As a football fan, I see this every week. And, every time, it drives me crazy. A team will have 3rd and manageable either inside the Red Zone or close to it, and what do they do? They’ll call a run into the line, and they will play for the FG. Consider this an open letter to football teams. Here’s what I’ve seen in just the last few weeks:
Jacksonville v. Indianapolis. The Colts drove into the Red Zone late in the fourth quarter, trailing the Jaguars by a point. Instead of continuing to attack, the Colts run into the line three times and make the Jaguars burn all three of their timeouts. They decide to play for the FG, setting up Adam Vinatieri who had already missed one FG in that quarter. He does hit this one to put the Colts up two. On the next Jaguar play, however, they hit an 80 yard TD pass. Indianapolis now finds themselves down by 5 with a little over a minute to play. And, since they were playing for FGs, they now need a TD to win the game. Andrew Luck tried to force into Reggie Wayne in tight coverage on the last play leading to an incompletion, giving the Jaguars the win.
Andrew Luck has a had fantastic rookie season, but when the Colts played for a FG late against the Jaguars, that was too deep of a hole for Luck to dig the Colts out of.
Notre Dame vs. Stanford. Down 3 with 33 seconds to play, the Irish find themselves on the Stanford 5 with 3rd and 2. With a pouring rain and a wet field, Notre Dame decided to run into the line with the FG in their back pocket. The Fighting Irish had already botched a FG attempt earlier with a bad snap and wet ball, and it was now raining harder. However, it all worked out for Notre Dame this time. The FG was hit to force overtime, and the Irish prevailed 20-13 in OT. Even though they won, this game became a lot closer than it needed to be, because the Irish played conservatively and didn’t go for the TD with 30 seconds to play from five yards away.
West Virginia vs. Texas Tech. I was listening to ESPN College GameDay radio coverage of this game. West Virginia had a 4th and 5 from the Texas Tech 30 down 7-0 in the first quarter, and they went for it. They didn’t pick it up and gave the ball back to Tech. The commentator ripped West Virginia for not taking the FG saying that the West Virginia head coach didn’t trust his defense. Now, it ended up not mattering because Texas Tech won by double digits, but what if the Red Raiders won by 4? Then, is it the right call to go for the FG when you have a potent offense that you feel can convert a 4th and 5?
I have two problems with playing for FGs. 1) I think teams play for FGs simply because it’s what has always been done. It is the conservative play, and the media won’t backlash against for taking the conservative play. Look at Louisiana Monroe this season. They go for most 4th downs, and they play for TDs. How has that worked out for them? They beat Arkansas, and they lost to Auburn by 3 and Baylor by 5. The Warhawks by being aggressive were able to compete with BCS teams. And, I’m not saying never take FGs, and I’m not trying to banish kickers. But, when you run into the line on 3rd and short instead of trying to pick up the first down, that’s too conservative. 2) Instead of showing a lack of trust in the defense, I think playing for FGs shows a lack of trust in the offense. I’m surprised the Brian Kelly didn’t trust his offense to go for a TD 5 yards away that late in the game. That would’ve been the nail in the coffin; instead, he gambled the Irish would prevail in OT. I’m always going to be for letting the offense make a play. It’s simple math: if your defense has a good game and gives up 14, then you would need 5 scoring drives of FGs to win. Trust your offense and try to pick up that 3rd and short. Play for TDs, that’s what wins ballgames.