Mike Tomlin defends onside kick

Getty Images

Mike Tomlin tried hard to defend his decision to onside kick with 2:18 remaining in a one-score game. Statistics — not to mention the result — say it wasn’t the right call.

The Steelers had two timeouts and the two-minute warning when Tomlin called for Chris Boswell to try the low percentage kickoff. Only five of 40 onside kicks were recovered by the kicking team during the regular season, via The Football Database.

Jacksonville recovered, and although the Steelers held the Jaguars to a three-and-out, Josh Lambo hit a 45-yard field goal with 1:45 left. So when the Steelers scored a touchdown with one second left, they still trailed by three points.

“I know analytically they probably fall in the lower percentages and things of that nature,” Tomlin said, via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. “If I err, I’m always going to err on the side of action in an effort to win. My guys know that about me. I think more importantly them knowing that about me, they expect that from me. I don’t fear failure. I’m going to do what’s required to pursue victory, even if it comes across as unconventional. I’m certainly not going to steer away from decision-making for fear of ridicule. Those guys put a lot on the line when we step into stadiums to play. I, in turn, am responsible for putting a lot on the line and embrace doing so. I understand when things don’t work out and the criticism that’s associated with it. I embrace that. But I go to work with men every day that lay a lot on the line when they step in stadiums as well. I’m just going to provide the same efforts that they provide me.”

His answer, like his decision, still doesn’t make much sense.

84 responses to “Mike Tomlin defends onside kick

  1. I, for one, hope Tomlin keeps his job for a long time. He will never win the big one. So my team will always have his number.

  2. What doesn’t make sense is why he is still coaching… The best RB in the NFL, the best receiver in the NFL, a respectable QB (at least on the field), and a defense that doesn’t stink… Decidedly more talent the NE, but yet poor coaching makes the Steelers nothing more than a perennial “also-ran” team, while others with less talent are better coached and more successful. All the chatter about meeting NE in the Superbowl as if it was a foregone conclusion… Bell yipping about sitting out next season… Ben whining about his OC… What other team (with a winning record) allows such distractions? Too much drama – not enough production means a wholesale change is needed.

  3. So I’m listening to Rich Eisen today saying it’s crazy to talk about firing Tomlin, because he has an excellent winning percentage and he’d get another head coaching job in minutes. I say: so what? The Steelers have tremendous player personnel, but once you get to the playoffs, you’re playing really good teams and that’s where it all falls apart because of Tomlin and his team of numskulls like Haley and Joey Porter.

    You can see in this quote that he doesn’t get it at all. He’s just incapable of strategic thinking; he doesn’t know situational football. All this tough-guy talk about putting it all on the line is just blustering to try to conceal the fact that he doesn’t know how to analyze the best strategic route to victory. I don’t know if his problem is intellectual or emotional—and who cares, when it comes right down to it. The point is that because he thinks this way, the Steelers will always be at a disadvantage in the playoffs.

  4. If things “fall in the lower percentages” of success, I don’t know, maybe you don’t do those things. Or better yet, know the actual numbers in those types of things so you don’t make the “unconventional” decision (translation: dumb)

    Just a thought.

  5. That wasn’t even an attempt to do an onside kick. Kickers practice all season for situations like that and that “onside kick” was a disgrace. I have the feeling that the Steelers, much like the Broncos from two seasons ago, were scared to go to Foxborough.

  6. The problem wasn’t time clock management at the end of the game it was falling far behind early on. Let’s face it, getting back in the game involved a few miracle plays. You don’t usually get that many. And those are low percentage but the Steelers had everyone on the edge of their seats. Bravo. Sometimes you lose anyway.

  7. Steelers fans come and get your ” Duval North ” Shirts now on sale courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars … Read Below …

    When you go 2-0 on their turf on the season, you claim the territory. When your running back has more rushing touchdowns on their turf than their own running back, you claim the territory. When you’re the only franchise in history to go 2-0 regular season and in the playoffs in their territory, you claim the territory.

    Jacksonville Jaguars … True Kings of the Afc North and Heinz Field … DILLY DILLY

  8. I have no problem with inside kick there. You’ve got to take all your shots. The bigger problem is that he waited to long at the end of the game to score. He should have taken the field goal and left some time on the clock for another onside kick and a couple of hail Mary’s. Scoring a td on basically the last play does you no good.

  9. The coach and the quarterback never admit that they make mistakes. That type of attitude leads to making the same kinds of mistakes over and over again.

  10. D gave up back to back tds so one stop wasn’t close to guaranteed.

    Problem is Boswell’s terrible kick. If he kicks it normalls Jacksonville gets it at the 45 then its difficult for them to kick it in hines if its over 50.

    The Jags getting the ball at the 36 makes it a completely different story.

  11. “Statistics — not to mention the result — say it wasn’t the right call. The Steelers had two timeouts and the two-minute warning when Tomlin called for Chris Boswell to try the low percentage kickoff.”

    Statistically, it was the right call. After a deep kickoff, Jacksonville was one first-down away from going into the V-formation. Which is the same circumstance as after the on-side kick, unless Pittsburgh recovers. The real risk-trade-off Pittsburgh took was the possibility of recovering the onside kick versus the possibility of having Jax punt from around their 30-yard line (deep kickoff) versus Jax punting from around Pittsburgh’s 40-yard line (onside kick recovered by Jax). They thought that risk-trade-off was worth taking, and theoretically it was.

    What killed Pittsburgh wasn’t the onside kick; it was the awful 6-yard kick plus the illegal touch penalty during the onside kick, with the result that Jax was in field goal range, even with their three-and-out.

  12. When your out of timeouts or down a couple of scores you take that risk.. when all you need are 3 stops and timeouts and a min Warning is in your pocket…. and Blake Bortles is who you have to stop…..KICK THE BALL!!!!!!!

  13. It was just an awful call and it isn’t a case of hindsight or monday morning quarterbacking. Forget the analytics. It’s just basic common sense. The Jags offense wasn’t going up and down the field all game. It wasn’t an unreasonable expectation to think the Steelers defense could hold the Jags to three and out and get the ball back with plenty of time.

    Watching that scene unfold made me think that the dimwitted Terry Bradshaw may be right about this guy.

  14. “I don’t fear failure”.

    That doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it, a concept Tomlin doesn’t always seem eager to grasp.

  15. And yet down by two scores with 40 seconds left they eschew the FG and any chance of winning so that they can instead use up all of the remaining time to score a TD.

    I was going to write ‘meaningless’ TD, but based on the responses I’ve read here since the game ended, Steeler fans are very quick to point out how many points they scored in the game, and so they clearly value a garbage time score in a losing effort.

  16. the bottom line is Tomlin is not a great x’s and o’s guy. hes actually awful and It was exemplified on fourth and 1 when you run an outside sweep, which plays right into a defenses hands. And the onside kick, thats not pursuing victory, that is ensuring loss.

    Sorry, but with this roster, if you cant win a super bowl, your just not a good enough coach. the players like him because they dont see him as an authority, he is their work-pal. Cant have it, time to cut bait.

  17. Tomlin sure does “err” a lot. He “erred” the Steelers right out of that AFCCG with the Patriots. That was the game that he and his players couldn’t stop yapping about while they were overlooking the Jags. He will never take responsibility for it either. They should clean house after that debacle.

  18. I actually think Tomlin’s coming in for too much criticism on this particular decision. If the execution of the onside kick had been less terrible, the Jags end up with less favorable field position even if they recover the kick. Usually a team will have the ball closer to their 50 after recovering an onside.

    If the Steelers’ D then does it’s job, Jax has to punt the ball to the Steelers after three plays, only up by 7 (and, if we don’t think the Steelers’ D was capable of forcing the 3-and-out, then all the more reason for the onside kick).

    The terrible execution of the onside was a bigger factor in the game than the decision itself IMO.

  19. WTF did he just say? Did ANY of it make ANY sense? I get taking a calculated risk, but the decision to onside kick in that situation was sheer lunacy. Further, he can only say he’s not afraid of failure because he works for the Rooney’s…

  20. I’ve always liked Tomlin and his “fortune cookie speak” is interesting but I’m starting to think he’s all hat and no cattle.

  21. I agree with the onside kick. If you allow a first down you lose. If you onside kick 10 yards and you don’t give up a first down, the Jags have the ball at the 36 or so and would not likely attempt a field goal from there. Either way, if you stop the Jags you get the ball back.

    The problem was touching the ball before it went ten yards resulting in a five yard penalty. That gave them the chance to kick the field goal.

    I agree with Tomlin. You try to keep the ball.

  22. Yeah, there’s the tough guy act again. Problem is, it’s an act. It’s not real.

    I’m a Pats fan and I actually felt that the Steelers offense played lights out, only for this fool to screw it up for them.

  23. Trying to pin them deep was the only sane call. His defense did make the stop and his offense did go down and score. If he kicked similar results could be expected (though not guaranteed) and the game could have been tied and heading into OT. That is unless he decided to increase his reputation for boldness by going for 2…and then losing anyway. Tomlin’s unconventional (read: stupid) decisions cost his team 1-2 wins per year.

  24. It is low percentage because it usually only happens in obvious situations when the receiving team is prepared for it. When they are not, it is a higher percentage.

  25. “I’m going to stubbornly insist my bad decision was the right thing to do no matter how bad the odds of success were compared to anything else I might have done”

    Fixed his quote for him

  26. Using flowery language to defend the decision doesn’t make the decision any less dumb. And the lack of urgency, and willingness to play out the clock instead of kicking a FG and trying for yet another onside kick, is inexcusable.

  27. It’s easy to be this critical in hindsight when what played out was basically the worst case scenario.

    A well executed onside kick, even if Jacksonville recovers, isn’t a bad decision. If Boswell kicks it 10+ yards, Jacksonville is likely starting at the 45-50 at best. 3 and out still has them looking at 54+ yard field goal. They likely punt. At the same time, you’re giving yourself two chances to get the ball back. A first down likely is game over no matter where Jacksonville is on the field.

    Obviously with what happened, a terrible kick which lead to an illegal touching penalty, gave Jacksonville the ball on the 35 and lead to a 44 yard field goal.

  28. Criticism of onside kick is hindsight bias. The onside kick was the right call–the execution was just a disaster. Consider, the average failed onside kick will be recovered at or around midfield (+ or – 2-5 yards). Let’s assume a worst case scenario of recovery at the 45 yardline. One first down and the game is over–the field goal is irrelevant. If you get a 3 and out, the best case scenario for the Jags is a 54 yard field goal attempt (assuming the Jags get from the 45 to the 36 YL, and it’s 4th and 1). That’s a risky FG attempt at Heinz Field. So the Jags either go for it or they punt. So a FG isn’t really something one would “worry” about. The question is whether or not the 10% chance of recovery is worth the field position. But that whole analysis breaks down when the PK completely MUCKS up the kick, it goes 5 yards, hits a player (so another 5 yard penalty), placing the Jags in FG range on 1 and 10. That was probably NOT a scenario considered. Should it have been? That seems unreasonable–I would think a HC should be able to believe the PK can at least kick the darn thing 10 yards downfield. The problem was not the “call” it was the utterly abysmal execution by Boswell.

  29. Steelers have the talent to compete in the post season, but they don’t have the coaching. Until that changes, “also-ran” will be a common adjective when discussing the team from Pittsburgh.

  30. Steeler fan here. I have in the past given Tomlin the benefit of the doubt when they lose games they should win (which has happened far too often under Tomlin), even when lots of people have been calling for him to get canned, since the players are usually easier to blame as they are more directly involved in the execution of plays, etc. Now I am starting to see things differently. This onsides kick call might have been the dumbest coaching decision I have ever seen – including the Hawks not handing off to Lynch in the SB a couple years back. Excuses with lots of big words that really say nothing (see above), lack of player discipline, being OK with the asinine 4th down play calls, not allowing Ben to sneak on 4th and short (if true – still hard to believe). I am starting to come down on the side of making a change. Butler should go with him.

  31. What a crock! I would’ve had a lot more respect for him had he simply admitted that he goofed! Big Ben had a hell of a game and was still man enough to take responsibility for his two turnovers that both led to touchdowns! How can the Steelers front office and players trust a guy who won’t own up to his mistakes?

  32. Perhaps you should prepare your unit for executing an onsides kick.
    Your kicker put the ball straight sideways into one of his own guys.

    It was ugly

  33. notwhoyouthinkitis says:
    January 17, 2018 at 4:51 am
    He was right. The Steelers were not stopping the Jags at that point…
    Except, as the article points out, they then held the Jags to a 3-&-out. But the onside attempt and the illegal touching penalty by the Steelers further gifted Jags the ball on Pitt’s 36yd line, so all Jags had to do was employ Fournette for a few measly ground yards to gift the Jags a field goal.

  34. Let’s put it in perspective. Steelers trailed the entire game. Jags scored on the opening drive and never looked back. Never looked back. Sure, Sad Ben put on his usual show but it was just an exhibition. There were no lead changes. Let’s stop acting like the Steelers were competitive. They got clown stomped and spent the entire sixty minutes following the Jags around like a sad little puppy. I don’t blame Tomlin for pulling out the stops. He knew it was hopeless.

  35. Their last 14 onsides kicks were failures. Tomlin is a defensive coach. And he wasn’t confident in his defense stopping Blake Bortles?

  36. Anyone who follows the Steelers knows that after Tomlin won a SB, he felt the right to do anything he wants. He knows the Rooney’s hate HC changes so he has carte blanche w/o repercussions.

  37. If the Steelers were down 10, the onside would have been the right call. BUT, they were down 7 and have one of the best 2 minute QBs in the league. The play to win the game is to kick the ball through the endzone, thus wasting no more time. Force your D to hold them to a 3 and out. Then you get a punt with 0 timeouts and 1:50 to play. A scenario the steelers have been in multiple times this year. The offense was rolling at that point. But, hindsight is what it is. If it was the only bungled call made in the game it’d be one thing. But there were at least 4 bad coaching decisions made in that game. Ppl aren’t calling for his head because they are losing. They’re calling for his head because they’re squandering extremely talented teams

  38. It’s so embarrassing to be a Steelers fan, every time this man opens his mouth. He tries so hard to sound like the smartest person on Earth, and just sounds like a complete moron. Ugh. If only the League wouldn’t have made us hire him & we could have hired Russ Grimm, like we were going to.

  39. It was reckless and uncalled for. It’s not good when you put your ego
    ahead of the team. Sometimes I think Tomlin does it just
    to get attention.

  40. These are all just petty excuses. The Steelers didn’t stand a chance in either of these matchups because the Jaguars are clearly the superior team. Its been proven twice.

    The only thing to argue about is whether to rename Heinz Field to Duval Field North or EverBank Field North.

  41. Tom Brady is built like a bean pole and has no real foot speed or power in his legs. He gets more 4th and inches first downs than anyone in the league.

    Roethlisberger is bigger than most offensive lineman and has power and foot speed (at least when compared to Brady).

    You mean to tell me that they never let him execute this high-percentage play? Why again??

    When the best team in the history of the league does something well, it’s ok to copy it. Enough with the Tomlin false tough guy arrogance in the face of another unnecessary defeat. It rings so hollow now. Time to go and get a smarter coach.

  42. In either scenario (onside kick or not) the Steelers had to force a 3-and-out in order to have any chance of tying the game. Typically, losing an onside kick would not automatically result in field goal position for the other team. (The kicker is not supposed to flub the ball only five yards directly into his own player, tacking on an additional 5 yards for the other team).

    Therefore, for the sake of this conversation if we say the chance of forcing a 3-and-out are the same at either position on the field (deep or mid field after losing the onside), the onside kick gives the Steelers an ADDITIONAL possible improvement to their chane of getting the ball back (even if it is a very slight improvement).

    The point is that while the onside kick at first glance appears ill advised, it is not actually so cut and dry as this post suggests.

  43. Of course he does. He likes his cushy, well-paid job where he can always be right and doesn’t care about losing. He’s not going to admit he’s a terrible game manager.

  44. The onside kick gives them TWO shots as possession. Recovering the kick and stopping them. The short kick was awful, and the 5 yard penalty for kicking it into his own guy was awful. Even a non-recovered properly executed onside kick would have kept them out of field goal range.

  45. Amazing to see so many posts like “Tomlin is stupid” and “Fire Tomlin today” and “It’s so embarrassing to be a Steelers fan”.

    Hey Steelers fans, a jolt back to reality — you’ve had one of the best fan experiences in the entire NFL under Tomlin. Playoffs almost every year, Super Bowl win, Super Bowl appearances, etc. etc. Steelers’ regular-season record has been stellar. You don’t know what “failure” means. So how ’bout if you just shut up and keep on living your over-privileged NFL experience.

    Sincerely, the fans of the vast majority of NFL teams

  46. I’m fine with the call for the onside kick but the entire team (special teams unit) looked LOST when they were running around like a bunch of fools not knowing what to do.

    If you planned for the onside kick then you should’ve told the kick/hands team before the offense scored and say ‘hey if we score here we’re going to try and get the ball back’

    No excuse for this, step up the effort and have a gameplan so you don’t look lost in high pressure situations all the time.

  47. I, for one, hope Tomlin keeps his job for a long time. He will never win the big one. So my team will always have his number.


    He’s not my favorite coach but he already won a super bowl…

  48. digilat7 says:
    January 17, 2018 at 9:36 am

    The onside kick gives them TWO shots as possession. Recovering the kick and stopping them. The short kick was awful, and the 5 yard penalty for kicking it into his own guy was awful. Even a non-recovered properly executed onside kick would have kept them out of field goal range.


    I don’t know why comments like these are being down-voted so heavily.

    It’s an objective fact.

  49. As Mike watches this film, I hope he’ll honestly reflect on why this was a terrible call among several terrible calls. More important, I hope he’ll reflect on the need to stop obsessing over the Patriots, stop publicly bragging about championship-game rematches before the team has done the work to get to there, and stop underestimating seemingly lesser opponents. Quietly take care of business, one game at a time.

  50. I believe resting players Week 17 was a mistake. There’s obviously no way to prove that one way or the other, but that’s my opinion on it

    The Steelers got off to a slow start. The offense came around and had a pretty solid game in the end, but if they’d started off the way they played the majority of the game, they win. Wipe out just one of the two offensive turnovers and it’s a whole different game.

    Like I said this is all speculation. Can’t be proven. The Colts were notorious for this in the Manning days, but I believe New England generally plays Brady where other teams might rest starters, and it’s hard to argue with their success.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!