Monday, September 19, 2011

Harbaugh's Big Decision

Fans don't make on-field decisions. Neither do pundits. And that's probably a good thing.

I say this because 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is enduring a fair amount of second-guessing for his 4th quarter "keep the field goal" decision in the Niners loss to Dallas. It's coming from people who think Harbaugh erred by keeping David Akers' 55-yard field goal (and a 10-point lead) rather than accepting a penalty that would have given them a first down at the Dallas 22.

The criticism seems to be rooted in an assumption that the 49ers would have probably then scored a touchdown to go up by 14 or, worst case, kicked another field goal to wind up with the same 10-point lead.

Nice dream. The reality of "red zone" possessions is this: last year, the NFL's best "TD in the red zone" percentage was 25%. That's it. And that was the New England Patriots, who have not recently been confused with the San Francisco 49ers.

Some may have been confused by the often-cited "red zone scoring" stat, but that figure includes field goals and still isn't a lead-pipe cinch. Year after year, the best teams in the league post a red zone scoring percentage stat of around 66%. In other words, on average, a third of the red zone forays by the best teams in the NFL come up empty. And I haven't even started on the red zone turnovers.

I'm not arguing that coaches should only consider the percentages (although if they did, they'd go for it far more often on 4th down). There are always other considerations: personnel, weather, intuition.

But only fools ignore the statistics, and it doesn't look like Jim Harbaugh is anybody's fool.


Anonymous said...

Hi Stan,

I think the worst decision Harbaugh made was in overtime, when the 49ners had a 4th and about half a yard to go, and instead of keeping the ball -- the biggest advantage in overtime -- and going for it, they punted and gave Dallas the ball, and the advantage.


Jeff Burbank

Skipper said...

I wouldn't second guess Harbaugh's decision, but there is more to the decision than the chance of scoring a touchdown or re-kicking a field goal. Leaving time on the clock is another factor. By not accepting the penalty, more time was left for Dallas to march down the field and score the 2 times they needed to tie the game.