A Deeper Look at the Cowboys and 49ers

Treyvon Diggs bows head after Cowboys loss
Treyvon Diggs bows head after Cowboys loss
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Wild Card - The Cowboys ended what was once a promising season in spectacular fashion on Sunday afternoon.  A late rally came up short after Dak Prescott made a daring sprint to the 49ers’ 24-yard line on the last play of the game.  With 14 seconds remaining and no timeouts, the Cowboys had hoped to give themselves a better final shot at the end zone but were unable to spike the ball before the clock expired.  Amid the chaos, the official couldn’t properly place the ball on the correct line of scrimmage as he tried to squeeze through the Cowboys’ offensive linemen.  There was a crescendo of frustration among the Dallas faithful as they felt robbed of one more crack at the end zone.  It is difficult to say how much Game-Winning Chance (GWC) was lost in not being able to stop the clock, as the Cowboys would have had one last pass attempt into the end zone from the 24-yard line. Our simulations indicate it may have been as much as 15%.  All this late-game drama obscured the fact that the 49ers made a deliberate decision on fourth down just moments earlier that was even more costly in terms of expected GWC loss than the Cowboys’ poor execution on the final play.  

With 2:51 remaining in the game, the 49ers were facing a fourth-and-1 on the Cowboys’ 49-yard line while holding on to a 23-17 lead.  They lined up as if they were going to run a play, but it was only a weak attempt to draw the Cowboys offsides.  After being assessed the five-yard penalty, the 49ers were slightly more justified with their punt on fourth-and-6. A custom simulation reveals that punting on fourth-and-1 is a massive -17% GWC blunder.  Amazingly, even after the penalty it is still a -6% GWC error to punt the ball away on fourth-and-6.  If we simplify the fourth-and-1 attempt to a one-yard gain on a success and a turnover at the line of scrimmage when it fails, the 49ers risk approximately 6% GWC to gain 19% GWC.  Therefore their required conversion rate is only 6 / (6 + 19), or 24%.  We can debate what the actual conversion rate may be (NFL average is approximately 70%), but it should be clear that within any reasonable range of assumptions, this decision is a no-brainer.

A full table of suboptimal decisions from this game is represented below. There were several other “high-confidence” errors by both teams, although none quite as egregious as the aforementioned.  The high confidence label addresses an issue raised by many readers this season.  While the underlying DVOA assumptions that inform our custom simulations are very good, we recognize there is some level of uncertainty.  For this reason, a decision is re-run with very strong counter-case parameters.  Regarding the 49ers’ fourth-and-1, even if we set the offense well below the worst rushing team in the NFL and set the defense well above the top rushing defense, we cannot come close to flipping the model’s recommendation to attempt the first down.  For example, swapping the 49ers’ rushing offense with the Giants (worst rated offensive rush DVOA) and swapping the Cowboys rushing defense with the 49ers (top rated defensive rush DVOA), the error only drops from -17% GWC to -11% GWC. 

The Dallas Cowboys coaching staff will undoubtedly endure some criticism this week as the San Francisco 49ers prepare for their matchup with the Packers.  While it is always difficult to argue with a win, our analysis reveals the 49ers coaching staff should be subjected to at least as much scrutiny as the Cowboys.

49ers key fourth down errors:
 

49ers Errors

 

Cowboys key fourth down errors:
 

Cowboys Errors

 

Comments

56 comments, Last at 21 Jan 2022, 11:16am

#1 by billprudden // Jan 18, 2022 - 10:27am

I LOVE the idea of high-confidence claims as you define them above.  And such a simple definition, the worst off vs. the best def.  Perfect.

Points: 0

#2 by Pat // Jan 18, 2022 - 11:18am

It seems too "binary" for me: I can't possibly see how a -1.5% loss in game winning chance could be a "high confidence mistake" in the same sense that a -17% game winning chance drop could be.

There's no way in the world that a team could possibly believe their chance of success on a 4th and 1 play could be skewed enough to justify the 49ers punt, for instance. There wasn't enough time left in the game for that much uncertainty! But the Dallas punt, that's a lot different.

I also don't like the idea of comparing "punt" versus "pass" and "rush" as if they were two separate choices. Especially when it's 4th and 2, where you'd expect passes to have biased results (you only pass when your opponent makes a mistake).

Points: 0

#22 by Wifan6562 // Jan 18, 2022 - 7:55pm

Purely for illustrative purposes, I’ll demonstrate how a relatively low change in GWC can simultaneously be high confidence in terms of the right/wrong decision:

Team 1 is up 21 with 10 minutes to go. They have a 4th and 1 from the opponents 37 yard line and they decide to punt. Team 1 is going to win this game and their GWC barely changes at all, but it’s still clearly the wrong choice to punt. They barely change field position and they no longer have the (very high) chance to make it a 4 possession game while eating clock. 

Points: 0

#28 by Pat // Jan 19, 2022 - 11:46am

Team 1 is going to win this game and their GWC barely changes at all, but it’s still clearly the wrong choice to punt

I mean... kindof? When you're talking about such a minor change in GWC, almost any externality could push that one way or another. Like, if the coach decides they'd rather just get their offense off the field and see if they can burn most of the time on defense, that could justify it easily.

Points: 0

#49 by Eddo // Jan 20, 2022 - 12:18pm

Maybe a better example: on the opening kickoff, the kicking team intentionally kicks the ball out of bounds (and there isn't a Devin Hester or Corarelle Patterson on the return team).  It's obviously a bad decision, but ultimately is close to insignificant in terms of its impact on win probability.

Or, if on the first scrimmage play of the game from the offense's 25 yard line, the defense intentionally lines up offsides to give them five free yards.  High confidence it was a bad decision, but minimal impact on win probability.

Yes, these are fabricated (and absurd) examples, but they help illustrate how confidence can be separated from magnitude of impact.

Points: 0

#50 by Pat // Jan 20, 2022 - 1:02pm

Right, and that's kindof what I'm trying to point out. In those cases there's no way to justify it because it fails both from a GWC and an EPA perspective, and EPA is in the limit of an infinite game. It's just a bad choice. In the "-1.5%" example above - from your own 33 - it's only really a bad decision because you're near end-of-game and you're already mostly screwed, so on average you better start taking risks.

But the average result encompasses a lot of different styles of teams and head coaching choices, not just from an offense/defense standpoint. In other words, it's not just enough to fuzz the assumptions. You really need to fuzz some of the inputs, too. Does the conclusion stay the same if game clock is +/-2 minute from its position? Does it stay the same if field position is +/-2 yard from its current position, etc. (*). It's really difficult to imagine decisions like those staying high confidence when the effect is so minimal.

The other point, like I was trying to say, is that it's also a huge assumption to compare "punt" versus "go for it with a run" and "go for it with a pass" since those two categories aren't really distinct like punting vs going for it is.

*: those numbers aren't exactly pulled out of thin air - game clock and field position are obviously "uncertain" to some degree and if you wanted 'high' confidence you'd pull things to extremes to see.

Points: 0

#3 by JacqueShellacque // Jan 18, 2022 - 11:19am

It is difficult to say how much Game-Winning Chance (GWC) was lost in not being able to stop the clock, as the Cowboys would have had one last pass attempt into the end zone from the 24-yard line

The point missed here isn't to calculate the difference in effectiveness of (maybe 2) hail marys from midfield vs (at best one) end zone shot from the 24. There's a deeper issue in the decision that goes beyond calculation. In anything other than a game-ending scenario (like say just before halftime) the choice to move the ball forward for a closer end zone shot may indeed have been perfectly justifiable, and this advantage calculable. BUT: in this case, the possibility of the game ending before the attempt from the 24 could even happen needed to be considered, and this isn't calculable. For that reason, it needed to be ruled out as an option.

Possible objection: Note this isn't the same as going for 2 at the end of regulation to win, rather than kick a PAT for OT, because the odds of what might happen in OT can be (roughly) calculated. What's different in this scenario is the inability to know or calculate all possibilities associated with running a play to midfield with only 14 seconds left, and still having at least 1 second left on the clock. For that reason, the decision is irresponsible.

 

Also I do agree that Shanahan's decision to not go for it on that 4th and 1 is unconscionable.

Points: 0

#4 by Pat // Jan 18, 2022 - 11:36am

BUT: in this case, the possibility of the game ending before the attempt from the 24 could even happen needed to be considered, and this isn't calculable. For that reason, it needed to be ruled out as an option.

The possibility of it happening due to an offensive execution screwup exists on any other play, too. If on one of the previous plays the player doesn't get out of bounds, same problem.

I don't understand people criticizing the playcall. I thought it was a really smart call - it was like, totally free yardage - but the execution after the play was just a head-coaching failure. Think about it - McCarthy literally said they practiced it and he didn't think there was an execution problem, and Dak's description of the process (you spot it, the umpire comes in and taps it) is totally wrong.

Now keep in mind that when you're practicing it, you can also confirm with the officials and New York what the best practice should be there. And there's no way in the world they would've said "spot it yourself and let the umpire touch it." No way. The playcall was smart. The head coaching there is just abysmal. Add in the fact that the Cowboys are the most penalized team in the league, and it just indicates that they don't communicate with officials to figure out how to play within the rules.

Points: 0

#7 by bravehoptoad // Jan 18, 2022 - 12:10pm

Sure, and that they managed to make the same kind of mistake twice in one game, with their "rush the offense out there and make the opponent burn a time out to make substitutions" gaffe. 

Did they think their ideas were sooooo smart that they didn't want to ask the NFL and risk a leak?  What a brain trust there in Dallas. 

Points: 0

#14 by Romodini // Jan 18, 2022 - 2:40pm

They weren't the same mistake.

In the special teams gaffe, the referee stands over the ball preventing it from being snapped 4-5 seconds after the 49er's defensive substitutions have been made, apparently completely unaware the clock is ticking down. The Cowboys snap the ball as the clock hits zero and are called for delay of game, despite the referee holding up the snap and the close timing of the snap and double zeros being the kind that refs usually never call. See the final drive of the Cardinals/Cowboys game for a Cardinals play that was snapped well after the clock hitting zero, but wasn't called.

It's just another example of the arbitrary, incompetent state of officiating in the league.

Points: 0

#15 by Pat // Jan 18, 2022 - 3:17pm

No, that was (mostly) the Cowboys fault. The umpire has to get a signal from the referee that defensive substitutions are complete and the ball can be snapped, and that time is a long time (like, 10-15 seconds is typical). If you watch the replay, the umpire's pointing right at the ref until the last 49ers player settles into position, then he drops his hand and immediately moves out of the way. The timing on the ref/umpire/substitution there was lock-solid. Remember the 49ers don't just get to get players on the field, they also get to go to position, too.

I do agree that given how close the snap was to double zeros that should've been okay. But the ref didn't hold up the snap any more than he should've, and it's straight in the rules that if the offense waits too long to substitute and the defense doesn't have enough time, that's delay of game on offense.

Points: 0

#17 by Romodini // Jan 18, 2022 - 4:22pm

At what point are referees supposed to deem that the defense is in position? 

If it's when motion has stopped on the defensive side, would it have been a legal play for the defensive players to slowly meander to their spots and not stop until the one second mark, thereby forcing the offense to take a delay of game penalty since the ref can't signal the umpire until that point?

In McCarthy's and Bryan Anger's postgame comments, they mention that the defense actually isn't supposed to be allowed to sub because the Cowboys weren't bringing any new players from the sideline on for the next play. Apparently one of the refs somehow mistook a Cowboys player briefly stepping onto the field in celebration after the fake as a substitution and stood over the ball. Maybe that's "sloppy" of the Cowboys, but then you'd think that refs would be able to distinguish celebration from substitution.

Points: 0

#20 by greybeard // Jan 18, 2022 - 7:14pm

I am not sure I understand what you mean, Cowboys took out the entire special team players and put in the entire offense. 

Points: 0

#21 by Romodini // Jan 18, 2022 - 7:47pm

I think McCarthy and Anger are referring to the substitution of defensive players immediately after the fake punt, not after the offense had to run onto the field. I didn't make that clear. 

Points: 0

#26 by greybeard // Jan 18, 2022 - 10:13pm

Article 10 If a substitution is made by the offense, the offense shall not be permitted to snap the ball until the defense has been permitted to respond with its substitutions.

 

So as long as they keep substituting the defense have a right to keep on matching. Just because defense substituted once does not mean they have to stay put after offense keeps substituting.

It does not surprise me McCarthy does not know that.

Points: 0

#29 by Romodini // Jan 19, 2022 - 1:10pm

From what I can tell from what the players and coach said, it's not about the second defensive substitution, it was about the first. The punt unit stayed on the field after the 4th down completion, and didn't substitute. However, an official convinced himself that a player celebrating was somehow an offensive substitution, and so stood over the ball and prevented the ball from being snapped while the defense substituted players. The Cowboys had to cancel their play and rush the offense onto the field, since the design play no longer worked with what the defense was showing. The defense then substituted players again -- this isn't the substitution being called into question.

Points: 0

#31 by Pat // Jan 19, 2022 - 2:13pm

They were trying to catch them on the field with too many men - you can see the center counting. The problem is that you can't do that without warning the refs ahead of time. They need to swap out the punting ball. That's normal procedure. There was no "player celebrating" thing. It was just punt ball swap. You have to warn officials ahead of time if you're going to go away from normal procedure. That's not the officials' fault.

By the time that happened, San Francisco had the right number of players on the field, and the Cowboys panicked. But keep in mind - they had twenty-five seconds at that point, since the play clock resets (actually more). Once the whole "too many men" thing failed, they should've immediately switched and they would've had plenty of time.

The offense didn't finish substituting until like ~11 seconds on the play clock, so they were basically screwed right then and there.

Points: 0

#35 by Romodini // Jan 19, 2022 - 2:58pm

What you're saying makes sense, and is damning of McCarthy and the whole coaching staff. But McCarthy definitely did mention something about a player celebrating, so are we to assume this was made up or something that he falsely attributed as the reason why their play didn't work? 

Points: 0

#36 by Pat // Jan 19, 2022 - 3:20pm

But McCarthy definitely did mention something about a player celebrating, so are we to assume this was made up or something that he falsely attributed as the reason why their play didn't work? 

No, I think it happened but the claim that they would've caught them with 15 men on the field (which, c'mon, is what they're trying to do) is garbage. And the claim that they would've run a play is similarly crap too, in my opinion. McCarthy's just giving an excuse. What actually happened is they were trying to catch the 49ers with too many men, they didn't have too many men, and most likely McCarthy realized the idea of actually running a play with your punt team is dumb as bricks.

The full play sequence is here. The punt team lines up, then starts looking for the umpire, who is carrying the game ball. They haven't even set the punt ball down yet, much less get set! The umpire walks over to the ball, and the long snapper is counting defensive linemen. As soon as he does that, the 49ers coach pulls back the two players on the side of the field so they don't have too many men.

The long snapper then steps back and it looks like the umpire says something to him, and then he's totally confused and starts calling over to the sidelines. Then complete confusion happens and he waves everyone off.

The 49ers never substituted during that portion. The umpire was holding things up a bit, but before that the 49ers already had the right guys in position. And the umpire holding things up didn't cost them any time, either: the game clock/play clock were both stopped.

(To be clear there might've been something happening downfield, but I doubt it. I'd like to see the all-22 but McCarthy and Fassel's body language just indicates to me that Fassel's pissed because he thinks they could've caught them, and McCarthy realizes that this whole thing is stupid.)

edit: I should also note that probably the umpire is telling them the defense gets to substitute, the long snapper yelled it over to the sidelines, and Fassel tells them to stay on the field and is pissed talking to McCarthy. But the whole thing was botched way before that.

Points: 0

#40 by Romodini // Jan 19, 2022 - 4:08pm

Yeah that makes sense.

But I'm not sure why you said "the 49ers never substitute during that portion", because 93 is running onto the field as the balls are being swapped.  Didn't you already establish that the substitution doesn't matter since it was a dead ball -- and isn't the whole dead ball thing what the coaches and players are confused over -- the fact that the defense supposedly can't sub since the punting team didn't?

 

Points: 0

#41 by Pat // Jan 19, 2022 - 4:20pm

But I'm not sure why you said "the 49ers never substitute during that portion", 

What I mean is that the 49ers never have 12 men on the field (as far as we can tell, but I doubt it) at any point when the Cowboys could have possibly snapped the ball, even if the ref hadn't thought the 49ers could substitute.

The 49ers pulled back the two extra guys (91 and 98) literally while the long snapper was counting players and the balls were being exchanged. So even if the umpire held things up for 2-3 seconds, that holdup had no material effect. They never were going to get the 49ers with too many men.

Watching it again, honestly, if I had to guess, Fassel probably noticed that they reset the play clock (that's gotta be what he's pointing to) and thought they could swap in the regular offense in time, and he was wrong.

Points: 0

#37 by KnotMe // Jan 19, 2022 - 3:28pm

Sometimes I think the sport would be better off with officials just starting and stopping play and having defined sub rules rather than dealing with all the stuff about trying to catch teams with 2 many, drawing offsides, ect. Would simplify a lot. 

Points: 0

#23 by Wifan6562 // Jan 18, 2022 - 8:09pm

It’s up to the discretion of the ref. If the ref thinks that the defense is just slow playing it, they can just start the play. That wasn’t the case here. The defense wasn’t slow playing it, and they are entitled to a short period of time to realize the offense is changing and they need to change their personnel. Ultimately, this was really bad on the Cowboys. Really poor execution on a weird attempt at a trick play.
 

Or, maybe they were just unprepared and making it up on the spot. Honestly, given the across-the-board unpreparedness and implosion seen in the 4th quarter, that might be the much more logical interpretation of what happened on this play. 

Points: 0

#32 by Pat // Jan 19, 2022 - 2:22pm

Or, maybe they were just unprepared and making it up on the spot.

They were trying to be cute without actually discussing it with anyone. Which basically is "making it up on the spot." You can't try to catch a team with too many men on the field after a fake punt without informing the officials. Normal procedure is to hold the play clock, swap the punt ball, reset the play clock to 25 seconds at the ready for play. If you want anything other than that, you need to tell them. They'll do it, but you have to tell them.

The Cowboys afterwards said "[t]hey can't sub -- since we didn't sub anybody off the field" - and that's not the way it works. The defense is always allowed to substitute during a dead ball, it just always risks the chance of a snap occurring and catching them with too many men. They just get extra time to substitute if the offense does.

The comments about "the ref stood over the ball" are hilarious - of course he stood over the ball, he was swapping it out, because that's what you do.

Points: 0

#38 by Romodini // Jan 19, 2022 - 3:33pm

The ref stands over the ball long after he's swapped them out and appears to be talking to Cowboys players. Seems likely that's what punter Bryan Anger is referring to, not swapping out a ball.

Points: 0

#39 by Pat // Jan 19, 2022 - 3:43pm

When he's standing over the ball, there's no center (well, long snapper) there, so of course he stays there, there's no intent to snap. Then the long snapper comes back, the ref says something to him (most likely "they get to substitute"), and the long snapper then rushes over to yell something at the sidelines. By then the umpire's already back in position and total chaos ensues.

But again, during this entire time, the 49ers are happily set in position. No one's doing anything. They weren't ever going to catch them with too many men, and if they were going to run a play, they could've done so right then. Yeah, someone might've confused something there, but it didn't matter, that was a red herring.

Points: 0

#8 by JacqueShellacque // Jan 18, 2022 - 12:12pm

The possibility of it happening due to an offensive execution screwup exists on any other play, too. If on one of the previous plays the player doesn't get out of bounds, same problem.

 

Which suggests there should come a time when anything further beyond an end zone shot is taken off the table. There are far fewer moving parts to the previous sidelines passes that had worked successfully. But let's not get sidetracked: the purpose of analyzing decision-making is to determine if it was sub-optimal or not. Forget the outcome, did the decision taken give Dallas the best chance to win? My argument is that not accounting for the possibility of being unable to run a play again after a run up the middle with only 14 seconds left means any numbers-based analysis can't be used to determine that. Another heuristic needs to be used, the one where anything that might end the game if it's not done to absolute perfection is ruled out. In that sense, the decision was sub-optimal.

A similar situation that I can think of is in Super Bowl XXV, down by 1, 8 seconds left, no timeouts, ball at the opponent 30. You can attempt a 47 yard FG (long in those days, kickers weren't reliable), or try a quick sideline pass to get 5 or 6 more yards to make it easier for the kicker. Again forget the outcome, you're the HC, which is the optimal choice: do you risk a certain but unreliable try now, or risk the try altogether to make it a little more probable? You can't quantify this, anyone who suggests they can doesn't understand decision-making under uncertainty.

My stance here is that the decision-making heuristic needs to account for the possibility of losing the try in the attempt to make it more certain. That's what was ignored by McCarthy and Moore in the Dallas case, in fact McCarthy said so explicitly, arguing that it was 'the right call' because it offered him a better shot at the end zone. My reply would be that nothing comes for free, and he failed to account for the true cost.

Points: 0

#10 by Pat // Jan 18, 2022 - 12:24pm

My argument is that not accounting for the possibility of being unable to run a play again after a run up the middle with only 14 seconds left means any numbers-based analysis can't be used to determine that.

Why do you think you can't account for it? It's easy. Find all cases where a rush is made in those situations and what fraction ended without the next play.

From Dallas's point of view it should've been even simpler: they should know just from practice. Except for the fact that their practice procedure was totally screwed up.

You can think of it like Dallas saying "no, we knew we had a great chance of making a field goal from midfield, that's why we did it" and then finding out their practice field has the goal posts still at the front of the goal line. Can't account for stupid.

Points: 0

#11 by KnotMe // Jan 18, 2022 - 12:47pm

It's possible to quantify it, it's called conditional probability. The probability of getting 2 heads in a row is .5 * .5 = .25. 

To take you example, if the 47 yard FG has .10% chance of working, the sideline pass has a 90% chance and the 42 yard FG has a 50% you want to try since you have  10% chance of winning where you are and a .9 * .5= .45 if you do the sideline pass.  It depends on what the chances are in a specific case.  

"Failure to run a play" would roll into the first plays success, since it would actually be  "Get XX yards closer and have enough time on the clock for the second play". Heck, it even worked in this case, although you can't judge anything from a single sample. 

The coaching failure was not coaching the players on the importance of giving the ball to the ref and getting out of the way. 

Points: 0

#12 by Pat // Jan 18, 2022 - 2:08pm

The coaching failure was not coaching the players on the importance of giving the ball to the ref and getting out of the way. 

So to be clear, it's worse than that, because McCarthy literally said in his postgame conference that that isn't how the mechanics are supposed to work. And it is. I mean, it obviously has to be, you can't let the damn team spot their own ball.

It's not even that he didn't coach the importance of it. He literally doesn't understand the mechanics in that situation. It's not exactly a common situation, so it's entirely possible he's been getting it wrong his entire career.

Points: 0

#43 by KnotMe // Jan 19, 2022 - 4:46pm

That whole game felt like McCarthy was trying to "coach" the team to victory in a sort of  "I can do all that cool coach stuff too" type way. 

Points: 0

#16 by JacqueShellacque // Jan 18, 2022 - 3:22pm

You're ignoring the fact that as the game comes to an end, say 8 to 14 seconds left, the number of sample paths drop dramatically. You won't 'get' the .45 you've calculated, that's only true over a larger number of sample paths. Analyses with coins simply don't mimic real life. It's true that over a large number of tosses the probability of getting 2 heads in a row is .25. But it's possible, if I only have 2 tosses, not 1000, I might 2T, 1H1T, 1T1H, and maybe not 2H at all. In an NFL playoff game, when you're running out of time and choices, you need to first eliminate those that would elmiinate you, if you can. Yes, I completely understand that an attempt at the end zone from the 24 is much easier than from midfield. But that's conditional on being able to attempt it. 

Points: 0

#33 by Pat // Jan 19, 2022 - 2:25pm

when you're running out of time and choices, you need to first eliminate those that would elmiinate you, if you can. 

Again - all plays have the possibility of you running out of time. Your argument is that this play has such a high probability it's not worth it. That's a testable statement, and the Cowboys should have known what it was.

The whole game (honestly the whole season) the Cowboys have just been demonstrating they don't actually understand the NFL rules, so I think it's safe to say the dumb thing here was the coaching, not the play.

Points: 0

#44 by Wifan6562 // Jan 19, 2022 - 10:54pm

I feel like this entire discussion is simply about the manner in which the coaching was screwed up. Maybe they didn’t know how much time was needed to run that play. Maybe they knew, but tried to do it with too little time anyway. Maybe they failed to practice it enough resulting in Dak and the O line being unaware of how to execute it when stress got high. I would also list a potential for this to be a complete player a screwup, but after the total meltdown across the board in the 4th, it seems absurd to think the players are primarily to blame for the many gaffes.  

Points: 0

#46 by Romodini // Jan 19, 2022 - 11:41pm

McCarthy claimed the play requires 13 seconds, and they had 14. I think the players just screwed up. I posted another example further down of a Lions receiver spotting the ball himself with no issue, so I really don't think it's the case that Dak being coached to not give the ball to the ref was the problem.

The players and refs simply stumbled over themselves and took too long to get the play going. 

Points: 0

#48 by Pat // Jan 20, 2022 - 9:00am

a Lions receiver spotting the ball himself with no issue

The video you posted literally shows the receiver placing the ball, the center picking it up and handing it to the umpire who spots it in the same place.

Part of this might be terminology: saying a player can't spot the ball doesn't mean he can't place it on the ground where he thinks it's going to be. That's fine. Especially in the Lions case, that receiver absolutely shouldn't be handing the ball to the umpire, because he's not supposed to be anywhere near it when the ball's snapped.

Saying a player can't spot the ball means that no matter what, the umpire has to come in and do the official spot, because he's the only one allowed to do it. If a player's smart and puts it where it's supposed to be (and he should aim conservatively) then the whole process is flawless, especially if the umpire's been warned beforehand.

Dak being coached to not give the ball to the ref was the problem.

To be clear, Dak didn't have to be the one giving the ball to the ref. Dak could - he's the quarterback, he's going to be close to the snap, but the center's the guy who you really want handling it because he's going to snap it, obviously.

The guy who I'd really fault on the final Cowboys play is the center. He knows the umpire has to touch it and he's not even looking for the guy.

Points: 0

#54 by jheidelberg // Jan 20, 2022 - 7:26pm

One second is cutting it close, but since the NFL has not come to the modern era with regards to clocks, it is possible that there were actually 13.1 or 13.2 seconds left, not 14 seconds.  So in an even more absurd scenario, he thinks that he knows that this play takes 13.0 seconds and that surely he will get another play.

Points: 0

#24 by Romodini // Jan 18, 2022 - 8:20pm

"You spot it, the umpire comes in and taps it" is exactly what happened at the end of the Packers/49ers game when Rodgers completed a pass to Adams to set up a field goal, with the difference being that the official didn't stumble through the back of the quarterback. 

 

Points: 0

#27 by greybeard // Jan 18, 2022 - 10:26pm

The Cowboys spotted the ball at 23 yards line even though slide started at 26.5. The official actually tried to make them a favor by hurrying and spotting the ball at 24.5, giving Cowbows two extra yards. He should have taken the ball back to 26.5 and by then the game would have been over.

I also watched the end of Green Bay - SF game again, Adam leaves the ball on the ground (half a yard behind where he caught it) and official turns the ball and taps it. Packers are not lined up yet, and then the official goes back to his spot, all the way to behind Warner (LB) and then Packers snap it with 3 seconds left. I don't think these two are similar.

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#30 by Romodini // Jan 19, 2022 - 1:22pm

It's similar because the commenter I was responding to stated that a player spotting the ball himself was "completely wrong" and that it had to be handed to an official first. Clearly it's not even close to being "completely wrong", since it was performed successfully by Adams without a referee stumbling through the back of the quarterback.

Expecting an official to be within range to touch or set the ball was not the problem with that play. The process obviously wasn't executed well, but the expectation and process itself wasn't the problem.

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#34 by Pat // Jan 19, 2022 - 2:28pm

It's similar because the commenter I was responding to stated that a player spotting the ball himself was "completely wrong" and that it had to be handed to an official first. Clearly it's not even close to being "completely wrong", since it was performed successfully by Adams without a referee stumbling through the back of the quarterback.

I'd bet money that someone (most likely Rodgers) mentioned something to the umpire first. Procedure is you hand the ball to the umpire, and they spot it. If you want to do something different, you talk to them first to make sure it's okay.

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#45 by Romodini // Jan 19, 2022 - 11:34pm

https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/nfl-refs-apparently-letting-players-spot-ball-wherever/1cxu2tc6qicuv1ljeqgdjgzhdk

Here's another example, almost identical to the 49ers game. The official makes his way through the back of the offense to spot the ball after it's been "spotted" by the receiver. The procedure seems to be pretty standard in 4th quarter final drive scenarios.

It seems purely speculative to claim that handing the ball to the official would have been any quicker. There must be some benefit to players doing it themselves, otherwise it wouldn't be so easy to find examples of players doing it this way on these kind of drives. The benefit appears to be that the players can focus on getting lined up instead of waiting for the ref to show up.

So again, it looks to me like the problem is with player execution and/or a slow ref, not coaching -- Dak took too much time off the clock by running too far, the line was too tight for the ref to get through, and he had to readjust the ball that the center spotted. What's even the benefit of telling the umpire -- hope that he gets there sooner? 

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#47 by Pat // Jan 20, 2022 - 8:49am

That example is nothing like the Dallas/49ers game. It's a 2 yard pass - the receiver is staring right at the umpire when he puts the ball on the ground, and the center picks up the ball and hands it to the umpire, who sets it back down. They're not set for the pass at all. Watch the center - he literally looks over his shoulder for the umpire, and picks up the ball and hands it to him.

Now watch the end of the Dallas/49ers game. Dak sets the ball, and the center and line literally set to snap it. He's not looking for the umpire at all. He's in a snap stance. It's like he doesn't even know procedure there.

What's even the benefit of telling the umpire -- hope that he gets there sooner? 

Yes, exactly! The refs will do everything they can to help an offense operate smoothly, but you have to communicate with them. There's a ton of communication between refs and players, normally. Which is why it's so incredibly stupid to ever even suggest the officiating is part of the problem in a press conference.

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#52 by Romodini // Jan 20, 2022 - 2:00pm

The ref knows he has to rush and spot the ball regardless of whether or not he's told beforehand that players are going to set the ball on the ground, so I guess I don't really see how telling him they're doing that is going to make him move any faster, unless they literally say "Hey, make sure you're ready to sprint"... you'd think that the refs would already know to do that. The time was already so limited that it's hard for me to see the lack of coaching regarding the ball being handed to the ref as the ultimate fault in the process. If Dak just slides sooner, the umpire arrives faster and they have more time to get things set. Whereas handing the ball to the umpire just doesn't seem like it saves as much time. They obviously knew the umpire had to at least touch the ball, and yet they were so tightly packed and ready to go that it would have been difficult for the umpire to get through even if the players do know it involves more than "touching" the ball. Who knows, maybe whoever the ref was in practice was trained to go around the line or something, and they stupidly assumed the umpire in the game would know to do that without telling him. But going around might take even more time.

I agree that the Cowboys were sloppy as hell, and that their play was affected by a general unpreparedness and disregard for fine detail. But on this one play we're probably just going to disagree on the exact effect of the coaching.

 

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#53 by Pat // Jan 20, 2022 - 3:03pm

The ref knows he has to rush and spot the ball regardless

Yes, but he doesn't know where the ball's going to be. The umpire's job isn't just to rush and spot the ball - he's got specific responsibilities on both pass and rush plays. If you tell him to get ready to run, this play's going to move quickly, they will.

and yet they were so tightly packed and ready to go 

We're saying the same thing, just differently. If you look at the Detroit play you can see the way the mechanics are supposed to work - everyone's aware that the umpire needs to spot the ball, and he's being looked for. Absolutely no one's looking for the umpire in the Dallas play. You can see another example from last year in the second point here .

The shorthand that I've heard coaches say is "get the ball to the umpire" in hurry-up situations. That's the mechanics. Go, get down, get the ball to where the umpire can get it, and as soon as he spots the ball, get set, spike. The reason I blame the coaching there (rather than one player) is that it's everyone's job to know that.

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#55 by Romodini // Jan 20, 2022 - 9:04pm

If you scroll down to the comments on this page: https://www.bloggingtheboys.com/2022/1/20/22893631/controversial-end-wild-card-game-play-dallas-cowboys-called-has-worked-before-kellen-moore-qb-run, you can see Dak actually is looking right at the umpire as he moves behind the center, but for some reason Dak then turns his back to him instead of letting him pass which is what causes the collision. Dak at least was aware the umpire is supposed to get there and do something with the ball, but in the heat of the moment he got right in his way. I'm not so sure it's McCarthy's fault Dak screws that up... although the closer look does make it seem that if Dak were still holding the ball there he could have given it to the umpire as he slips in behind the line, which would have prevented both the collision and him having to take the ball from the center to spot it right.

 

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#56 by Pat // Jan 21, 2022 - 11:16am

Sorry, I meant "no one was looking for the umpire to spot the ball." Like you said, Prescott clearly sees the umpire, but gets right in front of him. There's no reason for Prescott to get behind the center there - the ball can't be snapped without the umpire and if the line has to reset, he'll just be in the way.

I'm not so sure it's McCarthy's fault Dak screws that up

Main reason I blame McCarthy there is because he tried to claim that the officials were the reason they couldn't get the snap off. That ref was moving as fast as he could. I mean, OK, I get he's probably defending his QB, but he should've just defaulted to "it's my fault, I need to make sure those late game mechanics work."

It's also exacerbated by the earlier screwup too (on the play after the punt) where there was clearly confusion and he's again trying to defend it.

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#6 by bravehoptoad // Jan 18, 2022 - 12:06pm

Hrm...I'd say a decision to drive home while deeply inebriated is unconscionable.  Evicting families from their homes in subfreezing temperatures is unconscionable.  Making a bad decision in a football game?  That might be stupid. 

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#5 by Kaepernicus // Jan 18, 2022 - 11:55am

Kyle is a really weird coach. He is incredibly creative and innovative when it comes to game plans and designs. He does a really good job of finding really good assistant coaches and letting them develop into great ones. He probably finds ways to use his player's strengths and skill sets better than any coach in the NFL. But he is really conservative regarding situational football. He runs too much when he should pass and passes too much when he should run up by more than 10. He got aggressive on 4th down earlier in the year, the Trey Lance AZ game specifically, and had some bad luck which seemed to make him gun shy from there out. One of the reasons their DVOA was worse than it should have been is Kyle's conservatism with 2 score leads. There were multiple games they could have won by a lot more if Kyle stays aggressive. Against the Cowboys he was letting Jimmy throw too much because he was probably seeing defenses he likes. Hell that Aiyuk play Jimmy missed was a great play call. Kyle absolutely abused Trevon Diggs in that game. He seems to ignore situation too much. At this point in his career he reminds me a ton of Eagles Andy Reid. If he can get a QB he trusts more and improve the situational football I think he has a chance to be a great HC. His flaws have definitely hurt the team. But his strengths are why they are 3-1 in the playoffs with an average QB who turns over the ball too much. The 49ers need to stay the course and hope that Trey evolves into a QB he can actually trust. If Trey even becomes an above average QB with his unique skill set this team is going to become extremely dangerous. He is fielding a top 5 offense while only really targeting 30-40% of the field effectively. Lance attacking the outside intermediate area and deep middle made the team completely different against the Texans. He is an infuriating coach sometimes. The positives far out weigh the negatives though and I think, given time, he will reach that next level. The biggest question for the team this off-season is can they find a way to keep Ryans for another year. His evolution as a DC has been incredible and at this point I think he has actually shown more than Saleh did even at his peak. If they keep Ryans and Trey takes over the team they could be #1 seed material going into the 2022 season.

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#9 by bravehoptoad // Jan 18, 2022 - 12:19pm

Yes, I feel like Shanahan has that problem uber-bright people sometimes have where he's never had to question his own intelligence.  He's always been the smartest person in the room, so he hasn't had to think outside the boxes he draws for himself.  This analytics thing is something alien that he's never had to pick up.  Maybe someday it's something he'll designate for himself to learn.  When he does, he might be the best at that, too, but until then he's handicapped compared to a lot of the other good, young coaches. 

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#18 by KaosTheory // Jan 18, 2022 - 6:19pm

In terms of on-field decision-making, he’s another coach who brings a lot to the table but had a few (easily fixable) blind spots.

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#19 by KaosTheory // Jan 18, 2022 - 6:19pm

In terms of on-field decision-making, he’s another coach who brings a lot to the table but had a few (easily fixable) blind spots.

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#13 by BigRichie // Jan 18, 2022 - 2:23pm

Just remove all low-leverage 4th down tries from your data base, and it'll be solid. No need to play with any 'pretend-worst rushing offense/pretend-best rushing defense' silly adjustments.

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#25 by edholiday // Jan 18, 2022 - 8:29pm

I’m surprised that was only a 3.5% difference. I was quite pleased when they went for a FG given the way the game was going.  
 

I get the math doesn’t know that SF was dominating and Dallas was doing Stupid stuff like lining up offside and continuing to employ MM. 

Jerry continues to waste a talented team.  No surprise. 
 

 

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