I’ve written frequently (specifically in the “Comments” of posts) about how and why the Cowboys should be much more aggressive moving forward in 2010. At 1-6, there’s really nothing to lose, and Dallas could use the remainder of the season to answer important questions about their squad. For example. . .
Playing Phil Costa is the aggressive move. Will he remain the starter once Kyle Kosier returns?
Inserting Akwasi Owusu-Ansah into the starting lineup is the aggressive move. Will that happen once he overcomes his high ankle sprain?
Sitting veterans such as Marc Colombo, Marion Barber, and Keith Brooking (at least in certain situations) is the aggressive move. But will it happen?
And going for it on 4th and 4 from your opponent’s 40-yard line is the aggressive move. . .and we know what Coach Phillips has recently elected to do in such situations.
I bring this up because this organization is going to have a major problem if the current coaching staff continues to coach to “save face” instead of doing what is best for the Dallas Cowboys in 2011. It’s clear that Phillips has recently made in-game decisions in an effort to “soften the blow” so to speak. Why? I know many of you think Jerry Jones already has too much power, but he needs to step in right now and make sure the 2010 version of the Cowboys is actually focused on becoming a better team in 2011.
I’m not at all in support of a mid-season coaching change. Unless JJ thinks the future Dallas Cowboys head coach is already in the organization (which I sure hope isn’t the case), firing your current head coach and defensive coordinator makes no sense. . .UNLESS.
Unless said head coach knows his job is already out the window and is making important decisions based on appearing “respectable” in 2010.
I’m a competitor. I want the Cowboys to win all the time and anything less than a championship, in my view, is a failure. So while I want the Cowboys to win every remaining game this year, the future cannot be sacrificed in an effort to do that. It’s almost irrelevant to me if Dallas ends up 1-15 or 8-8 this year. . .both records will be a failure. I want the Cowboys to be true winners–the best of the best–and they need to realize that opportunity has passed this season.
Thus, they need to do everything in their power to prepare for a championship run in 2011. If it means sacrificing the present, then so be it. But if the goals of the current staff result in punting the ball on 4th and 4 from the opponent’s 40-yard line (or 4th and 3 from the 39-yard line last week), then something needs to change, and it needs to change now.
For those who are frequent visitors to DC Times, you know I try to back up everything I write with statistical proof that is highly relevant to my views. So here we go. . .
On 4th and 4 from the opponent’s 40-yard line, the decision to punt the ball is incredibly detrimental to the Cowboys. Statistically, they should go for it on all 4th down plays in that range up until and including 4th and 10.
Evidence of this comes in Advanced NFL Stats Win Probability graphs (which I highly recommend). They take thousands of results from very specific game situations in the past and determine a team’s chances of winning a game at any particular moment. What is the probability of a team winning a game when having a 1st and 10 at their own 20-yard line, down four, with three minutes left to play? I’ve been amazed at the accuracy with which these graphs can provide that sort of information.
If you look at the Win Probability graph for the Cowboys-Jaguars game, you’ll see the Cowboys’ chances of winning decreased from 14 percent to 13 percent after their 4th down punt.
But this alone isn’t evidence that Phillips made a poor decision. The effectiveness of a choice isn’t determined by how much it increases or decreases a team’s chances of winning, but rather how much it does so in comparison to the alternative. If the Cowboys went for it on 4th down and gained just the four yards needed for a 1st down, the chances of them winning the game would have actually been closer to 20 percent. Meanwhile, if they went for it on 4th down and failed, their chances of winning would have decreased to around 12 percent.
I’ll save you the monotonous math, but for the decision to punt to be the correct one, we’d have to assume that the Cowboys had less than a 25 percent chance of converting on that 4th and 4. That’s clearly not the case. Actually, the Cowboys have been 7 of 17 (41.2 percent) on 3rd or 4th and 4 dating back to the start of last season. Of course that sample size isn’t huge, but the pool of data suggesting punting on 4th and 4 from your opponent’s 40-yard line is a horrible decision is statistically significant–meaning Phillips’ decision to do so isn’t just the “conservative” play, it’s also the wrong one.