Monday, October 01, 2007

Screen Or Draw

Over the course of a football game, situations arise in which coaches are made to choose between the aggressive long-odds course of action and the conservative one. And, far too often for my tastes, particularly in the too-conservative NFL, they take the conservative route. In certain contexts, this is understandable, maybe even justifiable. But oh how I loathe those decisions.

When Virginia was in Chapel Hill a few weeks ago, the Cavs found themselves in a couple of 3rd-and-long predicaments on the same possession--one near midfield, the other in Carolina territory. UVA called a give-up screen on the first occasion and a give-up running back draw on the second. That those calls netted first downs both times is irrelevant as far as I'm concerned; it's the spirit of the calls, indicative of the typically defeatist play calling I see every week, that causes me to chafe regardless of the outcome. Despite themselves, and courtesy a sympathetic Tar Heel defense, Virginia would score on that drive. (Kind of like how the Wolfpack baseball team will manage a multi-run inning despite a foolish early-inning decision by Elliot Avent to sac bunt. Success despite self-defeating aims.)

The 3rd-and-long screen or draw--these plays are the bane of my football existence. If you're going to call these plays--which you certainly don't expect to gain you a third down conversion--why not go ahead and punt? (Syracuse actually did punt on 3rd down while deep in its own territory against Washington; I cringe at the memory.) For every time they improve your field position incrementally for the subsequent 4th down punt, it seems they're swallowed up for nothing.

Understand, then, just how difficult this is for me. Maybe... maybe we should run more screens/draws on 3rd down.

NC State quarterbacks have thrown 12 INTs this season; take a look, below, at the situational breakdown (thanks to cfbstats for the numbers).

                        Att  Comp    Pct    Yds   INT    TD   Rating
1st Down 64 37 57.8 399 2 0 103.93
2nd Down 68 42 61.8 428 2 2 118.47
3rd Down 61 30 49.2 270 8 3 76.36
3rd Down, 1-3 To Go 11 7 63.6 40 2 1 87.82
3rd Down, 4-6 To Go 18 9 50.0 77 0 0 85.94
3rd Down, 7-9 To Go 11 6 54.5 42 1 1 98.44
3rd Down, 10+ To Go 21 8 38.1 111 5 1 50.59
Eight of the 12 have been thrown on 3rd down, and six of those eight have come on 3rd-and-7+, which are the obvious passing situations. Those six have come on a mere 32 attempts, or one for every five 3rd-and-long passes.

Harrison Beck:
                        Att  Comp    Pct    Yds   INT    TD   Rating
3rd Down, 1-3 To Go 6 3 50.0 10 1 0 30.67
3rd Down, 4-6 To Go 15 7 46.7 61 0 0 80.83
3rd Down, 7-9 To Go 8 4 50.0 18 1 0 43.90
3rd Down, 10+ To Go 15 6 40.0 98 5 1 50.21
Six INTs on 23 3rd-and-long attempts.

Perhaps conservatism is prudence in our case. Beck has had, at least to this point, a tendency to force the issue on 3rd down. If this is one way we can cut the ridiculous rate at which we are turning the ball over, then it's something the coaches need to consider. I don't have to like it, but I can accept it.

[Update: And now I see Beck's out for the FSU game. I'm nothing if not late to the party...]