As you might have surmised from my fourth quarter thoughts last night, I went down to the locker room more than just a little perplexed by the team’s decision to punt the ball away with 6:00 minutes left in the game while trailing by three scores.
A brief summary of my complaints, refined after a few hours sleep:
- I don’t like punting there because it feels too much like giving up. Even given that the defense was playing well, expecting them to get the ball back with enough time to score not once, not twice, but THREE times … that seems like a stretch. And, to be honest, if you believe the defense can stop the Cowboys that quickly, that’s all the MORE reason not to punt: if you don’t convert the first down, trust the defense to hold the Cowboys to a field goal and it’s STILL a three score game. So to me, punting seemed like giving up.
- As a result, my dislike was doubled when the team started using defensive timeouts trying to get the ball back.
- And it tripled when — after GETTING the ball back, against all odds — they didn’t seem to be pressing downfield.
So all of that was in my head during last night’s locker room session, which is probably why I found myself asking Hunter Smith about it.
This was largely nonsensical; Smith doesn’t ELECT to punt, he just punts when the punt team is in. Asking him about this decision was roughly analogous to interrogating a gun for information about a stick-up. Nevertheless, it’s what I found myself doing.
“I understand the frustration,” Smith said, “but at the same time it wasn’t like it was fourth-and-inches. We had a substantial amount — fourth and long — and at that point if you don’t get it, then you don’t live to play another day.”
Smith did tell me that there wasn’t much delay in calling for the punt. “That’s a real gray area they’re in there,” he said, “statistically, I mean. They have a piece of paper that tells them when you’re down by this with this much left and this many timeouts. It’s just a gray area, ’cause on that part of the field, you’re thinking maybe we can pin ’em deep, force the punt and get the ball in good field position.”
In the end, Smith said the only thing he could say: “Coach Zorn is the coach, and he makes those calls; when he makes that call I go in and punt.”
Well, during his press conference today, Coach Zorn was asked about exactly that.
“First of all,” Zorn said, “I thought our only chance was — It was a fourth-and-. And I thought our only chance was to get field position, stop the clock, and if we could have stopped ’em backed up, now we have a chance with better field position to go down and get that first score. But we HAD to get that first score.”
(It still seems to me that gambling on the fourth down conversion is just as likely — or unlikely — to get that first score, but fair enough.)
“So really,” Zorn continued, “that was really my strategy: try to save as much time on the clock. ‘Cause they were milking it with eleven minutes to go, I was watching what was going on, and no ball was snapped with more than four seconds to go on the [play] clock. I wanted to save as much time as I could, so that’s why I burnt the timeouts there. I was going to have to burn them some way, and that left me with as much time as possible to run a no huddle, get an onside kick, and go down and try to get it again. That was my best chance for field position.”
I still don’t like it. I can see the point — a bit, anyway — but I still don’t think attempting that fourth down conversion really diminishes your odds of accomplishing the borderline impossible one way or the other.
Tags: hunter smith, HunterSmith, redskins vs. cowboys, RedskinsVs.Cowboys
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