Slate: Punt From the Opponent's 26?

I make my first appearance this season at Slate to propose that DAL may have been better off punting from the DET 26 than attempting a 44-yd FG. If DAL could have pinned DET at or inside their own 10, the numbers suggest punting might have been preferable to going for it or trying the FG. It may have even been preferable to making the FG. I also discuss DAL's holding penalty that was the start of the critical path toward an improbable comeback.

...But there’s an extra wrinkle. Strangely, Dallas would have preferred to keep Detroit within 3 points rather than extend its lead to 6. When desperate teams like the Lions with no timeouts remaining get into the outer rim of field goal range, they send in the field goal unit for a long-range attempt. This is an irrational decision, one I discovered the very first time I began looking at win probability numbers. Rather than try to win the game, teams in this situation settle for a tie—or rather, an attempted tie. Even if the field goal attempt is good, it only buys a 50–50 shot at the win in overtime...

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14 Responses to “Slate: Punt From the Opponent's 26?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Brian - The real issue for us Cowboy fans in Dallas is Garrett should have taken 3 consecutive knees to keep the penalty risk out of the equation thereby running clock down to 20 plus seconds. At this point the punt inside the 10 makes all the sense in the world. It would have guaranteed victory virtually as Detroit would have been pinned inside their 10 with no time outs and 20 seconds. We are fuming in Big D over Garrett's continuous botching of late game clock management situations. There is simply no excuse to risk a penalty in the situation where 40 plus seconds could have been burned. Nick in Big D

  2. meep_42 says:

    @Anon - There's no coach in the league that doesn't go for the first down that end the game. Three knees gives you a 0% chance of that. Additionally I don't think ANYONE was calling for that at the time, it's results based thinking.

    Now, if DET would have been left with only time for a single play then I think you kneel 3 times then run around and toss it out of the end zone, but that's not the situation they had.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wait a minute Mr. Meep_42. Had Cowboys taken 3 knees they would have been punting the ball with about 24 seconds left. Detroit with no timeouts would have had time for perhaps 2 to 3 plays if they are sideline plays. Basically no time to set up a FG to tie the game with anything over the middle. I respectfully disagree.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Furthermore, you don't go for the first down on 3 and 13 with a run play. He left the element of a clock stopping penalty or turnover on the table. Basically way too much risk for very little return. Garrett was telling us he was willing to trade 45 seconds of clock run off for a FG. Bad move.

  5. noedne says:

    @Anon I think Garrett did what any NFL coach would do by running for three downs and then kicking the field goal. As meep mentioned, you seem to be falling victim to outcome bias. If Garrett had elected to take three knees and punt, but still lost the game, you would probably be one of the many criticizing him.

  6. Anonymous says:

    In a similar kind of situation, I wonder if, on 4th down, depending on the clock it might be best to try the intentional safety strategy, instead of going for the FG? Give the ball to your staunchest ball carrier and have him run around away from the LOS, all the way back to your own (the Cowboy's) endzone, and sort of dance around there, welcoming any Lion to try and make the tackle in the endzone. I imagine you could burn 20, 25 seconds right there? I guess that, with only around 0:30 on the clock on 4th down (in this game, if Dallas had run its 3 plays without the penalty), it was better to kick the FG, leaving only 0:21 left on the clock and one time-out for Detroit. But I wonder if at some point an intentional safety makes sense when you're in opponent territory, as bizarre as that might be. Maybe if it was lower-probability FG, and Detroit stood to get the ball back with a little more time (like 0:35) and more than one time-out left.... Or maybe I am just overlooking some obvious defect in this.

  7. Kulko says:

    well the problem is what happens when one of the opposing CBs pulls a Ben watson on you and catches your ball carrier for a shoestring tackle at the 1 yd line.

    Even when the overall numbers come out with a positive expected outcome, you are so toast when that black swan hits you, that I wont suggest trying it.

    Additionally you can expect 15 Secs on the clock with the opponent in not to bad Field position, so there is still a bit of risk left, unless you are allowed to run time of on the ensueing free kick.

  8. Ben Stuplisberger says:

    Good point Brian about the irrationality of opponents. Chase had a post over at Football Perspective a while back about some of these issues: On a related point, there were some stupid fourth down decisions (in my intuition) made by the Steelers in the Raiders game. I thought they needed to go for it in at least two of them, but the opted for the field goal in both cases.

  9. Tarr says:

    Funny, but interesting point about the intentional safety. We see this a lot when teams are backed up near their goal line and winning by 6 late in the game. The idea that it makes sense to hand it to a speedster on the 4th down for an intentional safety if you are anywhere short of the opponent's 33 with limited time left may be valid. That said, up 3 in good field position it's a much much harder sell.

    When it comes to Garrett's call in this game, I think the way the Lions were eating yards makes punting a bad strategy. The field position is less useful than normal when your opponent is making 10 yards per passing attempt. Of course that makes going for it on 4th more attractive.

  10. James says:

    I used PFR's play-by-play finder to look at all running plays where the team is running out the clock at the end of close games since 2009 (scoring margin 1-7 points, 2 minutes or less, excluding kneels). That's over 450 plays in similar situations.

    Do you know how many offensive penalties I found? One: an illegal cut block by Michael Jenkins in 2012. There is no precedent for a holding penalty in that situation, and it is absurd, retroactive thinking to blame Garrett for not anticipating one. And I say that as a Cowboys fan extremely critical of Garrett's late game decision making.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I wondered when I was watching the game if it was better to go for the 4th down conversion. It was 4th and 5. Bailey made the 43 yard field goal and is almost automatic from there. So the 3 points is basically a given but with how thin the cowboys were in their secondary, I was thinking that it might be best just to try and end the game with the offense on the field. 4th and 5, I don't know the actual statistics, but I would assume that it is somewhere in the 35% range. I still think that percentage wise, the field goal was the better choice but just a thought that was going through my mind considering the lions had torched the D all throughout the 4th quarter and Megatron was not going to be stopped at any point.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I guess you all missed Brian's article where he calculated Garrett made the wrong choice. Wow And yes 3 clock killing knees plus a punt was absolutely the right thing to do. 20 seconds with no time outs left gives and the ball inside their own 20 virtually guarantees victory for the Cowboys

  13. Tarr says:

    James, this article is in no way a criticism of Garrett for not anticipating the penalty. But on 4th down, the penalty is in the past. The only question is what's the best decision given down, distance, time, and score.

  14. Michael Beuoy says:

    @Anon - "3 clock killing knees plus a punt was absolutely the right thing to do. 20 seconds with no time outs left gives and the ball inside their own 20 virtually guarantees victory for the Cowboys."

    Virtually. Last December, the Bears (playing the Seahawks) got the ball on their own 14 with 20 seconds to go and down by 3. First pass was complete to Brandon Marshall for 56 yards. They did have a timeout, but that was only called after running a quick run play to center the kicker (so if they had no timeouts, they could have spiked it). Robbie Gould made the 46 yard field goal to send the game to overtime.

    If only the Lions had a deep threat receiver like Brandon Marshall....

    The only thing that guarantees victory is maintaining possession with the lead until the clock runs out.

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