Aggressive coaching is the difference between winning and losing in NFL

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The San Diego Chargers weren’t aggressive enough in Week 2 and lost a close game.  The Pittsburgh Steelers were plenty aggressive and had a blowout win.

This is less of an example of how players impact the game, and more of an example how coaches gain or stall momentum for their teams through decision making.

Aggressive coaching is the difference between winning and losing in NFL

San Diego went into Cincinnati with an opportunity to go 2-0 on the season.  Instead, they squandered that opportunity in a loss that might come back to bite them in a tough division.

Keenan Allen committed an inexcusable mistake early, muffing a punt that set up a Bengals touchdown from the San Diego 19-yard line.  Allen’s blunder and gave Cincinnati all of the momentum with a 7-0 lead before San Diego’s offense even touched the field.  According to Pro Football Reference that put the Bengals’ win probability up to 76% within two minutes of kickoff.

Mike McCoy could have stolen points and given San Diego the momentum back at the end of the second half.

Cincinnati lined up to punt with 57 seconds left in the half, and instead of giving his offense the ball and calling one of his two timeouts, he let the clock run out.

This was the more crucial error.  NBC San Diego’s Derek Togerson details this, and the situation specifics well in his column from Monday morning.

McCoy lost out on any points from that drive by not calling a timeout.  It showed a glaring lack of confidence in his offense’s ability to be effective in a short time span.  It would have put the pressure on Cincinnati’s defense to show up big at home.

It’s not like San Diego’s offense doesn’t have the weapons to put on that pressure.

Philip Rivers is no slouch.  In fact, he became the Chargers’ leader in passing touchdowns on Sunday.  He had five straight games with a passer rating of 120 or higher last year and has 23 game winning drives in his career.

50 seconds isn’t a lot of time to score, but of the quarterbacks in the league qualified to lead a scoring drive in that amount of time, Rivers is one of them.

Which is why this lack of confidence makes no sense, and why the passiveness is so damning.  McCoy didn’t give his team an opportunity to score and seize the momentum, a feeling and concept more impactful in football than perhaps any other sport.

Togerson asked McCoy about the decision after the game:

Sure enough, they scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter.

However, any variation of 3, 6, 7, or even 8 points would have helped San Diego in a game they lost by just 5.

The Chargers lost a game they shouldn’t have because they weren’t aggressive enough on the coaching side.

Pittsburgh bludgeoned San Francisco 43-18 because they were aggressive early and continued to press the 49ers.

They took the lead early – and yes scoring the first two touchdowns of a game will increase any team’s chances of winning exponentially – but Pittsburgh attempted two point conversions after each touchdown and converted both times.

A 16-3 lead is always better than a 14-3 lead, that’s just simple math.

Mike Tomlin’s assertiveness trickled down from the coach to his players.  Ben Roethlisberger showed off his big arm, with completions of 41, 48, and 59 yards on the day.  Ryan Shazier flew around the field and finished the day with 15 tackles, a sack, and a fumble he forced and then recovered.

Pittsburgh eventually created an insurmountable 29-3 lead, from which point they never looked back.

This week could be seen as a bit of a microcosm for the philosophies and careers of both coaches.

McCoy makes calculated decisions better than most coaches, but he is passive in many of them.  This is part of the reason why San Diego has been just above average under McCoy, finishing 9-7 in both seasons and making the playoffs in one of them.  Tomlin on the other hand, has led his team to five 10+ win seasons and two Super Bowl appearances (one win).

To quote an old coaching adage, “if you’re going to make mistakes, make them at full speed.”

McCoy is afraid to watch his team makes mistakes, while Tomlin has the confidence to let his team make them going 100 miles an hour.
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