Sunday, November 29, 2009
Fourth-down decisions pivotal in division
By Mike Sando
All four NFC West head coaches made critical fourth-down decisions Sunday, with mixed results:
The situation: The Rams faced fourth-and-4 from the Seattle 34 with 1:50 remaining in the first half of a tie game.
The decision: Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo decided to go for it.
Potential reasoning: Josh Brown had already missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt. The Rams had gained 33 yards on a third-and-4 play earlier in the drive. The Rams entered the game 1-9. What did they have to lose?
What happened: Quarterback Kyle Boller threw to receiver Donnie Avery. Seattle cornerback Kelly Jennings made an aggressive play on the ball, batting it away. Seahawks cornerback Josh Wilson picked off the pass and ran 65 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 Seattle lead.
My take: This one is tough to justify because 4 yards is a relatively long way to go. Running the ball isn't much of an option in that situation. The Rams were playing the Seahawks tough to that point. The game got away from them a bit after the interception.
The situation: The 49ers faced fourth-and-1 from the Jacksonville 37 with 1:58 remaining in the second quarter of a game they led, 10-0.
The decision: 49ers coach Mike Singletary decided to go for it.
Potential reasoning: Quarterback Alex Smith was functioning efficiently. The defense was pitching a shutout. Putting the hammer down in this situation could help break open the game.
What happened: Smith threw deep to tight end Vernon Davis for a 30-yard gain. The play sustained a touchdown drive as the 49ers built a 17-0 lead.
My take: Attempting a 55-yard field goal at Candlestick Park wouldn't have been a safe decision, and a punt might have netted only 17 yards on a touchback. Going deep down the field was a gutsy call.
The situation: The Seahawks faced fourth-and-1 from the St. Louis 18 while leading 17-10 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The decision: Seahawks coach Jim Mora decided to go for it.
Potential reasoning: The running game was functioning effectively and this was a chance to potentially blow open a close game.
What happened: Matt Hasselbeck handed off to Justin Forsett for an 11-yard gain. The Seahawks scored on the drive to take a 24-10 lead, all but putting away the game.
My take: This was a high-risk, high-reward play. Kicking a 35-yard field goal would have produced a two-score differential that the Rams probably would have had a hard time overcoming. The play worked, so Mora comes out OK, but this was a gamble that could have backfired in a big way.
The situation: The Cardinals faced fourth-and-1 from the Tennessee 45 with 6:07 remaining in the fourth quarter of a game Arizona was leading, 17-13.
The decision: Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt decided to punt.
Potential reasoning: Punter Ben Graham is playing at a high level this season. This was a chance to pin the Titans deep in their territory. Failing on fourth-and-1 would have changed field position in a close, relatively low-scoring game.
What happened: LaRod Stephens-Howling downed Graham's punt at the Tennessee 2. The Cardinals forced a turnover on the ensuing Titans drive.
My take: The Cardinals' ground game has improved, but a failed fourth-and-1 in this situation would have ceded momentum and field position at a critical point in the game. For the Cardinals, taking their chances against Vince Young seemed like the right call at the time.