Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An unenviable task

tBrad Childress is the worst head coach in the NFL.

That point is pretty much undebateable. He might also be the luckiest head coach because, by all rights, the Vikings should be 1-5 right now, but very questionable officiating and some bad plays by their opponents have generously allowed the team to creep back to .500. His debacles are already becoming legendary, from using two time outs for one challenge to an unimaginable man-love for fourth-rate quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

This is why it hurts me so very, very much to do the unthinkable: I'm going to defend Coach Childress today in one of the decisions he made in Sunday's game that he's receiving a lot of criticism for: his decision to kick the extra point when the Vikings were down 10-8 in the third quarter instead of going for two.

There was 4:33 left in the third quarter, when the Vikings scored their touchdown to make it a 10-8 game. That means there was a total of 19 minutes and 33 seconds left in the game. At that point, with over a quarter left to go, a lot can happen. Naturally, fans only look to the positive -- that the team would have made the two-point conversion to tie the game, ignoring the possibility that it might have been unsuccessful and left the team two points down. Two-point conversions are successful about 50% of the time in the NFL, meaning that there was basically equal chances that the game would have been 10-10 as that it would have been 10-8.

With so much time left, any amount of scoring could have occurred. None of it did, and the game stayed 10-9 until Ryan Longwell kicked his last-second field goal for the 12-10 lead. But suppose we miss and the Lions kick two field goals? Now it's 16-8 and we have to score a TD and a two-point conversion to tie it. Or suppose the Lions get a TD. Now it's 17-8 and we need two scores. Or suppose we score a TD. Now it's 14-10, XP pending, and, at best, we can have a six-point lead, which means the Lions almost automatically take the lead with a TD. If we instead kick the (first) XP, go up 15-10 on a TD, then we can go for two and make it a seven-point game. All reasonable scenarios and all still possible given the amount of time remaining.

"The chart" that NFL coaches use to determine if they should go for two is dependant on both the score and the time remaining in the game. If the Vikings were down 14-6 in the second quarter and score a TD, you wouldn't advocate going for two because there's way too much time left (though I have seen NFL coaches go for two in the second or even first quarter). In fact, it probably shouldn't apply at all until the fourth quarter, except maybe in some long-shot scenarios. (Down by 24 in the third? If you can get three eight-point TDs and hold off your opponent, go for it.)

Unfortunately, many fans, and even some announcers, can't seem to grasp how time factors into these decisions. In last night's Cleveland/NY Giants game, for instance, Cleveland scored a touchdown with 8:07 left in the fourth quarter to go up 33-14 on the Giants. They went for two, over the very vocal objections of Ron Jaworski, in the MNF booth, who said it was "way too early" to go for two.

First of all, I believe that in pretty much any situation where going for two might be a good idea and the fourth quarter is (essentially) halfway over, you should do it. In this case, the Browns did it because they wanted to be up by a full 21 points (instead of 20), in the unlikely scenario that the Giants could come back. Scoring three touchdowns in eight minutes would have been unlikely, but not impossible. There's essentially no difference between being up by 20 (with an XP) or up by 19 (with a missed two-pointer) at this point because the Giants would probably need four scoring drives (two TDs and two field goals) to score 20 points and take the lead if the Browns were only up by 19. Four drives in 8:07 is pretty much impossible.

There's plenty to complain about regarding Brad Childress's coaching abilities. Unfortunately, he seems to get more and more smug with each unearned victory, despite fans calling for his ouster. Maybe he needs a little more time with the process/results chart (the Vikings are very firmly in the lower-left corner of this chart; on the other hand, not going for two, even if it would have bitten the team in the ass, fits in the upper right). But then again, this is the man who thought he had a good QB because he "won" 8 of 12 starts in 2007, so he'd probably think global warming was fine if it meant he could get a tan.

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