Last night with 11:45 left in the 4th quarter of the Dallas Cowboys 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Cowboys’ Head Coach Mike McCarthy decided to go for it on 4th & 3 from the Rams 11-yard line when a field goal would have tied the score. The Cowboys called a pass play and threw the ball to 1st round pick rookie CeeDee Lamb who caught the pass and was stopped 1 yard short of the line to gain. The Cowboys eventually lost the game by the 3 points they left on the field.
There has been much debate on this controversial game management decision. Some people have argued that you always take the points and tie the game, especially on the road. McCarthy defended his decisions by saying, “Analytics gives you good structure and it would tell you to go for it. But you have to look at the variables and trust your players.”
Was going for it in that situation the right decision? Yes. Would kicking the field goal have been the right decisions? Yes. These are not binary decisions. The margins of success between the two decisions are very narrow. Most of these “controversial” decisions are really, six of one or half dozen of the other. It is not like McCarthy had Dak Prescott take a knee or punt in that situation. He made a plausible game management decision that did not work out. He is not an idiot. And if it did work out and the Cowboys won the game, he would not have been a genius, either.
The more important decisions are the actual play calls. One could ask, why did the Cowboys throw the ball to a rookie receiver playing in his first ever NFL game, no pre-season this year, in crunch time? He may not have been the number target in the play. He may have been the 3rd or 4th option, but the Rams defender the play to take the more experienced receiver out of the read, forcing Prescott to work through his progression to the rookie.
The game management decision was a reasonable call. The offense and defensive play calls
made sense. Both offense and defense executed the plays. In the end, Rams defensive back Jordan Fuller made a great open field tackle stopping Lamb 1 yard short which helped the Rams win the game.