mike Tomlin decisison in the 45-42 loss to Jacksonville.

Tomlin on-side kicked with 2:18 left and two timeouts, trailing Jacksonville by seven points. Playing at home, down a TD, with a chance to stop the clock three times, Tomlin put the game on a risky on-side kick instead of his defense and QB Ben Roethlisberger.

Of course, before that, Tomlin twice allowed Pittsburgh to bypass sneaking Roethlisberger on fourth-and-one. Both times, Pittsburgh failed to convert, initially on a toss sweep to LeVeon Bell and then on a pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster.


Now to Minnesota, where the Vikings trailed by two with 1:44 left, in possession at the Saints' 40. New Orleans had one timeout.

At that point, the game hinges on the right foot of Vikings kicker Kai Forbath. A smart coach does not allow the outcome to tilt on both Forbath's foot and the right arm of Drew Brees.

But instead of running the ball twice, or even three times, to force New Orleans to take its timeout and leave Brees no time to rally if Forbath makes the field goal, Minnesota threw two incompletions and a short pass for five yards to the sideline.

Forbath made the 53-yarder, but the Vikings left Brees 1:34 and a timeout to drive his team to the go-ahead field goal, which he did.

Finally, the Eagles-Falcons game in the NFC came down to Matt Ryan's incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal from the Philadelphia 2-yard line.

The Falcons, down 15-10, needed a touchdown to win.

Of course, any play that doesn’t work is a bad play, but if I'm Atlanta, I want to give Ryan the entire field to survey. Maybe run a few crossing routes (translation: pick plays) to free up a receiver.

Instead, Atlanta rolled Ryan to the right and his pass for Julio Jones went through a leaping Jones' hands. Had Jones made the catch, it would not have counted, as his foot came down out of bounds.

This play call not only denied Ryan a look at the entire field, it limited him to half of half the field. Because when a quarterback rolls right or left, you know the play is going only to the far quadrant of that side of the field.

Ryan is mobile enough, but he doesn't throw on the run very often, and he's certainly not Russell Wilson or Cam Newton, with a skill set capable of scrambling for the touchdown.

Now comes Conference Championship Weekend, with Minnesota at Philadelphia and Jacksonville at New England.

If the past two weeks have shown me anything, it's that the first step in winning the game is to make sure a clock-management error or a bonehead play call at the wrong time doesn't lose the game before it can be won.


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