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Football points and peeves

I’m certainly not an expert on professional football though I think I understand the game better than the average tailgater. I don’t bet on games but if did I’d follow my own advice as outlined in The New Gambler’s Bible and Gambling for Dummies. My enjoyment of the game has been complicated by the growing, compelling evidence that the long-term impact of all those hits to the head accumulate and result, all too often, in a midlife of depression, memory loss, cognitive dysfunction and emotional turmoil. FWIW, the easiest way to cut down on concussions would be to ban helmets. Australian football is a very physical game, so is rugby — but concussions are rare. No helmets so no one leads with their head and no one goes for an opponent’s head.

But the game is just so much fun, so engaging and rich with tactics, strategies and counter-strategies that my Fall Sundays are booked and there’s a “reserved” sign on the comfy chair. I watch and root for the home team(s). My old “home team” was the Giants; my new one the Seahawks so my football watching life has been pretty good with three Super Bowls in the last seven years.

But with all the great games, clever coaching and high-end strategic moves there are two decisions that drive me totally bat-shit crazy. Punting on 4th and 1 and calling timeout to save 5-yards for delay of game.

Punting on 4th and short should only be an option when you’re stuck back in your own territory, like your own 25 or 30 or worse. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why a coach would elect to punt from say, midfield or the opponent’s 45. The most likely outcome is a touchback which puts the ball on the 20 and all you gained was 25 or so yards which can be taken back in one play. Even if you pin them down around the 10 you’ve still given them the ball. Why do this when the likelihood of making a first down and moving downfield is so high? Even the worst NFL team averages nearly 5 yards per play and close to 70% of all running plays gain more than two yards.

It just doesn’t make sense. It is terrible football strategy. Yet every team does it. Every one — well, not every. There’s a high school in Arkansas that never punts, ever. Not even from their own 5-yard line. Their coach explains the reasons.

They’re 124 - 22 since they started doing this and have won three state championships. Of course, part of why they do this is that they don’t have guys who can boom one 70 yards and I wouldn’t recommend this in the NFL but, if were running a professional team, I wouldn’t punt on any 4th and 2 or less any time I had the ball on my own 35 or better. Let ‘em holler all they want the first time it backfires. In the end it will prove itself.

Wasting a timeout to save 5-yards is stupid beyond reckoning. Timeouts are precious. They allow you to control the clock and run an effective 2-minute drill. A additional timeout at the end of a game can, and often does, make the difference in winning or losing. Five yards is, except in very special situations (like you’re on your opponent’s 1-yard line), relatively meaningless. How often do we see this: clock’s running down, QB stands up and calls TO — or even sillier, the coach runs down the sideline to an official to call one. On the next play a lineman jumps and, boom, there goes those 5-yards.

Want to win more games? Go for it on 4th and baby yards and don’t sweat the occasional delay of game penalty.

Reader Comments (1)

Couldn't agree with you more. I've been amazed for years that none of the so-called TV analysts challenges the idiocy of the T.O. to save 5 meaningless yards. I would never, ever use a T.O in the 2nd half until the last few minutes. Clearly, it will take one forward thinking head coach to be successful with this idea and speak about it. Then all the others, who are terrified of the criticism they might face for deviating from the norm, will follow along dutifully once the obvious advantages start to become clear. Ditto the punting. I am dumbstruck watching team A punt on 4th and short from inside the opponents territory. I use a very simplistic (yet effective) tool: What would the opposing coach want me to do? Whatever that is, often do the opposite! On the 4th and short, of course he wants you to punt. Don't! Especially towards the end of the game, when instead of gambling with 3-5 minutes to go and all your timeouts, you are hoping that your defense holds and you get the ball back, in similar field position to where you currently are, but with no timeouts now, and probably less than 2 minutes on the clock.

October 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRags100

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