I wrote a few weeks back that Pat Shurmur’s coaching performance was going to come under heavy scrutiny this year, and oh man, we’re just getting started.
Shurmur called a bad game in Week One but had a much better Week Two against the Cincinnati Bengals. However, some are still questioning his final decision to kick a field goal in the waning moments of the Browns’ loss.
Situation: the Browns are facing a fourth-and-six from the Bengals seven-yard line, trailing by ten points with 20 seconds left in the game. Why kick?
I had a nice argument with one of my Browns buddies (code name: Goober) who felt they should have gone for the touchdown in that situation and saved the field goal try for after the Browns’ onside kick attempt. He’s not alone in his thinking.
1). Phil Dawson is on his fantasy football team.
2). He laid money on the Browns and Dawson’s field goal help them push the seven-point spread.
3). Okay, seriously. To borrow a phrase from basketball strategy, by kicking the field goal Shurmur was working to extend the game.
There is no sense in quibbling over which play’s microscopic odds were more favorable, the fourth-and-six play call for the touchdown or the onside kick and long field goal try. Trust me, Pat Shurmur is not consulting a chart outlining those odds and he’d be splitting hairs between fractions of a percentage if he was.
Instead, he realized that if he missed the touchdown on fourth-and-six, the game would be over right then and there, while kicking the field goal gave his team a chance to live another play.
Despite what your neighbor from Cincinnati screams at you, the Bengals are not a perfect team. The longer you keep them out there the more chance you are giving them to hand the Browns a break, and when you’re down ten points with 20 seconds to go, you’re not winning unless you get a break.
It’s admittedly a tough call but Shurmur got it right – if you know the game is going to come down to a desperation three-pointer from the corner as the clock expires, give the other team as many chances as possible to miss their free throws before you get there.
Two other strategies also might have been at play.
For one, did Shurmur feel, had the onside kick succeeded, that Brandon Weeden’s big arm for one last play into the end zone was a better bet than converting one play of approximately 20 yards in addition to Phil Dawson converting a 50-yard field goal? Maybe he calls it differently if Colt McCoy is out there.
Secondly, maybe he’s protecting Brandon Weeden a little bit. Had Weeden failed to generate a score on fourth-and-six and the game ended right there, how would you feel about his overall performance on Monday? You’d probably say, “Old man fire had a good day, but…”
Weeden would probably be second-guessing that play too, whereas not converting a Hail Mary is far less of a crime. Maybe it’s more important for Shurmur to build Weeden up right now.
Either way, at least it’s great to be arguing over football strategy in September and not the upcoming draft.