Pat Shurmur’s decision to punt on fourth and 1 last Sunday in Indianapolis was more about strategy. Yes, as he said, there was still plenty of time left in the game. Yes, the Browns defense was playing much better in the second half. Yes, about three minutes later, the Browns had a first down in the same general vicinity.
But the Browns’ second-year coach missed the bigger picture.
He showed no confidence in his offense.
Most of the time, NFL coaches are a conservative bunch by nature. But there are times when the shove aside their innate desire to be conservative to show faith in their players.
The Browns were coming off their first win of the season. Momentum was starting to be built. Two wins in a row and the positive vibes would be flowing throughout Berea, regardless of what occurred in the structure of the front office.
Yet let’s dig even deeper. The Browns had possession because Sheldon Brown — the much-maligned veteran cornerback — caused a turnover for the second consecutive week. The Browns defense desperately needed someone to make a play and Brown strip-sacked Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. The Browns recovered at midfield down four with 7:25 left to play.
Three players later, a sure-fire 41-yard touchdown pass glanced off the fingertips of wide receiver Josh Gordon. The Browns took a chance, yet they still had control.
Fourth and 1. The offense lined up … Time out.
The momentum was all but wiped away when Shurmur called that time out and sent punter Reggie Hodges onto the Lucas Oil Stadium field.
Shurmur had an opportunity eschew his conservative nature and ask his players to get him one yard. He failed in the execution and in the fall out.
“I’d do that again,” he said the day after. “I think it worked out.”
Strategically, maybe it did work out. The Browns did get the ball back, but they failed to do anything with it. At that point in the game, it was the Browns’ to win. Moreover, if a team cannot gain one yard, it doesn’t deserve to win.
Other coaches get it. Mike Tomlin gets it. Bill Belichick gets it. Remember when Belichick when for it on fourth and 2 against the Colts in 2009? The Patriots were leading 34-28 and a fourth-down conversion would have sealed the deal for New England. Only caveat, the Patriots were on their own 28-yard line. New England didn’t convert and Indianapolis won 35-34.
Coaches like Tomlin and Belichick don’t go for it on every fourth down, but what they do is pick spots to show faith in their players. In turn, players respond to that type of coaching and it is no coincidence those coaches win.
A fourth and 1 is basically a 50-50 shot. Considering the momentum the Browns were riding last Sunday coming off the win and after the turnover, it was an opportunity lost in another game Shurmur’s team lost.
Judging by owner Jimmy Haslam’s reaction, Shurmur may have also just lost his job.