Le Boo NFL Coaching Move, Week 14

When you’re the head coach of a team that’s 13-0, it’s pretty hard for  someone to find any fault in what you’re doing on the sidelines.  But in the case of New Orleans Saints head man Sean Payton, that’s exactly what we’re doing in calling him out for the Le Boo Coaching Move for Week 14.

In a game that had been a lot closer than a lot of people had anticipated, the Saints were holding a slim three-point advantage with four minutes or so left in the 4th quarter and Atlanta in possession of the ball when it looked like New Orleans had salted away the game with an interception by Jonathan Vilma on a poorly thrown ball by Falcons backup quarterback Chris Redman.  Atlanta had been facing a 2nd-and-22 themselves following a bizarre first down call that saw Eric Weems get a direct snap in the Wildcat formation and immediately lose 12 yards, putting the Falcons in an obvious passing situation that the Saints defense, opportunistic all season, quickly took advantage of.

Taking over deep in Atlanta territory following the interception, the Saints were looking at either adding points to the scoreboard to put the game out of reach or killing the clock entirely.  In any case, the interception seemed to put an end to the Falcons chances of an upset.  Even after the Saints offense stalled at the Atlanta 15 yard-line with a little over two minutes remaining, Atlanta still looked finished; a field goal by new kicker Garrett Hartley would make it a six-point game — not in insurmountable deficit, for certain, but a lot safer than the three-point lead the team was holding on to.

But instead, in a bizarre call, the Saints attempted a fake field goal instead.  As the pass fell incomplete, the Falcons were given new life, now needing only field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime, where anything might be possible.  Indeed, the Saints would be bailed out by Vilma again, this time as he stopped Jason Snelling just short of a first down on 4th down.

It’s not that going for it on 4th down to put the game away is what I had the most problem with; a first down there, and the game is over, and you are commanding the league’s high-octane power and arguably the NFL’s MVP in Drew Brees behind center.  With a talented receiver corps and running backs who can catch the ball coming out of the backfield, Brees certainly has the targets to make a 4th-and-7 seem a proposition well worth attempting.

Pictured here: A kicker, a holder -- and absolutely NO quarterbacks you want throwing the ball late in the game

But it wasn’t the Saints offense on the field to convert, but the field goal unit.  And it wasn’t Brees trying to complete a pass of Marques Colston to send the Saints to 13-0, but backup quarterback Mark Brunell — he of the 0 pass attempts since 2006 — trying to complete a pass to offensive lineman Carl Nicks.  Would anyone — other the Payton, we can guess — out there want to make those two the main focus of a crucial offensive play late in the game?  Anyone?

As I pointed out already last week, there’s a time for trick plays — and there’s the time when they’re just ill-advised.  And as I also pointed out in my NFL recap on Monday, Payton already has shown some unusual decision-making in the usage of his running backs, so this strange call isn’t a complete aberration.  So what’s to blame?  It’s not coaching idiocy like some others we’ve looked at — cough cough Gary Kubiak cough cough —  as the Saints head man has certainly done a tremendous job with his team, making Payton a leading candidate for NFL Coach of the Year honors.

So what is it then? Is Payton trying to make the task of going 16-0 even harder for his team to test their mettle?  Is he trying to set up their first loss to take off some of the pressure going into the playoffs?  More worrisome would be that he’s begun to believe too many of his own press clippings, and that he feels the need to “prove” how smart he is — and by extension, how responsible he is — for the Saints success in 2009.  In any case, in a season where Payton’s made the right call nearly all of the time, on Sunday his fake field goal call was definitely the wrong one, and the call not only nearly could have cost the Saints their shot at history, but it was an easy call for the Le Boo NFL Coaching Move for Week 14.

Le Boo, Coach Payton.  Le Boo.

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