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Last night, the Texans and Bengals played in a yet another boring and low-scoring game. In the final seconds of the first half, the Bengals trailed 10-3, but got a big break when Cincinnati completed a 37-yard pass down to the Houston 11 yard line.  The Bengals had 1st-and-10 with 16 seconds left, which should have been enough time for… 2 plays? The first play took four seconds, and the second six, which caused the Bengals to send out the field goal team.  Cincinnati ultimately lost by four points.

Time Down ToGo Location
0:24 1 10 HTX 48 Andy Dalton pass complete deep right to Alex Erickson for 37 yards (tackle by Kareem Jackson) 10 3 2.390 4.840 51.6
0:16 Timeout #2 by Cincinnati Bengals 10 3
0:16 1 10 HTX 11 Andy Dalton pass incomplete 10 3 4.840 4.140 48.6
0:12 2 10 HTX 11 Andy Dalton pass incomplete 10 3 4.140 3.130 44.4
0:06 3 10 HTX 11 Randy Bullock 29 yard field goal good 10 6 3.130 3.000 43.8

That feels like an overly conservative move, particularly given that the Bengals had run a pass play that took four seconds just one play earlier. So I looked at all plays with 5, 6, or 7 seconds left in the first half since 2007 where the team had the ball anywhere from the 8 to the 15 yard line and before fourth down. How often do teams kick a field goal?

There were 12 times this occurred with exactly 7 seconds left. Five times the team kicked a field goal, including a 3rd-and-2 from the 9-yard by the ’07 Bucs. Of the other 7 plays, 5 landed incomplete (including one interception), with the other two being short completions that did not lead to touchdowns. In those two situations, the offense kicked FGs on the next play, with :01 and :02 remaining.

With 6 seconds left, there were 16 such plays, and 14 times the team kicked a field goal (including last night).  The two pass plays were incomplete passes from the 9 and 8 yard lines, with the latter being intercepted.

With 5 seconds left, teams kicked the field goal in all 21 cases.

I don’t know if “analytics” was on the side of kicking the field goal, but history certainly was.  And while it’s hard to draw a sample size from a handful of pass plays, the two interceptions may be telling, too. At the time, I thought it was a poor decision to not at least try for a touchdown — particularly when your team has two great red zone targets in 6’6 Tyler Eifert and 6’4 A.J. Green. And given that the Bengals never got closer than the 11 yard line the rest of the game, it made the move feel even worse in hindsight. But at a minimum, Cincinnati didn’t do anything most other teams would have done.  And it’s possible it was even the right move, if you think there was an increased risk of an interception.  I still would have gone for it because 7 points is a lot better than 3 points, but this at least makes me rethink the issue.

What do you think?

  • macatawami

    As you noted, the Bengals have two excellent, tall receivers. So the move is to throw a fade route. It’s a quick route, so the QB won’t waste six seconds reading the defense, and the chance of being sacked is virtually zero. Sure, there’s a chance of an interception, but the chance of blowing three points on an interception is far lower than the chance of gaining four points via a TD.

    Of course, when presented with two courses of action, Marvin Lewis will always choose the more conservative one, so here we are.

    • James

      I don’t usually think of a fade route as a quick route (compared to a slant or out), but you’re right that it only requires reading the defense pre-snap and can be thrown almost immediately after the snap. It also seems to be a fairly low risk play with AJ Green and Dalton all too willing to throw it away if it isn’t there.

  • Seeing how Dalton was throwing last night the kick was probably the right move. Dalton would have just sailed it like 3 rows deep on a pass anyway and maybe eaten the time off the clock. In general, Im not sure. I think it depends on who is playing QB. You dont want to come out of there without at least a FG attempt, but 6 seconds should be enough time to take a shot at it. I think if a rookie QB is in there or someone without much experience in such situations its probably better to kick it rather than have them eat the ball and watch the clock expire.

    • macatawami

      That’s an even better reason to take a shot. The Bengals aren’t going to have many more chances to score with the way Dalton is playing.

  • AgronomyBrad

    Lewis also probably didn’t want to run the risk of Dalton getting sacked and running out the clock.

  • Deacon Drake

    In the video game, you always run the play, but 12 yards is tough. So many fewer options to contract the defense and isolate for the quick read. Optimally, you’d want to be around 5 yard line where the safeties at least have to feign middle responsibilities. From further out, man 2 with the LBs dropping to the goal line keeps everything in front and almost guarantees a 5-6 second play. Humans running scoreboards are also not trust worth, and after watching the Cousins fumble-6 two weeks, neither are officials looking at replays to give you back that critical second.