You might scratch the hair off your head over this decision to punt by Texans head coach David Culley
Understandably, there is a ton of praised being heaped on Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh followimng his decision to have quarterback Lamar Jackson run for it on 4th and 1 from their own 43-yard line with 1:05 left in the game Sunday night. The decision, of course, worked, leading to a 36-35 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
In reality, though, Harbaugh's "ballsy" call was an absolute no-brainer. Jackson is among the best players in the league with the ball in his hands, if not the best player in the league, and asking him to gain one yard to seal a game is a layup move. Yes, Harbaugh has embraced analytics in Baltimore and that was the sound analytical choice, but it was also the only choice. Punting it back to Patrick Mahomes, whose team only needed a field goal to win, with a minute left, would have been bonehead city.
And yet, a majority of NFL head coaches would have taken a trip to bonehead city with a smile on their face in that same situation, hence the praise for Harbaugh. The first guy to raise his hand to punt in that same situation would likely be Houston Texans head coach David Culley, who, despite being 1-1 after two weeks on the job, appears destined for and end-of-season firing, if he makes it that far.
As NFL staff writer at The Ringer Benjamin Solak points out below, Culley's Texans had 3rd and 15 from their own 38-yard line early in the second quarter against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. With the game tied 7-7, the Texans were surprisingly in it as a two-touchdown underdog, and in order to stay in it against a high-powered offense like Cleveland, punting is rarely ever a good option. After picking up 13 yards on a Brandin Cooks reception, Houston had 4th and 2 just over midfield, a perfect spot for a "go" situation. There was, however, a flag on the play - the Browns were offside.
Culley's options were simple: 1. Decline the penalty and go for it on 4th and 2, a very manageable distance, 2. Accept the penalty and face 3rd and 10, giving his team a second chance to get the first down, and potentially a third should they go for it on 4th, OR 3. Decline the penalty and punt on 4th and 2 like dinosaurs. Welp, call David Culley John Hammond because he might as well be the owner of Jurassic Park:
In the grand scheme, the Texans probably don't win this game anyway, but let's say they convert on 4th and 2 if they did go for it. Wouldn't that have increased their chance of winning? Not only would they extend the drive and potentially score, that would be more precious time for the electric Browns offense to stay parked on the side line. Instead, Culley willingly punted them the ball in the name of ... field position??
Hooo boy. There are head-scratching decisions and then there are decisions that make you want to rip your scalp off. This is both. It's both.