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Gambling on fourth down is always risky

Posted Nov 5, 2016

The average NFL coach forgets more about football in a day than most of us are going to learn in a lifetime.

Fans and media somehow presume to know sometimes that they know better when in actual fact the intricate detail of what is involved in coaching, game-planning, and play-calling at the highest level is way out of our reach.

That is why it is so incomprehensible that coaches are capable of making bonehead decisions over something that is not difficult and which certainly is not new.

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson twice made a decision in the first half on Sunday to go for it on fourth down while in field goal range. On both occasions the New York Giants stopped them, costing the Eagles potentially six points. They lost the game by five, 28-23.

The benefit of hindsight, of course, is a wonderful advantage but that wasn't what had thousands of Eagles fans screaming at their TV sets during Sunday's first half. Instead, like millions of football fans, they knew from seeing it time and again over many seasons that almost always it is better to take the points.

Both times the Eagles gambled in the first half, the were trailing by 11 points - 14-3 and 21-10. The field goals on offer on those fourth downs were a 40-yarder on the first play of the second quarter and a chip-shot 23-yarder with half time not far away.

On each occasion it would have reduced the deficit to eight points, putting the Eagles within one score of tying the game.

I understand the notion of trying to turn momentum in your favour when you are losing but when the game is still developing and you have opportunities to keep your team within one score, why are you gambling? It smells of panic.

It also suggests you don't trust your defense to hold the Giants on the next series. Well, guess what? On both ensuing drives, Philly's defense stopped the Giants and forced them to punt.

What I found most astonishing about those two calls was the thought of just how much planning and preparation goes into an NFL game by a coaching staff. Many of them pre-script the first 15 plays, the first 20 and sometimes more.

As a game unfolds, they have to react to the unexpected but again they are usually well-rehearsed for what to turn to in a multitude of situations.

And yet sometimes this question of gambling on fourth down or taking the points seems to stump them, regardless of the voice of reason in their heads saying "take the points".

I am not an Eagles fan but even I was sitting in front of my TV on Sunday yelling "take the points". And that was long before I had the hindsight benefit of the final score.

I knew it simply by having watched football for long enough. I didn't need to be able to teach a lineman about footwork or show a quarterback how to recognise a subtle change in a defensive line-up. I didn't need to be able to scheme a defense to stop Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

All I need was to have watched football for long enough and to have seen it happen time and again. So why can't an intelligent coaching staff see it?

I am all for gambling in football. I am all for finding ways to shift momentum at critical points of a game. But neither of those fourth downs came close to qualifying.

You can always pin a defeat on various factors but Philadelphia lost that game because they made bonehead calls twice on fourth down in the first half.

If they were trying to be clever, it backfired and although their season is only at halfway, that loss has severely dented Philly's chances of making the playoffs.

Doug Pederson is a rookie head coach but he has a mind stuffed full of football knowledge that most of us can only dream of acquiring.

However, you can only hope he has learned a valuable lesson, one that most fans knew long before kickoff last Sunday.

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The officiating fiasco at the end of the first half between Buffalo and Seattle on Monday night should guarantee one thing - that crew will not be in charge of this season's Super Bowl.

NFL referees by and large are excellent but the final three seconds of that game's first half saw one mistake after another.

What I found worst of all was that they didn't think Richard Sherman's hit on kicker Dan Carpenter was unnecessary roughness. They simply called Sherman for being offside.

Sherman made no attempt to raise or extend his arms to block the kick. He simply threw his body directly at Carpenter's knees and made solid contact. It was clearly unnecessary roughness.

I really thought Bills' head coach Rex Ryan was going to knock out one of the officials, he was so mad.

To make matters worse, they called the Bills for delay of game on the subsequent field goal try but they only ran out of time because the officials failed to reset the play clock.

Having successfully hit the field goal before that penalty, Carpenter missed the kick after it. It cost the Bills three points which meant late in the game they trailed by six instead of three, meaning they had to go for it on fourth down instead of attempting a field goal that would have sent the game into overtime.

For all the things that NFL officials spot in minute detail with the naked eye, it is unfathomable that they missed that call.

It was probably the game of the weekend, certainly one of the games of the season. Sadly, it will be remembered for a truly dreadful call by the officials.

I would not have cared to be them when they had to explain it to Ryan.

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