Bad Teams Should Use the Season to Challenge Conventional Wisdom

Not a salary cap post today just a general post on football and maybe trying to find something useful out of what is effectively garbage time football for many NFL teams as we move down the stretch of the season. Last night was pretty much a complete debacle in Dallas with extremely conservative decision making during the 4th quarter, poor clock management, and a general lack of awareness of the flow of that game. Everyone watched it unfold and realized it but I can’t say that it’s that unconventional of an approach even if this was perhaps to a much larger extreme. While there is certainly a very group of people that call for more aggressiveness it doesn’t happen in most game situations because while its one thing to have the math support things being in your favor for looking at something like 3rd and 6 as a pretty makeable down and distance if we plan it as a two play approach the fact is in practice there is nothing to base things on and just like with the salary cap and contracts usually it takes a few people to put things on the table before others “buy in”. Why don’t those teams exist late in the year?

Watching a surprisingly high scoring and somewhat disjointed Giants/Jets game many referred to as the “toilet bowl” we saw both the good and bad. When stuck in no mans land at the Jets 39 the Giants opted to go for it on 4th and 4 and ended up scoring a touchdown on the play when a Jets defender slipped and the defense didn’t have much in the way of deeper support to prevent a big play. Im sure the coaches logic here was that the odds were they would only pick up 19 yards on a punt or miss a field goal so they had nothing to lose by taking a shot at it since the end result for the Jets starting point on the drive was pretty much set in stone and there was tons of game time.

Yet later in the game the coach defers on a 4th and 2 while down 4 and time running shorter. The difference here was a non-conversion could kill you because you were on your own 44 and you could flip field position with a punt. IMO the Giants lost the game with that decision because the Jets ended up marching down the field, killing around 5 minutes and scoring a field goal to go up 7. Most likely had the Giants gone for it on 4th and not converted that would have been the same result except the Jets would have not taken nearly as much time off the clock to get their field goal attempt. Again you can get math to back it all up but you wont find many games to prove it. The Jets could have iced a game with a 4th and 1 a bit later but opted for a punt instead but for the most part the worst outcome there was a tie and overtime.

Thinking about all of this I wondered why don’t some teams now take some of those risks. Not the Garrett’s of the world in a playoff chase but the Gases and Shurmurs of the world. The NFL is filled with awful teams this year. The Bengals, Redskins, Dolphins, Jets, Giants, Falcons, Browns, Broncos, etc… are all going nowhere other than the top of the draft. While some of those coaches, even first year ones, are fighting for a job just doing the status quo isn’t going to help them. Why not use this time to get some actual game data on doing more “unconventional” things and actually getting something positive out of a bad 2019 season that you can bring to 2020.

While some may argue that bad teams doing this isn’t going to exactly be a good look since these teams are among the worst offenses in the league shouldn’t it be eye opening if it does allow them to be more competitive down the stretch or upset more than a team every 5 weeks?  Many of them also happen to play each other so the ineptitude on offense and defense of these teams should balance it all out.

Its always kind of amazing to me that there is little to gain for these bad teams at the end of the season. They talk about “evaluating young players” down the stretch but 90% of the time those are evaluations of players who quite frankly are not going to mean much to a rebuild if it even happens. But finding out ways to be different, especially with a bad roster, is actually something that could be meaningful. That doesn’t mean limiting it to just decision making options on 3rd and 4th downs and evaluating real world outcomes. It could be the type of offense you run. The play selections. Gambling more on defense or maybe loading the field with defensive backs. Use this time to help you change things up in 2020 rather than selling the focus of the team on seeing if a 7th round draft pick may or may not be able to be a 5th or 6th linebacker in 2020.

I think its important to remember that one of the “innovations” of the last 15 years came in garbage time years ago. The Carolina Panthers in late 2006 started using their running backs in a direct snap formation in what was pretty much a lost year where they were down, I believe, to their 3rd string QB. Panthers offensive coordinator, Dan Henning, was at least sold enough on that idea from 2006 to further implement a package that came from the college ranks in his Miami offense in 2008 which turned into the “Wildcat” that took the NFL by storm for a few years. While nobody really had success with the package once teams figured out how to play against it Miami was able to ride that set of plays into an unlikely playoff season simply because they had practiced enough of it in the summer and it caught everyone off guard.

Now the wildcat was more or less a gimmick but the ability to gather useful game data late in the year should be more than just a gimmick with more long term impact but also similar short term results if analyzed properly to devise meaningful game plans in 2020 that would also just as likely catch teams off guard at first before the general math behind it takes over as teams adjust to new strategies. But to just waste these next games doing the status quo week after week, year after year, just seems foolish and helps nobody in the long run.  The Giants had a great opportunity to play against the norm of punting yesterday and learn something, but instead fell into the trap of just doing the norm because that’s what everyone does, put the lesser of their two units back on the field to try to stop the Jets in 3 plays, and ultimately lost another game without learning anything in the process. There is no reason for that when you have nothing to lose in the first place given how the season has gone this year.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @Jason_OTC