In a day full of terrible coaching decisions that had Steelers fans calling for Toddy Haley and Mike Tomlin’s respective heads, they got one coaching decision right Sunday. Unfortunately the play was messed up so badly by the kicker that it cost them the game and their season. But going for the onside kick late in the game was absolutely the right call, and I’ll explain why.
For those who missed it, let’s set the scene. The Steelers have just scored to pull within 42-35 of the Jacksonville Jaguars, with just over two minutes left in the game and two timeouts in their pocket.
Now, in the NFL there is the two-minute warning in addition to those two timeouts, giving the Steelers three stoppages, which instantly led to the debate of if they should kick it deep and try to get a stop, or try for an onside kick.
The Steelers opted for the onside kick. It did not go well.
— Big Cat Country (@BigCatCountry) January 15, 2018
The kick was so bad by only reaching the 39-40 yard line, that even after the Steelers forced a three-and-out, that the Jaguars were able to kick a 48-yard field goal that proved to be the deciding three points in a 45-42 win. Oops.
But the decision to go for the onside kick was absolutely the right call for a number of reasons.
The Steelers defense had been gashed all day, giving up 42 points to that point (yes 14 of those were either from the Jacksonville defense or as a direct result of the defense giving the offense a short field), so there was no promise that the Steelers could stop Leonard Fournette and TJ Yeldon.
So by attempting an onside kick, it’s an extra chance at getting the ball back. Again, there is no guarantee you get it back if you just boot it away, so try to get it back any way possible. And chances are they even if you don’t recover the ball, then Jacksonville just runs it up the gut three times, which is exactly what they did, and the Steelers got the stop.
They just didn’t count on the kicker hitting a 4-yarder instead of the expected 10 to 15 yards a decent onside kick goes.
If the kicker hits it decently and the ball goes 10-15 yards like one normally expects on an onside kick then Jacksonville recovers somewhere between the Pittsburgh 45 and midfield. If they run it up the gut three times and get those same nine yards, that’s 4th and 1 from the Steeler 36 to the 40, which is a 54- to 58-yarder, a much harder and riskier kick than the 48-yarder Josh Lambo nailed for the game winner.
If a decent onside kick happens, Jacksonville either plays it conservative and punts it away, giving the Steelers 1:50 or so and no timeouts to go the length of the field, or it comes down to one play and who can either pick up or stop the other team from gaining a yard.
If you want to criticize Mike Tomlin for attempting an onside kick, you could criticize him for not trying a safer, more conservative onside kick. Something like a pooch onside that travels 20-25 yards, going over all of the guys who are up near the 10 yards a kick is required to go, and then you hope your guys win the race to the ball. If they don’t, Jacksonville takes over at around its own 40, well outside of field goal range.
Oh, and in case you still think I’m wrong, noted idiot Clay Travis says the Steelers trying the onside kick was the wrong call.
“That was a coach not putting his team in the best possible situation to win. That’s a failure on an epic scale by Mike Tomlin. I feel bad for Steelers fans.”@ClayTravis: Onside kick before 2:00 warning burned the Steelers
— FOX Sports Radio (@FoxSportsRadio) January 15, 2018
Clay Travis saying it was the wrong decision makes me 100-percent confident that the onside kick was the right attempt, the players just fucked it up.
There was a lot things to be upset about Sunday if you are a Steelers fan, but them going for an onside kick was not one of them.