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Instant Analysis: Bowles Blunders Boosts Bengals

There were no shortage of characters worthy of finger-point when it comes to the Jets 23-22 loss to the Bengals yesterday.

  • Nick Folk missed an extra point and had a 22-yard field goal attempt blocked.  The latter error was just the second missed field goal from inside the 5-yard line since 2013. Obviously those missed points came back to haunt the Jets.
  • Brandon Marshall had just 3 receptions for 37 yards, and failed to haul in/dropped what could have been a game-saving catch on the final drive.

But it’s hard not to also focus on three management blunders Todd Bowles made in the 4th quarter of the game.  And when I say it’s hard, I mean specifically for me, because I turned to my brother in anger as all three were unfolding, only to watch the situation play out exactly as I feared.  I get a lot of things wrong, so I need to make sure I at least credit myself when I’m right! Some of this may sound like Monday morning coaching, but I can assure you these were my immediate thoughts.

Kicking a Field Goal on 4th-and-Goal from the 2-yard line, 11:28 remaining in 4th quarter, Trailing 20-16

You should very, very rarely kick a field goal from inside the 2-yard line, and the Jets were actually inside of the 2-yard line here. This one is taught on the first day of class in 4th Down 101: you go for it every time in this situation and with so much time left in the game. Making matters worse, the Jets offense had been struggling to make big plays, but was able to move the ball moderately well on Cincinnati: getting into field goal range was a lot easier for the team than scoring touchdowns, and the Jets were never going to be so close from the end zone. Coaches make these blunders all the time, of course, but it feels particularly sad when trailing by 4 points in the 4th quarter and given that context.

Not Playing A 2-For-1

With about 7:30 left in the game, the Jets were at the Bengals 42-yard line, with 1st-and-10, trailing by 1 point. In this situation, the offense really needs to think about making sure they either milk the clock (unrealistic, with so much time remaining) or move the ball quickly so that the offense has another chance after the other team has their next possession.

The Jets did the worst thing possible: they took four minutes and kicked a field goal (more on this in a minute), allowing the Bengals to take over — in a four down mindset, trailing by just 2 — with 3:25 remaining. With 7:30 left, I made the comment that the Jets needed to hurry up on offense to make sure they scored with about 5 minutes left. And while the argument could be made that the Jets should just try to score and then let their defense do that work, that ignores two things:

  • The defense rarely does the work in today’s NFL, especially when an offense has 4 downs to score.
  • If the defense *is* going to do the work, then it doesn’t really matter! If you score quickly, and then the defense stops them, your odds of winning are great! The only way you get bitten is if you score quickly, the other team fails quickly, you can’t run out the clock, and then the other team scores on a 4th possession. That’s pretty unlikely.

So this isn’t about not having faith in your defense: it’s more like buying insurance. Don’t think of going into hurry-up mode as an indictment on the other side of the ball, but rather giving yourself an out if your defense fails (and if your defense doesn’t fail, great!).  What did the Jets actually do? A first down run, followed 40 seconds later by a 2nd-down run, followed 45 seconds later by a completion, followed 43 seconds later by a run, followed 41 seconds later by a completion out of bounds, and then another run and another 39 seconds off the clock!

Horrible. When the Jets scored with 3:25 remaining, it felt like they had managed the situation as poorly as possible. And they did.

Kicking a FG on on 4th-and-1 from the 6-yard line, 3:25 remaining in 4th quarter, Trailing 20-19

Bowles loved him some short field goals on Sunday: this was the third Folk attempt from inside the 6-yard line!  And it was the most costly.

If you go for it and fail, the Bengals are pinned back and likely choose to play conservatively.  That means Cincinnati probably punts after a couple of minutes, and the Jets get the ball back with about 90 seconds left, leaving them in perfect position to have a short drive for a game-winning field goal. *That’s* when you kick the field goal.

If you are worried that if you fail you may never see the ball again, well let me break some news to you: if you don’t think your defense can stop Cincinnati from gaining a few first downs, that’s all the more reason to go for it! Because a 2-point lead against a team that can easily pick up first downs is really, really bad.

A 2-point lead with 3 minutes left was not what the Jets should have played for: Bowles wanted to take the lead, but it’s about winning when the game is over, not with 3 minutes left.

This mistake was compounded by the earlier mistake, but with 7:30 left, the Jets should have been focused on not kicking a field goal and giving the Bengals the ball with 3:30 left.  And yet that’s exactly what they did.

  • I, for one, appreciate the New York Post style headline.

    • Alejandro

      An appropriate application of alliteration by the author.

  • Deacon Drake

    What’s funny is that Marvin Lewis is the one typically executing the blunder, not the beneficiary.

    I had this conversation as well, but during the Carolina Denver game… ended up being moot because Denver commit a penalty to give Carolina a first down, but always, always go inside the 5 with less than 2 yards to convert (inside the 10, actually, but 5 especially).

    • I actually thought Lewis did just that at the end of the first half when they had a chance to go for it on the big messed up sequence on the Nugent field goal and he said it was too far from the 2 (or 2.5). Half of the Jets were in the locker room at that point, the crowd was probably already at the concession stand, and I would have liked the odds of catching a team just not mentally ready for an easy score.

  • I dont expect much out of the Jets this year but that was so frustrating yesterday. I just didnt get the decision making at all. The last drive field goal was the one I just couldnt get. Its too easy to move into field goal range with that much time especially with the way the Bengals were moving the ball in the air.

    The way I viewed that was if you leave the Bengals up 1 they will likely play conservative in that spot, especially given Lewis’ nature. The way the Jets pass rush was going they were not going to chance anything deep on a drop for Dalton since a safety loses that game so they dont want any part of being backed up even further. The odds of getting that ball back even with Green killing Revis is far better IMO.

    They made that drive even worse with what you pointed out above with the time wasted on the drive. In that situation the only one you are hurting is yourself. They literally ran the clock down to the point where only the Bengals would get a meaningful drive.

  • Tom

    Couldn’t agree more. I hate second-guessing coaches; I never played tackle football (outside of in the front yard, etc.) and I’ve never coached, never been on the sidelines of an NFL game, etc., but I just can’t understand why you wouldn’t take a shot and punch that ball in in that situation. I can’t accept the fact that these coaches aren’t seeing what we’re seeing, that somehow we know better. And yet, there it is. I mean, forget WP and EP…if I was standing next to Todd Bowles, I probably would have said, “You’re right there man, can’t you just TASTE those delicious 7 points? We might not get this close for the rest of the game…LET’S DO THIS!”

    And here’s something else, and I guess we won’t really know the impact until we have more data, but with the 25 yard line now being the starting line of scrimmage after kickoff, there might even be more statistical reasons to go for it.

    • Adam

      I actually think it’s fair to second guess coaches in specific aspects of the game. Most coaches grow up learning X’s and O’s and managing personalities, and it’s fair to say that NFL coaches know way more about these things than the layman fan. However, I don’t think most coaches ever learned game theory or even know such a thing exists. That stuff simply wasn’t a part of coaching lexicon until very recently, and I believe there are plenty of “geeks” like us that understand game theory concepts better than NFL coaches. For one, we have nothing else to worry about, unlike coaches, and we don’t have 30 years of doing things a certain way drilled into our heads. In that sense, I don’t think it’s arrogant to claim that you could manage the clock better than Andy Reid.

      • Expanding on this point, it’s quite reasonable to expect NFL coaches to know their shortcomings and delegate accordingly. There are, like, fifty assistant coaches on a given team. Why is there no “time management” coach — somebody who can stand right by the head coach in crunch and tell him when to call timeout, when to go for it, etc.?

        • Adam

          I’ve often wondered this myself. It seems like coaches don’t take clock management seriously enough to bother assigning the specific task to an assistant. From afar, I get the impression that coaches are preoccupied with matchups, personnel, and play calling at the expense of clock management. This is curious because poor time strategy undermines any advantages gained in other areas.

          • Richie

            The solution seems so simple that there must be another factor. Seems like a team could easily hire some kind of statistics or econ kid to be the clock management specialist, for $500 per game.

  • Richie

    “You should very, very rarely kick a field goal from inside the 2-yard line”

    In related news, I think the Raiders nearly blew it by going for 2 (and the win) with 45 seconds left in the game. Normally I like the go for 2 (and the win) at the end of the game. But I think 45 seconds was too much time to give Brees. If the Raiders only kick for the tie, the Saints are more likely to be conservative in that 45 seconds, and send the game to overtime. But by going for 2, you force Brees to play for a score. The strategy worked, due to a missed (long) field goal by New Orleans. (New Orleans also got lucky that Michael Crabtree overcelebrated, but the kick return team couldn’t take advantage and only returned it to the 23).

    I like seeing teams more aggressive by going for 2 (or going for the TD on 4th down), but I actually thought it was a mistake by Del Rio, that worked in his favor. (If he was playing against Ryan Tannehill, going for 2 is a no-brainer.)

    • Tom

      Richie – I see where you’re coming from. 45 seconds is too long, especially for Brees. But from a morale/guts standpoint (and I know this can’t be quantified, etc.), I absolutely 100% loved it, even if it was foolish.

      That being said, I’m not so sure Brees and Sean Payton would have played conservatively…heck, they might have had the same “reckless” attitude and thought, “Let’s win this right now”.

      • Richie

        If the game was tied, instead of down 1, do you think New Orleans sends the rookie kicker out for a 61-yard field goal, or try a hail mary?

        • Tom

          Well, I’m not sure, but I’m assuming a 61-yarder (from the rookie) has a better chance than a Hail Mary? I could be wrong on that. What do you think?

          • Richie

            I don’t know. I don’t think I can explain it, but I think if the game was tied, they would rather try the hail mary.

            • Tom

              Yeah…I’m thinking that perhaps Del Rio’s decision was “wrong” as you suggest, but man, I just love the recklessness of it…the fact that if they don’t get the 2-pointer, they lose and that’s that. Forget playing for over time, etc., let’s see if we can take the lead right now, make Brees score on us with 45 seconds left and if we lose, we lose, at least we went for it, and didn’t trust our fate to a coin flip (even though we know the overtime rules aren’t quite so severe as they used to be).

    • It’s true that going for two forced to N.O. to be aggressive, but extra points are also not gimmes anymore, which counteracts this to some degree. I think this call is close enough to 50-50 that there is no definitively “right” or “wrong” way to play it.

  • Adam

    I don’t understand why coaches and pundits are so fixated on taking the lead rather than winning the game. In the CHI/HOU game, the Texans trailed 14-13 midway through the 3rd quarter. Announcer chimes in with, “You need a field goal here. You just can’t pass up an opportunity to take the lead.” I almost threw my remote through the TV screen. There are 20+ minutes left…why do you need to take the lead right now at the expense of scoring more points in the game? So dumb.

    • Tom

      That is freaking hilarious…that makes no sense. In what football world is having a two-point lead with 20 minutes left in the game an imperative? Is it for the morale? So that you can feel good about being in the lead? Geeze…no dude, you don’t “need a field goal here” because the opportunity to take the lead is so fleeting and precious. You need to score as many points as freaking possible, that’s what you need!

      • Richie

        FWIW, I was on the sideline for a high school game on Friday. The 2 teams combined to go for it on 4th down 8 times, and just 1 punt. I don’t know if that was a “no punt” strategy, or just circumstance. On the sideline I was on, I think the team only converted like 1 of four 4th down tries. I didn’t sense any kind of morale deflation when the fourth down tries failed.

        • Tom

          I find that interesting…that’s the kind of info I’d like to more about. Does it really deflate guys when they go for it and don’t get it. What if the coach made it so normal (going for it on 4th) that it wasn’t a big deal? As in, OK, we didn’t get it, let’s go play defense, and get the ball back, etc.

          • Richie

            I would think that if the coach says before a game, or maybe the entire season, that he plans to go for it on fourth down most of the time, that the players won’t get frustrated when it fails. But maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe most players know they need to do their job. And if the fourth down fails, the defense knows they just need to go out and stop the other team.

          • Adam

            I can only speak as a fan, but I find it far more deflating when my team punts on 4th and 1 than going for it and failing. Taking risks emboldens the people around you even when the gamble doesn’t pay off. If you ask out the prettiest girl at the dance and she says no, that still feels better than wimping out and not asking at all.

  • Adam

    Does anyone else think end game defensive strategy is absolutely abysmal in the NFL? You see it every week where one team shuts down the other for 55 minutes, then inexplicably changes strategy in crunch time and allows their opponent to march down the field for the winning score. The MIA/SEA game was a perfect example. Both defenses dominated, leading to a 6-3 score midway through the fourth. Then Seattle switched to a soft zone and let the Dolphins drive 86 yards and take the lead. Of course Miami countered by also switching to a soft zone and allowed the Seahawks to drive down the field and win the game. This scenario is mind-boggling but tragically common. It seems like coaches are so terrified of giving up a big play that they’d rather reduce their chance of winning, just as long as they lose slowly and deliberately.

    • Richie

      It happens so often I wonder if there is some other factor at play.

      It happened a bit with New England, too. Suddenly Larry Fitzgerald was open on every play on their last drive.

      (Seattle didn’t bother covering Kenny Still on a play in the first half, and he was so surprised he decided not to catch the pass.)

      • Adam

        Perhaps coaches haven’t adjusted to how offense oriented the game has become. Before all the rule changes, playing safe coverage was an effective strategy to hold a late lead. But now that you can’t breathe on a receiver without getting flagged, exploiting holes in the zone is too easy for the offense. We’re at a point where the risk of getting beat deep is less damaging than the near certainty of allowing the offense to methodically march down the field.

    • In the case of the Seahawks, they also converted twice on 4th down, the first of which certainly would have been a punt in a non-do-or-die situation. That extra down certainly matters, but, yes, it definitely seems as if defensive playing calling is much too passive during the endgame.

  • Joey Grossman

    the sad part is that the jet defensive line was so incredible that if the Jets failed to score (Goal line: Fourth and 2) they would’ve definitely been a factor at pinning Cincy back. It shows a lack of faith in the defense and no forward thinking on Bowles part. Going for it was the right call and he blew it.