Jason Garrett’s Good and Bad Decisions in Week 14
At DallasCowboys.com, I took an in-depth look at Jason Garrett’ decision to run on 3rd and 5 late in the game against the Bengals.
The truth is that running in that situation wasn’t a “give-up” decision at all. Actually, it was an extremely calculated and intelligent choice that completely changed the outlook of the game’s final minute for Dallas. To see why, let me take you back to a preseason article on how the Cowboys can improve offensive efficiency.
Defying conventional wisdom, third down runs are often more successful than third down passes. It isn’t that rushing the ball on third down is inherently advantageous, but rather that the defense anticipates a pass and plays accordingly; they implement nickel or dime personnel and often drop into coverage at the snap of the ball.
Over the last half-decade, rushing the ball on third-and-short has been far more effective than passing the ball (around a 15 percent difference in conversion rates on third-and-1 and third-and -2). The advantage of rushing the ball on third down extends up until third-and-5.
In 2012, NFL teams have converted 41.9 percent of their passes on third-and-5, compared to 37.5 percent of third-and-5 running plays. From a pure down-and-distance standpoint, the decision to run it was really no less advantageous than passing it. When you factor in the field position, game situation, and the offensive line’s struggles in pass protection throughout the day, the odds were tilted just a bit more in favor of a run.
And at DMN, I analyzed three more critical decisions of Garrett’s.
The Good: 3rd and 1 Play-Action Pass
On the very first drive of the game, the Cowboys faced a 3rd and 1 at the Bengals’ 19-yard line. Garrett called for a heavy three-tight end, two-back formation, suggesting he planned to pound the ball up the middle as the Cowboys had already done on a 3rd and short earlier in the game. Instead, Tony Romo showed play-action and dropped back to pass. He was off-target on his look to tight end James Hanna, but the call was still a good one.
If you recall, the Cowboys took down the Eagles in Week 13 on the back of a beautiful play-action pass from a tight formation (which I broke down here). The decision to pass when everyone expected a run—and use a play-action pass at that—was a smart move by Garrett that simply didn’t work out in his favor.
The Bad: 4th and 1 Field Goal
On the very next play, Dan Bailey connected on a field goal to put the Cowboys up 3-0. The problem is that the offense probably should have stayed on the field on 4th and 1. One of the reasons a play-action pass on 3rd and 1 can be so beneficial is that you still have a down left with which to work if you don’t hit something downfield. Thus, the play-action pass loses some of its value when you realize Garrett wasn’t planning to go for it on fourth down.
Historically, teams in the same situation as Dallas have scored 1.18 more points per drive when they go for it as opposed to kicking a field goal. The Cowboys really should have gone for the fourth down if they expected a conversion rate of at least 49.0 percent. The league-wide conversion rate on 4th and 1 this year is 66.4 percent. On 3rd and 4th and 1, the ‘Boys have converted a first down at a 62.5 percent clip in 2012. And since the offense really needed just about a half-yard for the first down, their probability of converting was likely well above 62.5 percent. The decision to take the field goal almost came back to hurt Dallas in the end.
Check out the whole post at Dallas News.