We’ve written a couple of times about the Steelers’ penchant for going for two instead of kicking PATs this year, and Thursday night’s game against the Ravens presented a few new wrinkles for the “kick it or go for it” decision matrix. There was a lot going on in this game, but the most interesting was four 4th down decisions Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had to make.
We pick up the action with 2:29 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the Steelers up 20-17. Facing 4th-and-5 from the Ravens 31-yard line, Tomlin opted to trot out maligned kicker Josh Scobee, who had made 46- and 35-yarders earlier in the game. While a field goal wouldn’t put the game out of reach, it would force the Ravens to score a touchdown, rather than be able to tie with a field goal.
On the ensuing Ravens possession Joe Flacco threw three straight incompletions and was sacked on fourth down, giving the Steelers the ball back on the Ravens 29-yard line with 2:04 left. The Steelers gained six yards on three plays, and on 4th-and-4 Scobee attempted a 41-yard field goal.
If we couldn’t already, we can now comfortably say that Josh Scobee is not a very good kicker. The Steelers began preseason with Shaun Suisham, but he tore his ACL. After his replacement Garrett Hartley suffered a hamstring injury, the Steelers traded for the veteran Scobee. After tonight’s 2-4 performance, he is just 6-10 on field goals for the season, and he’s also missed an extra point.
Take it away Snoop Dogg!
The Ravens managed to gain 45 yards in a minute, and Justin Tucker kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime.
The Steelers won the coin toss, and elected to receive. They eventually found themselves with 4th-and-2 on the Ravens 39-yard line, and Mike Tomlin took a timeout to think things over. We have to assume he was deciding between punting and going for it, as after two Scobee misses there was no way Tomlin was going to have him attempt a 56-yarder, right?
Tomlin opted to go for it, and now is a good time to remind you that because of Ben Roethlisberger’s knee injury, the Steelers’ quarterback for the night was an aged Michael Vick. They lined up with Vick in an empty backfield, and after a bit of pre-snap motion he took the ball around the left end on a sweep and was stuffed. Ravens ball.
After a failed Ravens drive the Steelers worked the ball up the field, and found themselves facing 4th-and-1 from the Baltimore 33-yard line. Once again Tomlin opted to go for it, this time with one wide receiver and Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. Antonio Brown was open in the flat, but Vick fired the ball high.
You can watch both of those overtime 4th down plays below:
If the perils of not having a trustworthy kicker were not apparent enough for the Steelers, Tucker kicked a 52-yard field goal to win the game for the Ravens.
I have written previously about how the Steelers are smart to go for two instead of automatically kicking the PAT. Fourth downs are very different from going for two, but some of the logic—that offenses are generally too conservative when making these decisions—is the same.
That being said, individual situations and personnel matter. Michael Vick is an inferior quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger, especially on 4th-and-short when Big Ben can muscle his way for a yard. Maybe a decade ago his running threat made him a good 4th down quarterback, but that Vick is long gone. The other thing is that Le’Veon Bell is maybe the best running back in the league.
I don’t think you can really fault Tomlin for having Scobee attempt the first two field goals. The Steelers were too close to the end zone to gain anything by punting, but 4th-and-5 and 4th-and-4 aren’t quarterback sneak-type situations. Sure, maybe Vick should’ve dropped back on both plays, but Tomlin didn’t screw up here.
And after Scobee missed two field goal attempts, Tomlin wasn’t wrong to go for it twice in overtime either. Where I think Tomlin screwed up was in placing the ball in his backup quarterback’s hands twice, and in his star running back’s hands zero times. It reeks of Pete Carroll trying to justify not handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch on the goal line in the Super Bowl.
But I’m not sure of any of these opinions. The 4th down decision matrix is complex, and becomes even more complex in overtime. Even the 4th Down Bot tapped out on this one:
So I’m curious: what do you think about the four important decisions Mike Tomlin made this game?
Photo via Getty