Mike Tomlin Explains, Defends Onside Kick Decision

Of all the frustrating coaching decisions made in yesterday’s loss, Mike Tomlin’s decision to attempt an onside kick was perhaps most baffling. Speaking with reporters after the game, Tomlin offered an explanation for his choice.

“We wanted to get the ball back,” Tomlin said. “We had’t stopped them convincingly enough to take any other approach in my opinion.”

The attempt failed, miserably. Chris Boswell’s kick went about four yards and Tyler Matakevich couldn’t get out of the way in time, nullifying the hope of the Jags screwing anything up. Jacksonville got the ball back and went three and out but hit a field goal to extend their lead to ten, enough space to hold onto the lead for the rest of the game.

Tomlin put all the blame on him for the call.

“It was my decision.”

The actions and Tomlin’s comments highlight how little faith the team had in a defense. Jacksonville had been unusually successful on third down and obviously, wound up putting up 38 points on them. But it’s been shown that teams get conservative in these end-of-game situations and the Steelers could’ve gotten a stop had Tomlin kicked it deep.

Had that happened, Ben Roethlisberger would’ve gotten the ball back with plenty of time and an offense that was firing on all cylinders. With the onside kick, they never had that chance.

While Boswell has been one of the league’s top kickers, he’s struggled with his onside kicks. There was, of course, the infamous “rabona” attempt last year against the Baltimore Ravens. Combing through Pro Football Reference’s data, the Steelers last ten onside kicks have been unsuccessful. They haven’t pulled one off since Tomlin’s first season, 2007, when Nate Washington recovered a Jeff Reed try in a loss to Baltimore.

Obviously, the percentage of recovering one of these are super slim but lately, that opportunity hasn’t even been there. Something to work on in the offseason.

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