This week on the Kubiak Konundrum, I'm going to lead not with my usual senseless blather but with an evaluation of a specific decision because it says more than I ever could.
4Q. Approx 2:28 left. 2nd and 9. 17-10, Texans lead.
After the Texans ran for a gain of about a yard, Atlanta used its last timeout. Kubiak was faced with the decision simply to run the ball two more times or to get a little more aggressive and try one pass attempt. The former would basically concede not getting the first down, but the Falcons would only have the two minute warning to stop the clock and their time would be dwindling. My quick calculations guessed the Falcons would have approximately 1:10 left and would get the ball around their own thirty. While the latter decision of attempting another pass would give the Texans the opportunity to go into victory formation if successful, it would risk an incompletion, which would give the Falcons around 35 seconds more with which to work.
In real time, my vote was just to run the ball two more times, trust the D, and milk as much time as possible. Which is of course what Kubiak did. The result: the Falcons got the ball with 58 seconds left (even better!) on the 30 yard line. Yes, the Falcons had enough time to move move the ball and get off two thirty yard tosses into the endzone. Yes, Julio Jones should have caught that ball. But, imagine what the Falcons could have done with 35 more seconds. This move to run three straight times was not earth shattering but a solid job of clock management. I give it a 4.
Contrast that clock management with that of Falcons coach Mike Smith. How terrible was Smith's decision to call a timeout the series before facing a 4th and 6? That decision gave them one timeout left, basically making the 4th and 6 play do-or-die. Had Smith kept the timeout, Kubiak might have even been more tempted to try for a first down and thus more likely to stop the clock one more time with an incompletion. Furthermore, had Mike Smith chosen to kick a field goal instead of go for the 4th down, while keeping his timeout, his team could have been going for the win with more time with which to play.
These aren't definite no-brainer decisions, but the small nuanced ones and how they work out make a coach. You had coaches from two playoff-contending teams making tough calls down the stretch. One had already been much maligned for a late game decision earlier in the season. And it wasn't ours. Ours, in fact, outcoached the other in the final five minutes. I've said it before this season--it's a great Texans world we're living in.
On to the other decisions:
1=terrible call, 2=negative, 3=neutral, 4=positive, and 5=outstanding.
1Q. 8:24 left. 3rd and 7. 0-0. Ball on Falcons' 15.
Of course, we all know what happened here. I'll be as brief as I can and try to mask my rage. T.J. Yates threw a forward pass, everyone in the stadium saw it as such, and one ref even called it incomplete. The only person who didn't think it was incomplete was one Falcon, who picked up the ball and returned it for a touchdown. Refs changed their minds, called it a fumble, and called back the TD because of a penalty yet still awarded the Falcons the ball. Kubiak challenged, and Fox officiating guru Mike Pereira echoed what we all knew--it was an incomplete pass. The refs inexplicably didn't overturn the call.
We've been preaching on the Kubiak Konundrum all year that for the sake of objectivity, we are as much as we possibly can judging the results, not our opinions, of what Kubiak should have done. For this reason, I can't give the call a 4 since it didn't work. But, I also can't give it less than a 3 since it was so obviously the right call. Some of you might call me out on straying from the company line, but sometimes we need to stop overanalyzing and use our own eyes. I wish the officials would have done the same. Still, I'll let you all decide in the poll if the play should be a negative since it didn't work, or even a positive despite our guidelines since it was so obvious. In this case, turning the judging over to y'all will be my objectivity.
3Q. 4:35 left. 4th and 7. Texans up 10-3. Texans ball on the Falcons' 37.
Kubiak chose to eschew a punt and have Neil Rackers attempt a long field goal. Rackers came up short, giving the Falcons great field position, which they turned into their only touchdown of the day, tying the game.
For the sake of consistency, I can't hammer Kubiak for this. His continual reluctance to forego the long field goal in these situations has been one of the things I have consistently found fault with this year. I've seen Rackers hit 54 yarders. Supposedly, he was hitting them up to 60 in warm-ups. It didn't work out, so it gets a 2, but I think it was clear and justifiable that Kubiak was looking for points anywhere he could find them and trusted his defense. Chime in if you think I'm being too easy on the call.
4Q. 7:42 left. 10-10 tie. Texans ball on Falcons' 9 yard line. 4th and 1.
This is the big one, perhaps what will be Kubiak's defining call of the regular season. First, Kubiak pulls out the red flag, considering challenging the spot as so many on the game thread were
yelling typing for him to do. However, subsequent replays showed the spot was accurate, so Kubiak wisely buried the flag in his pocket. The call turned out to be a fairly obvious one. I'm not giving it its own write up, but I include it to highlight how many small and important decisions occur for a head coach throughout the game.
Then, Kubiak decided not to take the sure three points and the lead, instead putting the ball in Arian Foster's angelic hands on 4th and 1. Seven yards, first down. Two plays later, a touchdown, and control of the game that they would not relinquish.
Leading up to the decision, I was hesitantly urging Kubiak to go for it. Still, it was a very tough call. They had been limiting our run game all day, often stopping it for no gain or worse throughout the day. We had a rookie QB, so a play-action was not going to happen. The Falcons could sell out against the run. Kubiak threw all those factors out the window, had the perfect play (which he had ready just for that very situation and almost used earlier on a fourth and 1 until Mike Brisiel jumped offsides), and his team executed.
For the gutsiest decision of the year, Kubiak gets his second 5 of the season and gives another example of how those that give him the Konserviak tag are vastly mistaken.
Personally, I thought this game was Kubiak's best coaching job of the year, perhaps his career. Not all the decisions worked out, but he showed tremendous testicular fortitude, made tough calls that his team could believe in without flinching, and won a game in which his team was not favored, even if perhaps they should have been. I know the neverending injuries break our hearts one ligament at a time and make us wonder if Bud Adams left a cursed Indian burial ground under the foundations of Reliant Stadium, but the team's persistence in overcoming the setbacks is a testament to Kubiak's ability to keep his players focused amidst turmoil. Yes, Wade Phillips's addition has clearly been the biggest change of the season coaching-wise; however, one could also look at the situation and come to the conclusion that having a legit NFL defense--a great one at that--is finally allowing Kubiak to come into his own as a head coach.
Note: Last week's Konundrum did not evaluate game decisions because of my lack of having a TV to watch the game. With no decisions brought up in the comments and upon finally seeing the game on replay, I don't think there was anything of note to discuss.
2: 1 play.
4: 1 play.
5: 1 play.
TBD: 1 play
1: 1 play.
2: 7 plays.
3: 10 plays.
4: 10 plays.
5: 2 plays.