It seems that every NFL team is looking for “the next Sean McVay” to be their head coach. On the surface, his play calling is innovative and fresh; he knows how to stay one step ahead of the defense. In two weeks, he will be the youngest head coach to coach in the Super Bowl. But a deeper look reveals some suspect decision making, and this was never more apparent than in this weekend’s NFC Conference Championship game in New Orleans.
Los Angeles was trailing New Orleans 17-20 with just over five minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. The Rams were facing 4th and goal at the Saints’ 1-yard line. Instead of going for the touchdown to try and take the lead, McVay sent his team out for a field goal. While there ended up being a delay of game, the intent was still to kick the field goal. This decision alone cost the Rams -12.4% Game-Winning Chance (GWC). Had it not been for poor clock management by New Orleans and one horrendous missed defensive pass interference call, McVay and the Rams may have been sitting on their couches on February 3rd. That missed penalty, by the way, cost the Saints’ almost 34% GWC, a drop from what would have been 95.9% GWC to 62.2% GWC.
This isn’t the first time McVay has gotten conservative this season:
- In Week 10, while leading the Seahawks 26-24 midway through the 4th quarter, the Rams had 4th and goal at the Seattle 2-yard line. He chose to kick the field goal, giving his team a GWC of 75.9%, a -5.7% GWC loss from the 85.6% the they would have had by going for it.
- In the classic shootout against the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, field goals were likely not going to win the game for either team. Still, while tied late in the 3rd quarter, on 4th and 4 at the Kansas City 15-yard line, the Rams again kicked a field goal, which cost them -7% GWC.
- In the same game against the Chiefs, leading by three points midway through the 4th quarter, the Rams had 4th and 1 at their own 25-yard line. Historically, a team could be expected to convert this around 75% of the time, not accounting for the potent Rams offense. Instead of attempting to get one yard against a very poor rush defense, McVay decided to punt. The result was a whopping loss of -21.5% GWC.
- Just last week, in the Divisional Round against Dallas, Los Angeles had a chance to build on their eight-point 2nd half lead. Late in the 3rd quarter, leading 23-15, they faced 4th and 2 at the Dallas 47-yard line. Despite having the hottest running back duo in the league (and having gone for it in a similar situation in the 1st half), he decided to punt, losing -3.3% GWC in the process.
The most common bond among these games is that the Rams won them all. But if McVay doesn’t learn from his mistakes, his fortune could change in the Super Bowl against New England, because you don’t get away with poor decision making in the NFL forever. Especially not against this coach. And not against this quarterback.
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