FAB 3. Koetter Needs To Be More Bold On Fourth Down
If the Philadelphia Eagles’ victory in Super Bowl LII were to teach Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter anything, it would be to take more chances. Too often last year Koetter decided to punt the ball on the opponents’ side of the field, opting to play the percentages that the further the opponent has to go the less likely their chance of scoring and the greater the chances of getting a defensive stop.
Except that the Bucs had the league’s worst-ranked defense and had problems stopping everybody, so those were bad percentages.
Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson went for the first down on fourth down almost more than any other coach last year and it paid off, as the Eagles went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl thanks in part to a gutsy fourth-and-goal touchdown pass from tight end Trey Burton to quarterback Nick Foles called “Philly Special” right before halftime.
Pederson opted to go for it on fourth down 26 times in the regular season, and converted 17 of them. The Eagles’ 65.4 percent conversion rate was the third-highest in the league, and the highest overall for teams with 16 conversion attempts or more on fourth downs.
By contrast, Koetter and the Bucs only went for it on fourth down eight times in 2017, which was the second-fewest attempts behind only Minnesota, which went for it on fourth down seven times. The problem is that the Bucs converted 50 percent of their fourth down attempts, and probably should have attempted to convert more with that type of success rate. The Vikings were just 1-of-7 on fourth down (14.3), so it’s no wonder they didn’t attempt more.
The message to Koetter, who is entering the 2018 season on the hot seat following last year’s disappointing 5-11 record, is simple: take more chances. Coach like there’s no tomorrow because quite frankly, there won’t be another year in Tampa Bay for him after 2018 if there isn’t significant improvement in the win column.
I was actually disappointed that Koetter didn’t take more chances down the stretch when the Bucs were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with a month left in the season. Too often it seemed as if the Bucs were playing not to lose in stretches and weren’t throwing everything but the kitchen sink at trying to win some games that turned out to be close losses. I’m talking about the overtime loss at Green Bay by six points, a pair of three-point home losses to Detroit in Atlanta in back-to-back weeks and three-point road loss at Carolina on Christmas Eve.
“Playing quarterback, watching a lot of teams, a lot of football,” he said via Peter King’s Monday Morning QB. “You learn if you play passive, if you play conservative, if you call plays conservatively, you are going to be 8-8, 9-7 every year. Every year. [Offensive coordinator] Frank [Reich] and I just having that collaborative spirit to talk about things and talk with our quarterbacks and just come up with ways of keeping this game fresh and fun and exciting for our players. And that’s really where it all stems from.”
It will be fascinating to see what type of effect Todd Monken has in his new role as offensive coordinator this year under Koetter, and how that impacts the play-calling. Koetter will still be in charge of calling the plays, but with Monken freed up from having to spend time communicating with the wide receivers on the sidelines, I would think that he would have more opportunities to recommend plays to Koetter, who also has to balance managing the game as the head coach at the same time.
Koetter and his staff were given the 2018 season by the Glazers to rebound and get back to winning ways and a long-awaited playoff berth. The Bucs aren’t the most talented team in the NFC South – which saw New Orleans, Carolina and Atlanta all make the playoffs – let alone in the NFL. Tampa Bay will have to be aggressive with its play-calling and game day strategy if it wants to get ahead this season.
Here’s some advice. Don’t punt the ball inside the opponents’ 45-yard line unless it’s fourth-and-5 or more. Don’t punt the ball on fourth-and-1 unless the Bucs are inside their own 40-yard line. And implement the quarterback sneak with 6-foot-5 quarterback Jameis Winston.
The QB sneak is something Koetter has resisted for far too long. Hey, if it’s good enough for 40-year old Tom Brady to run over the years in which he’s made eight Super Bowl appearances, I think Winston could handle trying to pick up three feet.
Koetter is going to have to go against the percentages and gamble on fourth down more this year if he wants to keep his job. If Koetter doesn’t have a sense of daring urgency and act like the upcoming campaign will be his last by coaching like he has nothing to lose, then 2018 will indeed be his last year in Tampa Bay.