Monday, February 4, 2008

Two Fourth Down Calls

In retrospect, everything Belichick did will be seen as a mistake, and everything Coughlin did will be seen as part of the master plan. But Belichick's going for it on 4th-and-13 might not have been such a bad move, and Coughlin's decision to punt on 4th-and-1 in the 4th quarter may nearly have cost New York the game.

Belichick's Call

Up 7-3 with just under 7 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the Patriots found themselves facing a 4th-and-13 situation on the Giants 31 yard line. In vintage Pats fashion, Belichick elected to go for it, but the pass fell incomplete and New York got the ball on downs. In the wake of the stinging upset, Belichick has taken some serious flak for this decision, including Gene Wojciechowski's musing that there was no "logical reason" for this call.

Let's look at this more closely. The field goal would have been about a 49-yarder and for Stephen Gotskowski - like pretty much any kicker - that is hardly an automatic 3. The Pats kicker is 6-for-10 lifetime from over 40 yards with a season-long of 45, and has misses of 32, 41, and 48 this season. Even indoors in Arizona, those aren't great odds.

Meanwhile, as anyone who's watched the Pats offense this year knows, a pass of 13 yards is not beyond New England's capability. The team was 15 for 21 on 4th down this year and, while 13 yards is of course longer than usual, it's not hard to picture them converting it.

Basically, a field goal attempt would give them maybe a 50/50 chance of scoring 3 and giving the ball back to New York immediately. A pass attempt would give them a somewhat lesser chance of setting themselves up for a touchdown or a much easier field goal, and taking more time off the clock with at least a 7-point lead. Not a slam-dunk either way, but it's hard to fault Belichick too much for taking the more aggressive option - after all, that's the kind of play-calling that helped get them to 18-0 in the first place. If anything, given the Patriot's tendencies, it's surprising they didn't make more calls like this.

Coughlin's Punt

Here's a risk not taken that could have come back to haunt the Giants if not for the offense's late heroics: up 10-7 with about 8 left in the game, New York faced a 4th-and-1 on their own 38. They punt. A safe call, but was it the right one?

It's hard to believe that the Giants thought they could beat the Patriots with 10 points on the board. Given their strong running game and the fact that they were probably only going to get one more offensive possession, was this the time to give the ball back to New England? True, if you fail to convert here, you put New England about 10 yards from field goal range and less than 40 from the end zone. But if you punt, you can see the script unfolding - the Patriots get the ball deep in their own territory, drive the length of the field for a touchdown while killing the clock, and New York gets it back with a mere minute or so on the clock, down four points. If you give the Pats a short field, of course they're more likely to score, but at least they'll be plenty of time left for an offensive possession. Even though they had been held in check all night, it's hard not to assume that the Patriots offense will score in this situation one way or another, and manage the offense and clock accordingly.

As it was, the Patriots did score a touchdown - no worse than if they had been given the ball at the NYG 38. Luckily for the Giants, their long drive only took about 5 minutes off the clock (maybe it would have been more if they had done more than one running play), leaving enough time for Eli & Co.'s late-game heroics.

1 comment:

  1. i think the defense of belichick's move is a stretch. as you mention, even converting that fourth down does not ensure a TD--it could well lead only to a field goal with, say, a 75% chance of completion, rather than a 60% chance.