Texans coach David Culley drew plenty of criticism for his conservative approach in a fourth-down situation against the Carolina Panthers.
Culley didn't feel comfortable having kicker Joey Slye attempt a field goal beyond his range, and he felt like 4th-and-4 was too far to go and called for a punt with Cameron Johnston during a 24-9 loss Thursday night.
A former Baltimore Ravens passing game coordinator, receivers coach and assistant head coach, Culley said Monday that he wouldn't be inclined to punt if he had Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson under center.
“I wouldn’t punt if I had Lamar," Culley said. "He’d be my punter.”
So far, Culley has relied on his gut instincts more so than analytics when it comes to fourth-down decisions.
When he was working with the Ravens, Culley had frequent conversations with coach John Harbaugh about how to handle these situations. Harbaugh tends to take an aggressive approach toward fourth downs, but he has a dynamic run-pass threat in Jackson to rely upon.
“I’ve talked a lot with John because in Baltimore, the two years I was there with John, it was a big deal," Culley said. "The analytics on fourth down was a big deal, and John is one of the guys in this league that basically does a lot of fourth downs, goes for it a lot on fourth down. We talk about it, but basically, once you get to this point, more so in the offseason than now, there’s charts that people have.
"Then again, I can just remember sitting down and talking with John, been in staff meetings with John, talking about the analytics plus the coaching part of it. In the end, you’ve got to go with what your gut feels, regardless that this says there’s an 80 percent that this works, and 60 percent that this works. But your gut feeling sometimes has to take over as a coach.”
Culley said he has plenty of input from the coaches' booth on how to handle these situations. He's armed with a lot of information.
"We do use the analytical information that we have," Culley said. "But I think when you are playing in a game a lot of times and when we sit and have those meetings, they tell me ‘Ok, this is what everybody is doing in the league. This is what the numbers say.’
"But sometimes when you are in a ballgame and depending on who you are playing, whether how good they are defensively or vice versa what they have on the offensive side, has a lot to do with whether you decide to be able to go for it on fourth down or not. I think a lot of times it gets back to just how you feel.”
It's a constant push-pull between what the numbers say and how Culley feels about any given situation in his first year as a head coach.
“I think there has been a little bit of struggle simply because of the kicking part of it," Culley said. "Couple of situations we had were I may have kicked it when I probably didn’t kick it, or I didn’t go for it when I probably should have went for it. I think that’s just me feeling it out and just kind of getting a good feel for how we are playing during that particular time.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.