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A series of baffling coaching decisions sink Washington against the Giants

The buck stops at the top

NFL: New York Giants at Washington Commanders Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

In a near “must win” game, with two weeks to prepare, Washington played an error-riddled match to the end that ultimately sunk their chances against the New York Giants. Poor in-game management from Washington’s first drive of the game, set the tone, and ultimately put the team in a position to lose.

Let me begin by saying that, while not perfect, by-and-large the defensive coaching during the game was incredibly solid. Some will complain about the 97 yard TD drive given up by the defense in the second quarter, and the complete lack of sacks as a failure by the defense, but the reality is, Jack Del Rio’s game plan consisted of a great set of adjustments to what Washington had seen two weeks earlier. Ravaged by Daniel Jones’ rushing in week 13 (12 carries for 71 yards), Washington took that away this week (10 carries for 35 yards), forcing Jones to try to beat them with his arm, which he couldn’t do (21 completions for 160 yds and 0 TDs)

Unfortunately, the same thing couldn’t be said on the offensive side of the ball. On the first drive of the game, Washington put together a 9 play sequence to get down to the Giants’ 34 yard line. After having made the right call - to go for it on 4th and 1 - earlier in the drive, Coach Rivera was facing a 4th and 12.

At the 34, it would have been a 51 yard field goal attempt for Joey Slye. A 50+ yard field goal isn’t close to automatic, by Slye has had little problem at that range, hitting a 58 yarder earlier in the season. Nevertheless, Rivera decided to punt.

For a man as steeped in analytics as Ron purports to be, this was a baffling decision. The analytics are clear, under these circumstances, you kick the field goal, assuming your kicker has the leg for it.

Over the course of the rest of the game, Giants kicker Graham Gano would hit two 50 yard field goals, and Slye, himself, would hit a 51 yarder. Temperature, wind, etc. were not a significant impairment to long field goals last night, as was pretty apparent when the television camera panned to the flags on the goalposts hanging limply alongside them.

The ensuing punt ended up netting something on the order of 4 yards.

On the following drive, Washington would proceed to drive and kick a field goal. After holding the Giants on offense again, Washington would get the ball deep in its own territory, commit a holding penalty, and then have Taylor Heinicke brutalized by a sack, fumble, and touchdown recovery.

On the following series, Washington would drive into Giants territory, again stalling out on 4th down, this time around the 40 yard line. Here, the “correct” call according to “the analytics” was to go for it (a 57 yard kick would have definitely been at the edge of Slye’s ability). Instead, Ron called for one of the most cowardly punts in a generation.

On the next series, New York would drive 97 yards and score their only offensive touchdown of the game.


During their first series of the second half, Washington finally seemed to awaken from its offensive slumber, marching 91 yards and scoring on a Heinicke to Dotson 19-yard pass. Down five, Rivera decided to go for the two-point conversion, which failed due to a penalty. Backed up, Washington attempted the penalty-lengthened extra point, which Slye missed.

Had Washington attempted and made the field goal on the first drive of the game, the score would have been 14-12 New York at this point. Would that have caused Rivera to simply attempt the normal length extra point? We’ll never know.

New York and Washington would then go on to exchange 50+ yard field goals before Heinicke would be sacked again, turning the ball over the Giants on the New York 5 yard line. Now, the game was 17-12. If the game had been 17-15, instead, might that have changed Washington’s game planning to something more conservative, that close to the end zone? We’ll never know.

New York would subsequently drive down into Washington territory, and Gano would hit another 50 yard field goal, making it 20-12.

Washington would drive down to the New York 1 yard line, and apparently score, only to have the touchdown negated by a penalty on Terry McLaurin. Imagine if Washington was only playing for a game winning field goal at this point. It could have easily been the case, if not for a cascade of coaching errors set in motion by a poor decision on the first drive of the game.

There is absolutely blame to go around for this loss, but we’ve seen poor in-game management by this coaching staff too many times before this season to let them off the hook.


Who bears primary responsibility for the loss against the Giants?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Taylor Heinicke
    (228 votes)
  • 15%
    The OL
    (289 votes)
  • 23%
    Scott Turner
    (428 votes)
  • 40%
    Ron Rivera
    (726 votes)
  • 0%
    Jack Del Rio
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    Joey Slye
    (4 votes)
  • 6%
    Someone else
    (122 votes)
1811 votes total Vote Now