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NFL Analysis: Dallas Cowboys and Field Goals

If there is one example that demonstrates the fallacy of field goal range, Sunday's Cowboys-Cardinals game has to be it. With the score tied at 13 and under a minute to play, DAL converted a 3rd and 11 to move the ball to the ARI 31.

There it is. Game over. Field goal range, right? Who needs more time when you're inside the 35?

At the end of the play there were 26 seconds on the game clock, and DAL had 2 timeouts. DAL milked 18 seconds off the clock, then spiked the ball to stop the clock with 8 seconds to go. Then, head coach Jason Garrett called a timeout as if he was icing his own kicker. (The icing effect is greatly overstated, and in many cases, it simply gives the kicker a practice kick.) The kick was missed, and the game entered the dice roll of sudden death overtime.

With 26 seconds left, DAL could have used one of their 2 timeouts immediately. They could have run two plays, even including one run, and still saved a timeout for a final field goal. With the ball at the 31, a field goal attempt is a 49-yarder, which, on average, is a 65% proposition. Moving the ball just 6 yards increases the chances to 75%.

Compare Garrett's decision to that of Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who faced a similar situation against the Giants yesterday. With the score tied and 44 seconds to play, GB had a 1st and 10 at the Giants 29. GB threw a pass for a one-yard loss, setting up a 2nd and 11 on the NYG 30, with 21 seconds left--an slightly dicier situation than DAL would have faced if they had called a timeout. GB threw the ball deep for an 18 yard gain, which led to a relative chip-shot field goal for the win.

After the game, Garrett tried to explain his clock management. "We felt like we were in field-goal range. We have yard lines that we use as guidelines before the game. We felt like we were in range at that point. Tony [Romo] had them on the line of scrimmage quickly, so we went ahead and clocked it and used that as a timeout."

First, that's not even true--it took 18 seconds to line up and spike the ball. Second, it makes no sense. With 2 timeouts in hand, why even rush to the line and spike the ball, risking a false start?

Also, note Garrett's conception of "field goal range." He has a yard line established before the game. That kind of thinking assumes a yes-or-no, black-and-white idea of a field goal attempt. Either you're in range or you're not. If we're in "range", and the kicker misses, well, that's his fault. This is a failure to think in probabilistic terms.

There is no such thing as field goal range, except in the most technical and useless sense. Closer is always better. The field is one big gray area when it comes to field goals. Head coaches should announce an edict to their staffs that the term field goal be banished from their vocabulary immediately. In its place, the term field goal attempt shall be always be used.  

Send in the field goal attempt team. 

That might help straighten out their thinking.


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