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SportsMonday: Kicking Trestman

Coach, you must know the saying, "if you don't acknowledge your mistakes, you will repeat them." Oh, and we can add that you will infuriate Bears fans and hasten your departure from our fair city?

I also know, coach Trestman, that you love to get into analytics to explain decisions and your almost-two-minute treatise on why various, shifting probabilities caused you to eschew a timeout late in Ravens game regulation a few weeks ago was a classic in the form.

Maybe the problem here is that the specific analytic involved in the decision that drove fans around the bend on Sunday was too simple. Clearly the idea that a kicker is more likely to hit a shorter field goal than a longer one lacks the sort of complicated sizzle that would make it appealing to the ultra-smart, or at least to those who love to play smart on TV.

What was also simple was the fact that attempting to kick a 47-yard field goal on second down in overtime during the 23-20 loss to the Vikings was a brutally bad call.

Trestman had his team attempt the kick despite the fact that Matt Forte and his offensive line had just strung together five consecutive, successful runs for the first time all game. In the process, they amassed a couple first downs and set up a second-and-seven from the Vikings 39.

Forte was pounding away at a demoralized Minnesota defense after Blair Walsh had launched a seemingly game-winning field goal earlier in overtime. But it was nullified by a fluke face mask penalty that pushed the ball so far back he overhit his next one and missed badly (a 57-yard attempt after the Vikings failed to advance the ball on one more rushing play before the kick).

The Bear offensive line, which had struggled to establish a run game but was solid in pass protection, was rolling. But then Trestman short-circuited it all and went for the field goal earlier than he had to. Some advocate kicking on third down in some of these situations because if there is a bad snap, you can just fall on it and try again on the next play. Few do so for kicks outside of 40 yards.

In general, NFL kickers have improved a great deal in just the past decade. But no matter how much they improve, a 47-yard kick will never be completely routine (of late, they have been converted at a 73 percent rate, which of course means they are missed a little more than one-in-four).

The other element than that was so aggravating about the decision to kick on second down was that the Bears couldn't get their act together leading into it, i.e., they were forced to call a timeout. And when the Vikings followed that with a timeout of their own, Bear kicker Robbie Gould enjoyed a delightful double freeze-out.

Gould is one of the best kickers ever (if he had made that overtime kick, he would have passed former Colt Mike Vanderjagt for the best overall percentage of field goals made at 85.6) but he had been up all night as his wife had a baby. The child apparently was born a little before 2 a.m. and then Gould flew to Minnesota later in the morning. In other words, he was far more susceptible than usual to head games.

And while I realize statisticians have shown that kickers' overall conversion rates aren't fundamentally impacted by timeouts taken before they kick, it couldn't have been more obvious that in this instance, Gould wasn't comfortable during the wait. After going out onto the field before the timeouts he could be seen dashing back to the sideline for practice kicks.

After the game Trestman chose the stonewall route, again (as he had a few weeks prior when he failed to switch quarterbacks for almost an entire half after Jay Cutler had aggravated an old injury, his torn groin, and suffered a new high ankle sprain midway through the loss at home to the Lions). He absolutely, positively would not acknowledge even the possibility that he had been wrong. His excuses for kicking on second down were that he was worried about a penalty or a fumble.

In other words, a classic case of a scared coach playing not to lose.

And one final thing coach: No matter how justified you think you were, YOUR KICKER MISSED THE KICK! Of course one has to evaluate this sort of decision in such a way as to take into account the probability of a given action being accomplished as opposed to simply looking at whether what you did worked or didn't. But if the action is a failure, reasonable people reconsider what led up to it.

Reasonable sports fans in Chicago are starting to run out of patience.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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