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The fine line between stupid and clever


When a coach’s team lose multiple critical playoff games in a row, they are going to get the reputation as Someone Who Can’t Win the Big One, especially if the games involve blowing leads and/or obvious tactical blunders. Kyle Shanahan is going to have to wear this, so I think it’s worth pointing out that this is a bad rap. Let’s start with two points from Aaron Schatz. First:

#1 is the greatest regular season team of the NFL’s greatest dynasty, #2 and #3 are teams coached by Kyle Shanahan, and #6 he was the OC. You have to be a great coach to lose those games (all one-score, two in OT) to God-tier QBs and coaches. He’s a great coach.

And because of Mahomes the word “inevitable” gets used a lot about last night’s outcome, but to state the obvious the outcome was highly contingent:

Mahomes almost certainly doesn’t get the chance to win the game in OT if a punt doesn’t glance off a player’s foot. That doesn’t take anything away from Kansas City winning — every game has lucky bounces — but it does demonstrate how dumb it is to say that the Niners lost because Shanahan “doesn’t know how to win” or some bullshit.

Now, it is true that Shanahan made some major tactical blunders in the first Super Bowl loss, and some less egregious but real ones in the second game. But yesterday, while not flawless (he left timeouts in his pocket with the chance for another possession at the end of the first half again), as Barnwell says he had a very sound game tactically, including getting a critical 4th down conversion that could have won the game. The biggest blunder was in fact committed by Reid, who failed to challenge a terrible spot and then burned a timeout anyway. (Which should be a reminder that Shanahan was a play away from winning the previous two Super Bowls despite his tactical errors and could have won either or both.) I also agree with Barnwell that the criticism of Shanahan for not running enough in the 3rd quarter is misguided — CMC (who was very effective in the passing game but got only 3.6 y/c running) was not effective against the stacked boxes the Chiefs were showing.

As for the decision to take the ball in OT, it’s baseless to call it a blunder based on an ex ante N of zero. Shanahan’s preference for a potential third sudden-death possession and more rest for his defense is at least as plausible as Reid’s preference for the strategic advantage of having the second possession, and simulations suggest that it’s a wash that if anything leans slightly toward taking the ball:

I was rooting for the Chiefs for both sports and financial reasons yesterday, but to claim that Shanahan isn’t a Winner because he’s lost three coin-flip games to historic dynasties is really, really dumb. He was a fluke play away from beating Mahomes, Jones, Kelce, Ried, Spagnuolo, et al. with the last overall pick in the draft at QB. He may very well win Super Bowl(s) before too long just like Reid eventually did, but he’s a great coach either way and trying to make yesterday’s loss a coaching failure is just bad post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning.

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