Titans coach Mike Vrabel’s intentional penalty was pure genius

Barry Werner
·3 min read

Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel is proving to be this generation’s “Genius.” Vrabel showed he is as shrewd as they come during the final minutes of the fourth quarter as his Titans faced defeat against the Houston Texans.

How? He was able to get a penalty called on his team that gave the Texans a first down.

And that was brilliant? Yes, It was. Follow:

Per Broadwaysportsmedia:

Tennessee is trailing 30-29 with just over 3:00 remaining in the game. The Texans have the ball on the Titans 25-yard line and are methodically moving down the field as they had for most of the second half.

The previous play, a 1st and 10 pass to Brandin Cooks for 9 yards, has Houston set up with 2nd and 1. A run likely gives them another new set of downs just inside the 25. They’re already in field goal range.

So Mike Vrabel sends out Josh Kalu to take an intentional 12-men on the field penalty. How do we know it’s intentional? Well, first, Kalu had played 10 snaps on defense so far in 2020, with 7 of those coming in mop up duty during the Titans blowout of the Bills earlier in the week. Now he’s suddenly getting some run on a critical drive (he’d played zero defensive snaps in this game prior to stepping foot on the field here).

Second, just take a look at the video, specifically the interaction between Vrabel and Johnathan Joseph, followed by Joseph’s body language at the snap (he knows a play isn’t going to happen).

Vrabel had three timeouts but the prudent move was to save them and take the penalty because the Texans went from second-and-1 to first-and-10. If the penalty had not been called, Houston would have run clock, likely got the first down, and devoured more time.

Here’s how things played out. Texans throw an incomplete pass, bringing up 2nd and 10 (already a much better spot than they were in before and just 9 seconds had come off the clock). Then an 11-yard David Johnson run puts them in 1st and goal at the 9. They run it three more times and finally throw it in for a touchdown on 4th and goal at the 1.

During that stretch, the Titans use two of their timeouts, but just 1:13 comes off the clock, in large part, because of the penalty that effectively stole a down from the Texans and gave the Titans back either 40 seconds or a timeout (and possibly more).

Houston missed a 2-point conversion and led 36-29. The two-point conversion was a curious call by Romeo Crennel because the Titans would have had to go for “2” if they scored a TD.

Well, Tennessee did score a game-tying touchdown with 4 seconds left in regulation, and then win the game on the first possession of overtime.

This isn’t the first time Vrabel worked the refs and the clock. He did it in 2018 against the New York Jets.

And we have to wonder if Vrabel learned this in his time with Bill Belichick or if the student figured something out the professor didn’t have.