Commanders’ Ron Rivera coaching scared in must-win game is infuriating
By Jerry Trotta
For the first time in what felt like months, the Washington Commanders opened a game with possession of the football vs the NY Giants.
While Giants fans showed out in full force at FedEx Field, the stadium is rocking largely due to the Commanders faithful, the last of whom want to see Ron Rivera and Co. get conservative in a must-win game against a division rival.
Things started positively in that regard, as Rivera decided to go for a 4th and 1 just inside Giants territory. Already a savant in short-yardage situations as a rookie, Brian Robinson moved the chains with relative ease.
Shortly thereafter, though, the promising drive stalled after Wink Martindale’s defense snuffed out a handoff to Curtis Samuel and Taylor Heinicke got sacked for a three-yard loss on third down. Still positioned at the 34-yard line, everyone Washington fan in the stadium assumed Joey Slye’s number would be called.
Little did they know, however, that the Commanders would end up punting — squandering a golden opportunity to take an early lead.
The results were less than ideal.
Commanders’ Ron Rivera coaching scared early vs NY Giants by punting instead of using Joey Slye.
The weather conditions aren’t kicker-friendly, and the wind was blowing into the kicker. We get not wanting to concede the field position battle in the first quarter, but Ritchie James ripped off a good return anyway.
More importantly, Slye has one of the biggest legs in the game, and has nailed three of four attempts from 50 yards or longer this season, including 6-of-8 from 40 yards or more. He’s been an absolute weapon for Rivera, and the biggest game of the year is when you abandon ship and coach conservatively? Minutes after converting a 4th and goal near midfield? That math doesn’t add up.
We’re not the biggest analytics endorsers, but even the analytics said punting was the worst of the three options Rivera had at his disposal — go for it, kick the field goal, or punt the ball — per ESPN’s Seth Walder.
Wouldn’t you know, Slye converted a 41-yarder without breaking a sweat later in the first quarter. The kick had plenty of leg, seemingly indicating he wouldn’t have had any trouble from 51 yards.
No damage was done, as the Giants quickly went three and out on the ensuing possession, but leaving points on the board in a must-win game was an infuriating call from Rivera.
Why not try to establish an early lead?