PITTSBURGH — When teams go into overtime in the NFL, as the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens did on Sunday, the game typically hinges on who wins the coin toss before the extra period.
Though recent rule changes that allow the second team to possess the ball if the first possession ends in a field goal have lessened the blow somewhat, getting the ball first remains a significant advantage.
Since the rules were tweaked in 2011, the team that gets the ball first in overtime has won about 55% of the time.
But Sunday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin eschewed that conventional wisdom, deciding to defer and put his defense on the field. Tomlin said the decision was mostly about field position and his kick return unit’s inability to secure good field position for his offense.
“Did you see our kickoff return in this ballgame? Did you see their kickoff team?” Tomlin posited. “Every time they put the ball on about the 2-yard line and Tucker hung the ball for about 4.5 seconds, we couldn’t get back to the 15. Why would I sign up for that? I put the defense on the field in an effort to fight for field position and put the onus on them to get the stop.”
The strategy worked, sort-of. The Steelers defense held Baltimore to a three-and-out and the Steelers offense got the ball back at the 32-yard line.
We asked Steelers fans if they agreed with Tomlin’s decision to defer on Twitter. Surprisingly, the results were pretty close.
Do you agree with the Steelers decision to defer and send out their defense to start overtime?
— Steelers Now (@PghSteelersNow) October 6, 2019
The Steelers had seven kickoff returns in the game, and their average starting field position on those drives was the 19.7 yard line. The best they managed was the 25-yard line on a touchback.
The Steelers’ offense couldn’t do anything with the field position, though. JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbled on the second play of the drive and the Ravens took over with a short field and won the game on a Justin Tucker field goal.