Sunday, November 29, 2009

You Play To Win The Game (sport)

Forget about the Belichick decision from two weeks ago. Today there was another 4th down decision that I think coaches in the NFL routinely get wrong. More importantly, it's a situation that occurs very frequently, as opposed to the Belichick decision, which was unique because Brady and Manning featured prominently in the decision. First, note that the coach who made the (in my opinion) mistake was Raheem Morris, whom I've already criticized before.

Here's the situation. Tampa Bay is up 17-13 and there's roughly 2:45 left on the clock. Atlanta has no timeouts left. Tampa is facing a 4th and 4 at the Atlanta 33 yard line. Here's what actually happened. Tampa attempts the 51 yard FG and misses it, allowing Atlanta to start at their own 41 yard line. Atlanta then goes down the field and scores the game-winning TD.

I see NFL coaches go for that field goal a lot when they're up by 4. I just don't get it. When does it gain? It allows you to play for OT if the opponents march down the field and score a TD. But it loses when your FG gets blocked or you miss it and give the opponents great field position. Since the opponents need to get a TD anyway when you're up by 4, it's essentially a scared play that's trying to prevent losing immediately if the opponents come down and score. It's especially bad when you're an underdog to win in OT, as in this case when you have the weaker team and you're on the road.

Kicking the FG is actually my third choice. If you trust your offense, you go for it on 4th and 4 and try to win the game right there. If you trust your defense, you take a delay of game penalty trying to draw the opponents offsides, then try to pin them deep on a punt. Andy Reid was correctly criticized earlier this season for kicking a field goal down 7 to the Cowboys with 4 and a half minutes to go and no timeouts. I believe this decision is just as bad, except that it will continue to be made time and again because too many coaches don't play to win the game.


Jonathan Weinstein said...

Very good points. Depending on the context, it can be even worse to try a FG to go from +3 to +6 than 4 to 7.

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Dan Snyder is God said...

Great point - a similar situation occurred in the Redskins Cowboys game last week. The 'Skins were up 6-0 with 4 mins to go, with 4th down coming from the Dallas 33. The 'Skins attempt a 50 yard FG, miss it, and Dallas marches down the field for the winning TD, starting from their 40 yard line. Keep in mind the 'Skins D had shut out Dallas's offense all game! Why not pin them there? Curiously, there was no criticism of the FG decision whatsoever in the media.

The Pretender said...

@Dan Snyder
I don't know Suisham's range and that certainly plays into it, but to turn it into a 2 possession game on a make pretty much cinches it. I think it's different than a FG where you turn 3 to 6 or 4 to 7 where you don't ice a win with the FG.

In general
I've since been persuaded to lean towards the idea that perhaps it was right for Tampa to kick the FG. Barth had been 3 for 3 on 50+ FGs. I mentioned that I'd go for it if I liked my offense, and punt it if I liked my defense. But what if you're Tampa and you suck on both ends? You expect Atlanta to march down the field on you, you kick the FG and hope you win the coin toss in OT :)

Dan Snyder is God said...

Suisham 3/8 career on 50+ before that kick - 1/4 in 2008. Not a great bet. Also the 'Skins D doesn't have real playmakers (sack/turnover forcing), making 60 yards a relatively easy march down the field with 4 downs to work with.

I certainly see your point on Tampa though. Could be argued it was a 50-50 bet for the 'Skins (although I feel differently).

The Pretender said...

Today I saw a case from the NBA. In a tied game, a guy gets fouled with 1.0 second to go. After making the first free throw to go up by one, he asked the bench whether he should miss the free throw and they told him to shoot it to make. I'm not sure about that call at all. The opponents did have timeouts left (or else would be no brainer), but is the protection of OT if the opponents go for a 2pt shot and make it with 1 second left better than ending the game if you can tip the ball into the air?

Jonathan Weinstein said...

I agree, I like the idea of missing, especially if you can create a long rebound. If they don't get it clean, game over.
Do you remember the Rams-Titans Super Bowl? Tie game, Isaac Bruce scored a long touchdown with about 2 minutes left, then the Titans almost tied it. If he stopped short, they could have run it down and kicked the 99% FG.

Jonathan Weinstein said...

Speak of the devil: in the game that decided the Big East championship today, Pitt missed a golden chance to run the clock down, instead scoring a touchdown with about 1:40 left. They compounded this by botching the extra point, and went on to lose by 1! Incidentally, I don't think Cincinnati let them in on purpose.