In two key spots on Sunday, Nick Sirianni didn’t go for it on fourth down
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni has a well-earned reputation for rolling the dice on fourth down. In two key spots during Super Bowl LVII, Sirianni kept the dice firmly in his hand.
The first came at the end of the long drive that followed Kansas City’s 10-play, 75-yard effort that trimmed the 10-point margin to three, 24-21. After 17 plays and nearly eight minutes of clock time, the Eagles faced fourth and six from the Chiefs’ 15.
I expected the Eagles to go for it there, since a field goal would have operated as an engraved invitation to Kansas City to seize the lead. I was surprised when Sirianni opted to settle for three. Based on A.J. Brown’s comments from Tuesday, so was he.
If he was, others on the team likely were, too. It was a parting of the clouds, a ray of light that showed both the Eagles and the Chiefs that the squad that had been on the ropes in the first half was about to do to Philly’s football team what Philly’s favorite fictional son once did to Apollo Creed.
Then, after the Chiefs indeed drove 75 yards in nine plays to take the league on the play known simply as “corn dog,” the Eagles failed to convert on third and three from their own 32.
Then came fourth and three. A potent running game, led by the uncanny ability of quarterback Jalen Hurts to get whatever yardage his team may need. But instead of going for it, the Eagles punted.
A 65-yard return later and five more yards on three plays, and that was that. Chiefs up eight. Even though the Eagles tied the game and forced the Chiefs to drive the length of the field for the game-winning field goal, the damage had been done. The Eagles, after spending so much time on the brink of delivering a knockout, first chose to not try to re-establish a 10-point lead and then opted to give the ball back to an offense that had morphed from stagnant to unstoppable in two second-half drives.
Not long ago, the decision to take the three points followed by the decision to punt would never have been questioned, by anyone. Given that coaches like Sirianni have helped make previously unconventional strategies into mainstream thinking, what used to be conventional can now fairly be second guessed.
Here’s the takeaway. Coaches who commit to being aggressive should not allow the stakes to change their approach. Whether it’s the first half of Week One or the second half of the Super Bowl shouldn’t matter. Aggressive is as aggressive does, and coaches who choose to be aggressive all year long make their reluctance to be aggressive noteworthy.