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Old 10-17-2019, 05:20 PM
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Why do some NFL offensive coordinators insist on throwing the ball in obvious "run-it" situations?


I've been thinking lately of three particular NFL games:
  • Super Bowl XLIX, the infamous game where the Seahawks threw the ball at the 2-yard line (Seattle still had one timeout) rather than run it with Lynch, and it was picked off by the Patriots, game over;
  • Super Bowl LI, where the Falcons held a 28-3 lead at one point and on three or four different occasions thereafter could have effectively ended the game by running the ball, but instead kept dropping back needlessly to pass (and getting sacked or throwing incompletions that stopped the clock and gave New England precious time), and it eventually led to the Patriots comeback;
  • A much less consequential, more recent, game: Packers at the Eagles' 3-yard line, with two timeouts remaining, but Rodgers threw the ball and it was picked off by the Eagles; game over.


In each of these instances it made far more sense to run the ball than to throw it - but the offensive coordinators got too cute and it led to defeat. Is this a case of outsmarting oneself - "They know we should run, so we ought to pass instead?" In the Seahawks and Packers instances, there was still 25+ seconds of time remaining and the offense still had a timeout remaining, so the concern about the clock expiring if the runner were stopped short of the goal line didn't apply.

Last edited by Velocity; 10-17-2019 at 05:21 PM.
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Old 10-17-2019, 05:29 PM
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I think it depends on how the offensive front stacks up to the defensive front. My read on the situation is that "obvious" situations probably aren't so obvious. I've seen a lot of 3rd or 4th with less than 1 yard to go where the offense decides to run it up the middle and fails. I think if a defense "knew" that the offense was going to run it up the middle, they would be able to stop the play for no gain on decent percentage of those plays.
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Old 10-17-2019, 05:32 PM
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"Seattle had to throw the ball. The New Englandís defensive alignment didnít leave them any other choice." - Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz
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Old 10-17-2019, 05:36 PM
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I wonder why NFL OCs insist on running the ball when the defense knows that's the obvious situation. Time and time again, a team needs a first down to end the game, so they run it and get stuffed. So instead of throwing it, they run it on second down, and get stuffed again. Instead of just throwing the thing like they should, they run it again, and get another yard, finally punting on 4th and 7 after a three-and-out. Now the opponent's star QB shreds the Prevent Defense and they lose.

So my question is why, why, why some NFL offensive coordinators insist on running the ball in obvious "run-it" situations?
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Old 10-17-2019, 05:44 PM
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^^^ Be that as it may for the specific Seattle situation, in the Falcons-Patriots game there were numerous occasions where the Falcons were in Patriots territory, with a big lead, and had they just run the ball, could have run down time and added a few field goals to put things out of reach. Instead they took sacks or incompletions that gave New England time and drove the Falcons back out of FG range.
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Old 10-17-2019, 06:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Skywatcher View Post
"Seattle had to throw the ball. The New Englandís defensive alignment didnít leave them any other choice." - Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz
It's hard to tell where the other three defenders were, but a run around the right side doesn't look like a bad idea.
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Old 10-17-2019, 06:41 PM
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It's hard to tell where the other three defenders were, but a run around the right side doesn't look like a bad idea.
The Patriots have an unblocked defender on the right side (note that there are two defenders under the rightmost yellow circle, and only one of them is in man coverage against SEA #89.
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Old 10-17-2019, 08:33 PM
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^^^ Be that as it may for the specific Seattle situation, in the Falcons-Patriots game there were numerous occasions where the Falcons were in Patriots territory, with a big lead, and had they just run the ball, could have run down time and added a few field goals to put things out of reach. Instead they took sacks or incompletions that gave New England time and drove the Falcons back out of FG range.
Two years prior, Green Bay was up by 12 with five minutes left and first down at their own 40, and did exactly that, but ended up having to punt after losing two yards net over the three downs and taking just over a minute off the clock. Four minutes and a brutal OT later, Seattle punched their ticket to the Super Bowl - where they tried to pass instead of run and lost to the Patriots.

Moral of the story - never take your foot off the gas. The Packers started thinking about the Super Bowl before they finished the game they were playing, and gave up the second-most excruciating loss to the Seahawks in my memory.
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Old 10-17-2019, 09:14 PM
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I think the Falcons legitimately took the aggressiveness too far. Even against a great offense like the Patriots, when you're in clock-killing mode you should be running almost all of the time on first and second, and then maybe throwing on 3rd to try to keep the drive alive. Teams had lost huge games to the Pats in big games in previous years in part because they got too conservative, but there's a happy medium. Also the falcons hat legitimately got to the point where a few run plays and maybe one first down would have just iced the game - you can't ignore the math when it gets that extreme.
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Old 10-18-2019, 12:03 PM
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In the Seahawks and Packers instances, there was still 25+ seconds of time remaining and the offense still had a timeout remaining, so the concern about the clock expiring if the runner were stopped short of the goal line didn't apply.
In the Seahawks game, I believe it was only second down. So an incomplete pass would give them time for two more plays, whereas a non-scoring run play likely wouldn't.
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Old 10-18-2019, 01:17 PM
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Hindsight is 20-20. When it is all said and done, it's a "great call" if it works or a "terrible decision" if it doesn't.

That's not to say that I don't agree there are bad decisions. Throwing on the goal line when you had what was the best running back in the league at the time made no sense. It was a case of thinking too much and trying to cross up the defense when you simply could have run right over them.

I remember when Lovie Smith called a time out in order to decide whether or not he should throw the challenge flag. He had three minutes to make the right decision. He chose to challenge and lost so, in essence, that one challenge cost him TWO time outs instead of just one.
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Old 10-18-2019, 01:20 PM
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Hindsight is 20-20. When it is all said and done, it's a "great call" if it works or a "terrible decision" if it doesn't.
I can only agree with this up to a certain extent. Some decisions simply flout practical sense. With the Seahawks call, perhaps indeed the Patriots were gearing up to stuff the run, and an INT doesn't happen all that often, so it was worth the try. But with the Falcons, they were repeatedly throwing the ball even when they were already substantially within Patriots territory, needing to bleed the clock, holding a big lead, and running the ball twice could have given them a field goal and also run more precious time off the clock. Even a high school football team would know better than to keep throwing and taking sacks and incompletions in that situation.
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Old 10-18-2019, 01:37 PM
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Having a robot call the offensive plays would get boring.
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Old 10-18-2019, 01:50 PM
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Why didn't Vizzini switch the cups one more time? Eventually you have to select a play, and if it looks like an obvious run situation then the defense knows that too. You pick the play that you think has the best chance of success, and if you're lucky you picked the right one.
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Old 10-18-2019, 01:57 PM
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Why didn't Vizzini switch the cups one more time?
Wouldn't have mattered - the Man in Black was immune to the poison!
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Old 10-18-2019, 02:04 PM
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Having a robot call the offensive plays would get boring.
Not if the robot based its calls on fans choice! The fans call one of several 1-900 numbers to register their preference. Each call costs $1, with $.60 going to charity and $.40 going to me (it was my idea).
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Old 10-18-2019, 02:10 PM
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Wouldn't have mattered - the Man in Black was immune to the poison!
And sometimes the defense has your number if you pass or if you run.
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Old 10-18-2019, 02:24 PM
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Not if the robot based its calls on fans choice! The fans call one of several 1-900 numbers to register their preference. Each call costs $1, with $.60 going to charity and $.40 going to me (it was my idea).
Not your idea, believe it or not a football team has actually done this.
https://apnews.com/5e7132c8c1e0493ca01fd20a4585db20

Itís indoor football and they use an app rather than a phone call but itís something theyíve actually done.
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Old 10-18-2019, 04:03 PM
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I think I prefer doing it the old-school Bill Veeck way with YES/NO placards and the like.
  #20  
Old 10-18-2019, 04:29 PM
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A few years ago I watched a game at the stadium with a retired professional player of that sport. It was illuminating, he predicted every play before hand, almost always correctly. Even more interesting, on several occasions, he said, beforehand, that the other side had figured out what was going to happen and the play was blown.
Point is professionals know a hell of a lot more then the fans. What’s “obvious”, might not really be, due to factors we cannot readily appreciate. In addition, the “obvious” thing is predictable, and as Boris Becker can tell you, an opponent who knows what you are going to do is a very dangerous one
Finally, in the examples,above, what was the earlier game flow like? If throwing has been succeeding and running failing, I can well imagine the coaches and players being loathe to change. Sure you may have a 20 point lead and running may be the conservative smart move. But if for instance, in the game this far you have been stopped every time you run and only throwing has gotten you such a lead, yeah the option is between certain failure by running (exacerbated by the fact the opposition knows you are going t), and possibly let them comeback or continue to play as before, with an element of surprise and high reward.
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Old 10-28-2019, 09:18 AM
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I have a theory that football in particular, isn't actually a very scientific sport. It seems to mostly be governed by lore, rule-of-thumb and tribal knowledge. Nothing about the NFL play or personnel choosing screams that the teams are operating in a science or evidence based fashion or anything like that. Except maybe the Patriots- I wonder how much is Brady vs. how much is Belichick doing something fundamentally different than other teams that we don't know about.

Case in point- there have been studies showing that statistically in pro football, there's some hay to be made by being more aggressive on fourth down instead of almost always punting. Yet the pros nearly ALWAYS punt on fourth down. Why? Because that's the tribal knowledge. Personnel decisions seem to be made in an equally arbitrary fashion- concentrating on height, weight, speed, etc... and less on intangible stuff like "do they win games?", "do their teammmates respect them?" and so forth.

So I think this is the same thing in part- a combination of the tribal knowledge of "3rd and 2 - run the ball" combined with a lame attempt to confound that tribal knowledge by doing the opposite and trying to pass in the middle/short range of the field, when that's a lot less helpful than just running the ball- at least that way, you have a pretty good chance of getting at least a yard, which sets you up for 4th and 1... oh wait, they CAN'T run again on 4th and 1. Oops.

There's no coaching schools to go to, certifications, or anything along those lines that companies valued at many billions of dollars would use to evaluate their chief operating officer candidates. Most places on that scale would require an MBA from a good school, as well as good performance. But there is nothing similar in the sports world, particularly football. There aren't researchers writing papers on how to coach, or how to pick players. There aren't coaching students learning this and writing articles for the journals in the off season.

Football coaching seems to be a system entirely dominated by connections and imperfect evaluation of on-field performance, where again, due to that tribal knowledge, a promising young coach could well be penalized for doing the smart thing and going for it on fourth down, because "everyone knows" that you don't go for it on fourth down.
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Old 10-28-2019, 11:42 AM
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It's all well and good that going against the grain (like, say, going for it on 4th instead of punting) might give you a slight statistical advantage, but the NFL isn't a video game and it's got an extremely small sample size of 16 games. Put yourself in the coach's shoes:

a) You have a 50% chance to win playing traditionally, and win or lose both ownership and the fans understand and accept your decision making; you can't win every game.

b) You have a 55% chance to win never punting, but if you lose (45% chance) there is a major outcry from the fanbase and ownership might fire you.

Which do you choose?

Last edited by Ellis Dee; 10-28-2019 at 11:42 AM.
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Old 10-28-2019, 12:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Skywatcher View Post
"Seattle had to throw the ball. The New Englandís defensive alignment didnít leave them any other choice." - Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz
But why THAT throw. RPO with a wide receiver in the corner of the endzone . if its not there throw it into the loge section.

If not enough time for that, three step drop and pass it to the corner.
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Old 10-28-2019, 12:37 PM
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It's all well and good that going against the grain (like, say, going for it on 4th instead of punting) might give you a slight statistical advantage, but the NFL isn't a video game and it's got an extremely small sample size of 16 games. Put yourself in the coach's shoes:

a) You have a 50% chance to win playing traditionally, and win or lose both ownership and the fans understand and accept your decision making; you can't win every game.

b) You have a 55% chance to win never punting, but if you lose (45% chance) there is a major outcry from the fanbase and ownership might fire you.

Which do you choose?
I think you should never punt when it is 4th and reasonably short and you are in your opponent's half of the field. Either do a field goal or go for it. But on 4th-and-longs or when pinned deep in your own half, sure, nobody could fault you for being conservative.
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Old 10-28-2019, 01:28 PM
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I have a theory that football in particular, isn't actually a very scientific sport. It seems to mostly be governed by lore, rule-of-thumb and tribal knowledge. Nothing about the NFL play or personnel choosing screams that the teams are operating in a science or evidence based fashion or anything like that. Except maybe the Patriots- I wonder how much is Brady vs. how much is Belichick doing something fundamentally different than other teams that we don't know about.
It’s not Brady. He’s great but he’s not the whole team. When Brady was suspended following Deflategate and they had backup QBs, they did fine. There’s no question that he’s a big reason for their success but it’s mostly due to Belichick.

Last edited by Atamasama; 10-28-2019 at 01:28 PM.
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Old 10-29-2019, 11:01 AM
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It's all well and good that going against the grain (like, say, going for it on 4th instead of punting) might give you a slight statistical advantage, but the NFL isn't a video game and it's got an extremely small sample size of 16 games. Put yourself in the coach's shoes:

a) You have a 50% chance to win playing traditionally, and win or lose both ownership and the fans understand and accept your decision making; you can't win every game.

b) You have a 55% chance to win never punting, but if you lose (45% chance) there is a major outcry from the fanbase and ownership might fire you.

Which do you choose?
Right. Coaches don't actually optimize for winning, they optimize for not getting fired. Those two goals are mostly the same, but in certain corner cases, like the one you outline, they don't.
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Old 10-30-2019, 10:04 PM
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"Seattle had to throw the ball. The New Englandís defensive alignment didnít leave them any other choice." - Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz
Marshawn was getting yardage almost every time he carried the ball that game, and there was time for at least 2 plays. Just because the defense is in a particular alignment doesn't mean you can't still run it right at them and gain a couple yards.
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Old 10-30-2019, 10:28 PM
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Marshawn was getting yardage almost every time he carried the ball that game, and there was time for at least 2 plays. Just because the defense is in a particular alignment doesn't mean you can't still run it right at them and gain a couple yards.
Iím still convinced heíd have punched it in and won the game if they had run it.
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Old 11-04-2019, 11:31 PM
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It’s not Brady. He’s great but he’s not the whole team. When Brady was suspended following Deflategate and they had backup QBs, they did fine. There’s no question that he’s a big reason for their success but it’s mostly due to Belichick.
IIRC, they did fine with some no-talent loser called Garoppolo, or something.

Last edited by Rucksinator; 11-04-2019 at 11:33 PM. Reason: to add an emoji, so that people know that I'm joking
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Old 11-04-2019, 11:32 PM
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....when you're in clock-killing mode you should be running almost all of the time on first and second, and then maybe throwing on 3rd to try to keep the drive alive....
..... but in a way that's not predictable, of course.
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