3rd and 14 - Was it a bad call?

I'd like to begin by inserting a quote from Mike Fisher's post from Oct 7 titled Fish on Football Wednesday Notes: Good-Looking Brooking.  (By the way, I've really been enjoying his writings and I think he adds a "new twist" to BTB.)

Here is the quote:

Dallas faced a third-and-14 from its own 22. Is this when you "gun-sling it''? (Heck, you are NOT going to convert on third-and-14 against a solid Denver defense. You just aren't.) Or is this when you use McBriar to play some push-me/pull-you field position, to move the Broncos way back south? (Yessir. That is what you do. We all boo when our team runs a third-and-14 draw play, but that is what you do.) Dallas opted for Plan A. The Cowboys lineup in the shotgun and they put Choice in motion meaning Romo is in an empty backfield. Here comes a blindside safety blitz - quite possible dictated by the empty backfield - and Renaldo Hill records the sack and the forced fumble. Seconds later, what was 10-0 and a long Denver field is 10-7 and the Broncos have their free touchdown and their 4-0 confidence. Third-and-14 from your own 22, people.

The looming question in my mind, after watching that dreadful play, and then reading Mike's assessment on Wednesday, is this:  Was the play bad because it was the wrong play for that situation, or was the play bad because it was not executed correctly by the players?

Opinions will come down on both sides of the fence.  Some saying it was Garrett's fault and he should have never called that play in that situation (this is Mike's argument, and I partly believe it.)  Others will say that the lost fumble was Romo's fault for not "feeling" the pass rush, suggesting that he should have thrown the ball away if no receiver was open.  Others will lay the blame on the offensive line, suggesting that if they would have known their assignments and properly executed them, the "sack-fumble" would have never happened.  Maybe some will blame the wide receivers for not getting open in time for Romo to complete the pass.  (Truth known - it was probably a combination of all these factors.)

Let me insert here that I researched all of Week 4's games wondering how other teams handle 3rd and very long situations.  I knew that it would be difficult to find another team with a similar situation to  Dallas' 3rd and 14 at their own 22, facing a tough defense like Denver's.  But I thought it would be worth a shot in the dark.

Four teams had a bye week: ARI, ATL, CAR, and PHI

Of the remaining 28 teams, only IND did not find themselves in a 3rd down with 10 or more yards needed for a 1st down. (Is that a compliment to the IND offense or a strike against the SEA defense?)

So 27 teams had at least one opportunity to run an offensive play from 3rd and 10 or longer.  Here are my findings:

Total number of plays 3rd and 10 or longer in week 4 in the NFL = 109

Of the 109 plays, 91 resulted in a pass (83.5%) and 18 resulted in a run (16.5%)

Consider first the 91 passes: 31 were incomplete, 28 were complete but not for a 1st down, 15 were complete resulting in a first down, 11 were sacks, 3 resulted in touchdowns, 3 resulted in interceptions.

Of the 18 runs: 2 were scrambles by the QB, 3 were "kneel downs" at the end of the game.

Of the remaining 13 runs: 2 of them were executed by a winning team within the last 2 minutes of the 4th quarter in an attempt to burn time off of the clock. And 6 of them were ran DEEP near their own end zone (on the 4, 6, 11, 11, 12, and 13 yard line.)  The final 5 runs took place in better field position and never resulted in a first down. 

None of the 18 runs resulted in a first down.  It is obvious that most teams do attempt to pass the ball in 3rd and very long situations unless they are pinned DEEP near their own end zone.  Would you consider the 22 yard line too deep in your own territory to attempt a pass, thereby settling for a short run on 3rd and very long, knowing that you are going to punt on 4th down?  I guess it is a judgment call.  Some would pass, others would run.

Fellow-blogger rangerjake had this to say in response to this same conversation on Mike's original post on Wednesday:

My opinion is...

if you can’t occassionaly trust your quarterback to attempt to pick up a 3rd and 14 without having the intelligence to avoid a complete disaster, you need a new quarterback. Check for an open guy, if it’s not there throw it away. You have to be able to pick up a 3rd and 14 at some point during the game, big plays lead to points, and throwing away a possession just because you’re at 3rd and 14 is bad football. But having a quarterback who is going to risk a stupid stupid turnover in that scenario is going to cost you a lot of football games. - by rangerjake on Oct 8, 2009 6:22 PM EDT

I'm having some difficulty trying to determine if the pass play was the right call or not on that unfortunate 3rd and 14 at the 22.  

What do you think?

(By the way, I never did find a similar situation of a team up in points, near their 20 yard line, against a very tough defense, on 3rd down with 10 or more yards for a 1st - but it was worth a try.)

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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