Analytics say Mike Vrabel made worst punting decision of season vs. Ravens

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Eric Edholm
·3 min read
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Going for it on fourth down in the NFL has never been more popular.

But Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel passed up what appeared to be a golden opportunity to do so late in the Titans’ wild-card game Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, which Tennessee lost, 20-13.

With the Titans trailing, 17-13, early in the fourth quarter, Tennessee made a series of questionable decisions. Facing a second-and-2 at the Baltimore 40-yard line, the Titans attempted a deep shot to A.J. Brown. That one missed the mark.

Then on third-and-2, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill was asked to throw again, but Jonnu Smith couldn’t hang on to the pass after a big hit. Another fail.

Ignoring Derrick Henry, who ran for more than 2,000 yards this season, twice in short-yardage situations was bad enough. The real head-scratcher came from Vrabel on fourth down. The Titans punted (and for only 25 yards), which was a shocker.

What makes it such a bad call?

The numbers strongly suggest going for it there, or in almost any other situation in a game.

In fact, this might be one of the most conservative calls in the entire 2020 season — and maybe further back than that.

On their next series, the Titans went for it on their own 30 with the clock approaching the two-minute warning. That drive ended with a Tannehill pick and the Titans lost the game.

So why did Vrabel do it?

That would be more acceptable an answer if the Ravens hadn’t driven into scoring possession (not counting the end-of-half kneeldown) on four of their previous five drives and Lamar Jackson wasn’t dicing up the Titans with his legs.

Also, why no Henry there? Yes, the Ravens held Henry to a scant 40 yards on 18 carries in the game, and that had to factor into Vrabel’s decision.

That begs the question: Why have a $12.5 million-per-year running back if you’re not going to use him in situations such as that?

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