NFL Analysis


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Ranking NFL’s Best, Worst Coaching Decisions From Week 12

Shane Stecihen celebrats on Colts' sideline.
Indianapolis Colts coach Shane Steichen reacts against the New England Patriots in the first half during an NFL International Series game at Deutsche Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Our look at the good and the bad coaching decisions from this past week’s games is informed by metrics such as expected win probability added (xWPA).

4 Best, Worst Decisions of Week 12

Second-worst: Rivera’s off the Riverboat

The situation: Washington Commanders ball with six minutes left in the first quarter, tie game, fourth-and-2 at the Cowboys 43-yard line

The decision: Punt

The result: 33-yard punt, touchdown on the following drive, blowout begins

Ron Rivera's Commanders came into Dallas as heavy underdogs on Thanksgiving Day. Against a team averaging 40 points per game at home to that point (now 41), Rivera played it safe and punted from the Dallas 43 instead of going for it on fourth-and-short. 

This decision lost the Commanders four percentage points of xWPA, and the Dallas Cowboys got the scoring underway on their next possession.

From then on, the Cowboys took full control of the game. Contrary to Rivera’s “Riverboat Ron” nickname, he didn’t take the early chance to swing some early momentum his way. He had more than enough time to catch up if they didn't convert.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is shown at MetLife Stadium.

Second-best: Belichick’s still got it?

The situation: 12:23 left in the third quarter, New England Patriots down by 7, fourth-and-1 from the Giants’ 38

The decision: Go for it

The result: Rhamondre Stevenson direct snap for a first down

Bill Belichick’s name has been on the hot seat, but this decision should help his case that he’s still one of the top coaches in the league. Down a touchdown early in the second half, he decided to go for it instead of attempting a long field goal to chip away at the lead.

On a crucial fourth down, Belichick dialed up a crafty play to Stevenson who converted.

This play kept the drive alive, allowing the Patriots to tie the score. Even though they lost, this decision gave the Patriots 8.2 percentage points of xWPA and significantly increased their chances of winning.

Worst: Harbaugh’s Sunday night head-scratcher

The situation: 3:02 left in the fourth quarter, Baltimore Ravens up by 1, fourth-and-1 from the Chargers’ 26

The decision: Field goal

The result: Justin Tucker missed kick, Chargers start at their own 34

Harbaugh’s decision to kick a field goal to try and force the Los Angeles Chargers to score a touchdown seems reasonable given how the game had gone and having “Mr. Automatic” as your kicker.

However, Harbaugh didn't account for the Chargers having all three timeouts and Justin Tucker being capable of missing kicks. Needing only 1 yard for a first down, we would expect Harbaugh to trust Lamar Jackson, as he has before, to ice the game. 

The decision lost the Ravens 7.7 percent of xWPA. More importantly, Tucker missing the kick lowered the Ravens' chances of winning by more than 20 percent.

Best: Steichen ain’t frightened

The situation: 9:11 left in the fourth quarter, Colts up by 3, fourth-and-inches from the Buccaneers’ 49

The decision: Go for it

The result: Gardner Minshew pass to Mo Alie-Cox for a huge gain and first down

Shane Steichen has been quietly coaching this Indianapolis Colts team to a 6-5 record despite losing their first-round pick and potential franchise cornerstone, Anthony Richardson.

Backup quarterback Gardner Minshew has been great while filling in. Steichen even trusts Minshew with the ball on fourth-and-inches. Against a stacked Buccaneers box, Steichen dialed up a play action pass to his tight end, Mo Alie-Cox, from under center.

Alie-Cox was wide open up the seam, and he broke a 30-yard gain to get the Colts into the red zone.

Steichen added 9.4 percent of xWPA, the most out of any decision this week. After scoring later on that drive on a Jonathan Taylor touchdown, the Colts went up by two scores, solidifying their chances of winning.

This article was written by Ryan Rubinstein