Fourth-and-Short: Apparently RG3 Is Reckless Now

Robert Griffin IIIWe all had our smart reaction to the RG3 injury, each and every one. After everyone expressed genuine concern and hope that Robert Griffin would be OK and recover from his “mild” concussion, everyone from the announcers to the fans in the crowd had the same quote: “Now he’ll know to run out of bounds and protect himself.” It’s actually a pretty stupid thing to say.

Think about the hubris we collectively have in making that sort of statement. We’re presupposing that Robert Griffin has somehow made it all the way to his fifth professional game as a quarterback without having good judgment for when to duck out of bounds while scrambling on the sidelines. That he wasn’t smart enough to calculate the risk-reward ratio of when to step out of bounds or scramble forward for additional yardage until he was concussed by a big hit, which is absurd. Griffin will be more cautious now, apparently, because he’s found out that defensive players in the NFL hit hard. Why didn’t the Shanaclan warn him of this earlier?

Keep in mind this all happened on a play in which RG3 wasn’t exactly running around the field carelessly with the ball like he was trying out for the Puppy Bowl. On the play, RG3 waited to find an open receiver, scrambled out of the pocket to avoid pressure, and waited until the last moment possible to try to create a throwing lane for a possible touchdown. That’s no different from what Aaron Rodgers does when he gets to the sidelines. The difference on this play, of course, was that RG3 slipped as he got to the edge. That created the awkward angle that resulted in a free-falling, unable-to-protect-himself RG3 taking a hit that rattled his brain. Had RG3 managed to keep himself from falling down before the hit, none of us would be doubting his decision-making on the sidelines for even one moment. We’d wait until he suffered an injury before we were smart enough to second-guess him.

I guess that’s what really frustrates me about the whole thing. It’s hindsight-driven speculation based entirely on outcome. Sure, RG3 could have lost a couple of yards and run out of bounds. The Redskins weren’t going to win the Super Bowl if Griffin took a hit, it’s true. But we don’t disparage other quarterbacks who do the same thing without getting hurt. This week, I saw both Sam Bradford and Andrew Luck sprint up the middle of the field on a scramble and stretch out, helmet extended and vulnerable, to try to reach forward for a first down. Bradford was trying to pick up a first down in an awful game between two mediocre football teams in Week 5. This is the same guy who still hasn’t recovered from his high ankle sprain of a year ago because the Rams brought him back to play out the string in the second half. Luck was at least on a game-winning drive against the Packers, but it was for a team that is going absolutely nowhere this season. Had Bradford or Luck been legally struck by a defender with a big hit and gotten a concussion, we all would have decried their stupidity and remarked upon how these franchise quarterbacks need to learn how to slide. Instead, because the plays worked without injury (although Bradford’s was called back by a penalty), the announcers complimented each player on his toughness, leadership, and desire to pick up a “big” first down.

Maybe in the future, we’ll all look back and point to that concussion against the Falcons as the point when RG3 learned how to avoid pass rushers and scramble out of bounds before taking a hit. Anything is possible. In all reality, though, Griffin probably knows what he’s doing when he gets the ball to the edge. And if we’re going to criticize the guy who got injured doing the wrong thing, we also need to point out when somebody of a similar stature does the wrong thing and gets away scot-free, because it’s a process that’s just as bad. Leave RG3 alone.

Thank You for Not Coaching, Part II

After Monday’s TYFNC went up, I was inundated with requests to review Romeo Crennel’s decision-making toward the end of the first half in Kansas City’s narrow defeat at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. When it comes to discussing inane coaching decisions, I am a man of the people, so I went back and watched the first half to get a grasp on what Crennel was doing.

First, let’s spread the blame. While Crennel undoubtedly has his hand in the cookie jar, let’s also remember the role of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Daboll, whose collection of impertinent pictures of team owners must rank among the top three in the NFL, has now been an offensive coordinator for three teams in four years; before this debut season with the Chiefs, he led the 2011 Dolphins, and preceded that with a two-year stint at the helm of the Browns. Admittedly, he hasn’t had the greatest bases of talent to work with, but Daboll has taken chicken shit and hazed it for a year until it was slightly more aged chicken shit. He’s at least partially involved with the offensive decision-making and game-planning in Kansas City.

That’s worth mentioning because, well, Kansas City pulled out one of the weirder game plans you’ll ever see against Baltimore during the first half. The Chiefs offense attempted to execute 40 plays (excluding kicking plays and spikes) across their six first-half drives. A whopping 34 of those plays were runs. Thirty-four! In 2012! Jamaal Charles had 20 carries in the first half alone, a total he’d topped in a full game just six times before this season.

Truthfully, a lot of the decisions that Crennel and Daboll made felt more spiteful and conservative for the sake of showing off how conservative they are than geared toward winning the football game. After Cassel threw an interception to end a drive early in the second quarter, Daboll responded by calling a 13-play drive that consisted of 12 runs. That drive finished with running plays on second-and-goal from the 20 and third-and-goal from the 22. On an earlier drive, the Chiefs had run a dismal attempt at a draw on third-and-8 around midfield, and they would run on third-and-5 from their own 24-yard line on the final drive of the half. This all came against the Ravens, who have Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis in their front seven. The play-calling decisions seemed more about proving a point than scoring some.

If the argument from the building is really that the team thought a 34-to-6 run-to-pass ratio gave them the best shot of competing with the Ravens, well, they need to change their quarterback. Yes, Matt Cassel’s been awful this year. He’s a turnover machine, having produced nine interceptions and five fumbles in four and a half games before leaving with a concussion in the second half. If the team has such little faith in him that they can’t throw the ball on third-and-goal from the 22-yard line in the first half of a close game, it’s time for them to move on and give Brady Quinn or Ricky Stanzi a shot. Treating Cassel like he’s Donny Kerabatsos does nobody any favors.

As for Crennel’s decision-making at the end of the first half? It’s bad but in line with what they were doing beforehand. Kansas City took over with 1:04 left on their own 19-yard line, but since the Ravens had three timeouts, they had to feign some interest in trying to advance the ball forward. They ran the ball twice for a total of five yards, producing two Ravens timeouts, but then actually converted with a third-and-5 run for a first down. That led the Chiefs to use their final timeout and suddenly show some interest in wanting to move the ball up the field, but only a tiny bit. After coming up a half-yard short on a third-down checkdown, the Chiefs faced fourth-and-inches on the Baltimore 43-yard line with 12 seconds left. Of the many options available to them in such a scenario, they chose … to punt? They could have attempted to complete a short pass and set up for a long field goal try, sneaked the ball forward for a half-ending conversion, thrown a quick out to set up a Hail Mary, or just flat-out thrown a Hail Mary while leaving a couple of seconds on the clock. No. Instead, KC chose to punt and improve their field position with nine seconds left. None of us deserves nice things. None.

Thank You for Not Coaching, Monday Night Edition

In the fourth quarter of the Monday Night Football tilt between the Texans and Jets, Houston made a curious choice that’s worth discussing. With just over four minutes left and a six-point lead, the Texans were stuffed on a third-down carry and faced fourth-and-inches on their own 41-yard line. They chose to punt the ball away to the Jets, who threw an interception several plays later to seal up the Texans victory.

In the end, the decision ended up working out for the Texans. Was it the right call? It’s certainly debatable. Brian Burke’s fourth-down calculator has the break-even rate at 43 percent for an average set of teams in this situation. There aren’t many instances of teams with a one-score lead running the ball on fourth-and-1 on their own side of the field in a one-score game in the fourth quarter, but if we include the first 10 yards on the opposition’s side of the field, we get a 60-yard stretch of field with a larger sample. Since 2000, teams running the ball on fourth-and-1 in that situation have succeeded on 41 of 66 occasions, a success rate of 62.1 percent.

There’s some selection bias built into that figure, because those teams who have a good running game are more likely to run on fourth-and-1 than those who aren’t. On the other hand, Houston is the exact sort of team toward whom the selection would be biased! If you saw how they ran the ball against the Jets on Monday night, you’d be hard-pressed to imagine that they would struggle to pick up a few inches with Arian Foster in a must-have situation. If anything, Houston’s chances of success were probably greater than that 62.1 percent average chance.

The Texans might also have had an advantage by turning the ball over to their defense and forcing Mark Sanchez to drive the length of the field for a game-winning score, but that also opened them up to one spot where the Jets did have an advantage over Houston: special teams, with which the Jets had already run one kickoff back for a touchdown and executed a nearly flawless onside kick. (Nearly flawless, of course, means until Chaz Schilens dropped the gift Nick Folk placed in his breadbasket.) The Jets have a reputation for having some of the best special teams in football, a distinction rarely placed upon the Texans under Gary Kubiak’s reign as head coach. By punting, the Texans ran the small risk of a long return or a possible block, which would be the worst outcome of all.

Fans and traditional coaches tend to write this decision off as “leaving the game in the hands of your defense,” which is only a conservative call because it’s been associated with conservative decision-making over the past several years. By virtually every quantifiable account, it’s actually a riskier move that decreases your chances of winning the football game, as Burke’s calculator suggests that Houston’s chances of winning dipped from 79 percent to 75 percent (without adjusting for the teams involved) by punting. Punting is putting your faith in the defense to come up with a stop, but it’s also taking the decision of ending the game out of your hands and giving it to the opposing team. It delays the day of reckoning while making it harder to survive, not easier. It’s almost always going to be easier for a great running team to gain a quarter of a yard on the ground than it will be for them to stop an opposing offense from driving the length of the field on them. This was no exception. Kubiak should have plowed Arian Foster through the line and ended the game as a contest.

Filed Under: Houston Texans, NFL, Robert Griffin Iii, Washington Redskins

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Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ billbarnwell