A look at fourth-down decision making in 2014 highlights Sean Payton, Marc Trestman, and... wait, this can't be right... Jim Caldwell? Plus: Chip Kelly may be less aggressive than you think he is.
19 Dec 2007
by Bill Barnwell
Last October in Scramble, I was discussing a play at the end of that week's Philadelphia-Tampa Bay game, the one where Matt Bryant kicked a 62-yard field goal at the end of regulation to win it for the Buccaneers. I'm going to cut and paste the beginning of that article:
Let's start it off with a rule question. Brian Westbrook is alone on the Buccaneers' 2-yard line with about 30 seconds to go, and no Tampa player, from replay, appears to be within ten yards of him. Furthermore, he has a colleague hanging out with him. The score he would create when the ball crossed the plane would give the Eagles a likely insurmountable lead (ignore Matt Bryant for now). So here's my question. Why did he go into the end zone?
Couldn't he have just stood around on the 1-foot line and waited for someone to try and tackle him? Shouldn't his teammate have blocked to keep tacklers who'd likely given up already -- and, judging from the Buccaneers defense's tackling on that play, had given up before Westbrook had even gotten the ball -- away from him while Westbrook killed time? Can the referee blow the whistle if all the ballcarrier is doing is standing still? If so, couldn't he have just run in place around the 1-yard line? How much time could he have run off the clock? Five seconds? More? Would that have won them the game? Westbrook even slowed down as he got to the two, as if he was thinking about stopping, and then creaked across the goal line. Of course, he left just enough time for Matt Bryant, who busted out the ROBO-KICKER Halloween costume about a week and a half too early.
This led to much debate in our comment thread. Some people argued that the game was too fast for Westbrook to consider doing it. Others said that Westbrook should have just gone in for the sure touchdown and not risked the possibility of a fumble or injury. Some others said it was taunting, or too video-gamey of a play. On the other hand, some people said it was a defensible play, with others saying it would have been a negligible amount of time drawn off the clock. It was actually a really fascinating group of comments, both in favor of and against the idea.
So, then, you'll have to excuse me for at least being the slightest bit vindicated when Westbrook, in fact, downed a ball on the one against Dallas instead of scoring a touchdown, giving his team the ability to run out the clock without giving Dallas the ball. Later, it came out that Jon Runyan played a not-insignificant role in convincing Westbrook both in the huddle and during the play to fall down at the 1, but the situation proved incorrect, as a reader stated in last year's thread, that "It's instinct to run, and any running back who's cognitively analyzing the situation during the play would fail miserably, a la Ron Dayne."
Of course, there are some differences and some legitimate concerns. In the Buccaneers game, Philadelphia trailed 20-14, so an Eagles touchdown was necessary -- my suggestion was for Westbrook to spend as much time as possible stalling before scoring, not to down the ball, which is somewhat different. Namely, the former can be construed as taunting, even if it wasn't the intent. Westbrook kneeling eliminates that downside from the play. But Westbrook couldn't have knelt against Tampa Bay; one bad snap could have turned him into a huge goat.
The point of this whole discussion, of course, isn't for me to be right or wrong. Much more important and interesting is the idea that at least some players can make this sort of decision in the midst of a game, and that there likely are other aspects of game-play and clock management that can be exploited by smart teams. I'm not sure when this came into vogue, but the example that comes to mind is a basketball one: When a ball is inbounded in a tight game with little time remaining, you'll often see players let it bounce several times upcourt without touching it, in order to save valuable seconds for actually doing productive things with the ball.
This one I leave open to you: Where are the other places in games where teams and players can do things out of the box that would save or kill precious seconds?
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QB: Normally, I try to avoid players who were not yet starting when readers picked their teams for Loser League Part II. That being said, it would be absolutely unfair of me to not recognize the performance put on by Chris Redman Sunday. Four completions in 15 attempts for 34 yards with two interceptions and a fumble lost earned Redman -- yes -- a -5 for the week. That will do nicely. Unfortunately for Redman, who I actually do think has received a raw deal as a professional, Bobby Petrino won't be able to nab him the third quarterback gig at Arkansas. Another guy no one picked was Troy Smith, who came off the bench to register a 2. Guys who actually could be on rosters and did poorly? You could probably guess it was Derek Anderson and Trent Edwards, each of whom put up 6 points in awful weather.
RB: A pair of off-season acquisitions each earned 2s this week: Travis Henry and Thomas Jones have each disappointed in their own ways this year. As Ian put it when discussing our internal Loser League this week, "Julius Jones has an awesome 7-carry, 5-yards line. That almost deserves no penalty. Almost." That's a 15 for you, sir. The worst running back of the week, though, sees us return to Atlanta. Warrick Dunn ran for 32 yards and fumbled, which gets him a 1.
WR: Props to Jabar Gaffney, who, a week after I had his back in Audibles, followed up with a two-catch, 8-yard performance. That's a zero. Koren Robinson had a single, as did Steve Breaston. A load of players had two points, too many to list, but that actually brings us to...
We at Scramble for the Ball would like to congratulate Michael Clayton of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With his two-catch, 22-yard performance against the Falcons last week, Clayton now has 12 catches on the season. More importantly, that means that he nearly has as many catches in the last three seasons of his career (77) as he did in his first (80). We'll continue to monitor this developing story in Scramble until Clayton hits the big 8-0, hopefully getting some quotes from bitter fantasy owners and Buccaneers fans along the way.
K: Oh yes. It's a wonderful time of year when PATs get missed. We salute you, Josh Scobee. Sadly, you made two more extra points and kicked a field goal, so you ended up with a zero on the day. Jeff Wilkins had one the old-fashioned way, with a missed field goal canceling out two extra points.
Well, since we've already hypothesized that players should be able to make some sort of decision over their physical actions while playing, even at a high-speed, let's stay out on that limb and criticize one for doing so. Roy Williams gets KCW this week for his latest horse-collar penalty, one that led to him being suspended for this week's game against Carolina.
Now, you can say what you want about Williams' abilities being overstated or about the horse-collar rule being unnecessary and inappropriate. Regardless, it's a rule in the rulebook, and considering that it's taken on Williams' name, it's not as if he's unaware of it. This was his third horse-collar of the year, too, so it wasn't as if the NFL enacted the rule and then suspended him the next time he committed it. I'm tempted to let Wade Phillips get a turn with the axe following his absurd postgame quote, but I don't want to steal Ben Riley's thunder.
2-1 last week, 21-19-1
I must not jinx myself. I must not jinx myself.
Yes, I know I'm supposed to avoid betting on Indianapolis. This line is just way too appetizing, though. It feels way too reactionary following Houston's great showing on the national stage last week. Their defensive line isn't anywhere near as likely to touch Peyton Manning as they were Jay Cutler.
Betting against San Francisco is pretty much a given at this point.
OK, so Pittsburgh hasn't looked that great the last few weeks. They've dropped to eighth in DVOA. That being said, they're being hurt a little by their DVOA from the Dolphins game, which wasn't representative of anything, and they've lost two games to two of the best teams in football the last two weeks. I'm not that concerned about them. They'll blow the Rams out.
53 comments, Last at 21 Dec 2007, 1:55pm by BucsD