The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

If you have played Madden, then you know this trick

so why don't NFL coaches? The trick in question is taking an intentional penalty to stop the clock, and William Krasker has the details at Football Commentary:

In the Week 6 game between the San Diego Chargers and the Atlanta Falcons, the Falcons led 21-20 with 2:22 remaining, and had the ball at the Chargers' 48 yard line, 2nd down and 10 yards to go. The Chargers had no timeouts. On the next play Atlanta completed a pass for 24 yards and a first down, and both teams evidently believed the game was decided. The clock ran down to the two-minute warning, and then Atlanta took a knee three times to run out the clock.

But what if following the play that picks up the first down, a San Diego player commits a foul? For concreteness, suppose he takes off his helmet. The clock stops for the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (Rule 12-3-1-g). Moreover, according to Rule 4-3-1,

If the game clock was stopped for a foul by either team (whether penalty is accepted or declined), it will be started when the ball is declared ready for play; except when the foul occurred after the two-minute warning of the first half, or the last five minutes of the second half, in which case the clock starts on the snap.
So, the Chargers are penalized 12 yards — half the distance to the goal — but the clock remains stopped until the snap, just as if the Chargers had called timeout. The Falcons then need another first down to run out the clock; they can't simply take a knee. Even if the Falcons score a touchdown or field goal, the Chargers get the ball back and have a chance to win.

Read the whole thing, and when you're finished, read his analysis of week 9:

The endgame was almost surreal. With the score 24-24, and 1:18 left, Oakland had 1st and goal at the Carolina 3 yard line. Oakland had three timeouts, Carolina none. It's an intellectually interesting exercise to determine whether it's best for Oakland to take the clock down to 0:02 before calling timeout and kicking the field goal, to ensure that time expires on the kick, or to leave 0:04 on the clock, to allow for a re-kick in case of a bad snap. But let's not split hairs. If Oakland simply takes a knee twice, centering the ball between the hashmarks, and calls timeout at 0:02, Carolina can win only if the field goal misses (probability 0.02) and then they win in overtime (probability 0.5). Oakland therefore reduces Carolina's probability of winning to 0.02 × 0.5 = 0.01.

This plan seems straightforward enough, but instead of following it, Oakland coach Norv Turner had his offense try to score a touchdown on both 1st and 2nd down. Carolina coach John Fox, evidently convinced that it's better to give than to receive, had his defense try (successfully) to stop both attempts when he should have told them to step aside. (Stepping aside can't hurt in this case, in contrast to the situation in the Minnesota-Indianapolis game .) Fox reportedly considered letting Oakland score, but decided — we're not making this up — that it was a low-percentage play.

Some NFL team should put Mr. Krasker on the payroll.

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