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Bucs’ Bruce Arians rated among the worst coaches in the NFL

Forget the offense’s lack of touchdowns. Or the defense’s lack of takeaways. Tampa Bay is missing something else: a grasp of risk management.
No risk it, no biscuit? Yeah, not so much.
No risk it, no biscuit? Yeah, not so much. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | Associated Press ]
Published Nov. 20, 2019
Updated Nov. 20, 2019

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said this week that he has never believed in sports psychology before.

“There’s something missing when you have talent and it doesn’t show up on Sunday, or it’s a focus issue,” he said.

Here’s another possibility: It’s a coaching issue.

Arians is one of the worst decision-makers in the NFL, according to a study by EdjSports. The analytics firm released its 2019 coach rankings Wednesday, and Arians placed 31st, above only the Bengals’ Zac Taylor. The Ravens’ John Harbaugh tops the list, followed by the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan and the Patriots’ Bill Belichick.

EdjSports coaching rankings, Week 11
Rank Coach Team
1 John Harbaugh Ravens
2 Kyle Shanahan 49ers
3 Bill Belichick Patriots
4 Mike Zimmer Vikings
5 Jason Garrett Cowboys
6 Andy Reid Chiefs
7 Doug Pederson Eagles
8 Matt LaFleur Packers
9 Bill O'Brien Texans
10 Sean Payton Saints
11 Dan Quinn Falcons
11 Frank Reich Colts
13 Sean McDermott Bills
14 Mike Vrabel Titans
15 Ron Rivera Panthers
16 Anthony Lynn Chargers
16 Pete Carroll Seahawks
18 Kliff Kingsbury Cardinals
18 Freddie Kitchens Browns
20 Doug Marrone Jaguars
20 Jon Gruden Raiders
22 Adam Gase Jets
23 Matt Nagy Bears
24 Sean McVay Rams
25 Pat Shurmur Giants
25 Mike Tomlin Steelers
27 Matt Patricia Lions
27 Brian Flores Dolphins
29 Vic Fangio Broncos
30 Bill Callahan/Jay Gruden Washington
31 BRUCE ARIANS BUCS
32 Zac Taylor Bengals

As part of its analysis, EdjSports evaluated every coaching decision this season, with a particular focus on plays (fourth downs, for example) in which there was a lot of win probability at stake. Of course, not all good decisions lead to favorable outcomes, so the firm assessed the process, not the result.

“A lot of these decisions that come out as the best decisions by our metric, it emphasizes the importance of possession in the modern NFL,” said Aaron Schatz, editor of Football Outsiders, an EdjSports site. “Offensive levels in the NFL are so high that it makes possessing the football far more important than it’s ever been before, and you do not want to punt the ball back to the other team and let them go on offense. You want to stay on offense yourself.”

The Bucs have been one of the league’s more conservative teams this season. They have attempted a conversion in 40 percent of their fourth-and-short situations, tied for the ninth-lowest rate. They have attempted nine total field goals and punts in those situations, tied for seventh-most.

Arians’ worst fourth-down call, according to EdjSports’ game-winning chance model, was in Week 3 against the Giants. With 3:24 left and the Bucs leading 31-25, he chose to punt on fourth and 1 from the Tampa Bay 31-yard line. New York scored the game-winning touchdown on its subsequent possession. The decision cost the Bucs 12.5 percentage points of win probability and, ultimately, the game.

His best fourth-down call was in the opener against the 49ers. With 13:07 left and the Bucs trailing 20-14, he went for it on fourth and goal from the San Francisco 2. Though Jameis Winston’s pass to Chris Godwin fell incomplete, it was the right decision. Tampa Bay increased its chances of winning by 4.8 percentage points.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.