The Tennessee Titans are an old-school, smashmouth football team led by Derrick Henry and head coach Mike Vrabel, but an ultra-conservative 4th down decision by Vrabel late against the New Orleans Saints may have cost the Titans their first win of the season.
Down 16-12 on a 4th-and-6 from the Saints 11-yard line, Vrabel opted to kick the field goal instead of go for the touchdown.
Mike Vrabel just now defends his decision to kick a FG on 4th-and-6 from the Saints 11 with 2:20 left, down 16-12:
"At the time it wasn't a difficult decision."
"I believe our best way to win that game was to play defense, stop them, which we didn't do."
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) September 11, 2023
Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that Vrabel, a former linebacker with the New England Patriots in his playing days, would trust his defense to come up with a big stop.
The Titans did have all three timeouts and the two-minute warning to stop the clock, but Derek Carr connected on a 41-yard deep pass on 3rd-and-6 to Rashid Shaheed to seal the game.
A popular 4th-down decision calculator gave the Titans a 2.8% increase in Win Probability if they went for the touchdown on 4th down instead of kicking the field goal to make it a one-point game.
Vrabel's decision to kick was likely impacted heavily by his offense's performance leading up to that point. Ryan Tannehill had taken three sacks and been intercepted three times already at that point, and leaning on Derrick Henry for that many yards on 4th down might have been a tough ask. The Titans had kicked four field goals to that point, failing to convert on two deep red zone trips.
After a brutal showing from Tannehill all game, you can understand why Vrabel would trust his defense in that spot rather than his quarterback. The Titans easily could have had plenty of time to get into field goal position to beat the Saints, where kicker Nick Folk had already connected twice beyond 45 yards.
It's the job of a head coach to consider the analytics within the context of the game, and while Mike Vrabel's decision didn't work out, casting faith in a defensive unit that had played markedly better to that point was a justifiable choice.