The Dallas Cowboys won on Sunday. That is the most important thing here. There are unquestionably a lot of lessons for America’s Team to take away from their close call with the Atlanta Falcons, but there is one thing from the contest that isn’t standing out as much as it would have - had the greatest onside kick ever not worked out.
With just under five minutes left in the game, the Cowboys scored a Dak Prescott to Dalton Schultz touchdown. The six points from the score trimmed their deficit to nine points, and they had a decision to make.
Do you agree with the call to go for two down nine points with five minutes left?
This discussion is a bit general in terms of what you would do in this arbitrary situation, although the potency of the Cowboys offense is obviously a factor and any factor should be considered when making decisions of this magnitude. Again, though, this is sort of a philosophical discussion that we’re having.
Not to be that guy but when I was a kid playing Madden and would find myself down 10 points (rarely because I was good on the sticks, obviously) late in the game I developed a habit for kicking a field goal the moment I got within make-able range. Why is that? In a situation like that you have to have both a field goal and a touchdown, the biggest factor (assuming you can get everything which you must assume if you’re going to come back) is time. You have to conserve as much time as possible.
Now I realize that this methodology isn’t for everyone and it does depend on the particular circumstances, but it is my own general philosophy (I’m a PS4 user if you’re so inclined). The two-point situation that the Cowboys were facing was similar to this example in the respect that time was the true enemy.
To begin our thought process as deeply as possible we have to acknowledge the objective truths in moment after Dalton Schultz scored to present the option. Dallas was down by nine, there was 4:57 left in the game, the Falcons had two timeouts remaining, and the Cowboys held all three of their timeouts. Obviously the two-minute warning was still left as well.
Since we have established these truths let’s ask the question... why would the Cowboys go for two?
The point of going for two first is to gain as much information as possible while leaving as much time as possible to work with
Not to speak for any one particular group, but the responses I’ve seen that are against going for two stem from the idea that you “always” make the game a one-possession game if you can. This is the driving force for people saying that the Cowboys should have kicked the extra point as they would have then trailed by eight points.
Here’s the thing. The Cowboys were trying to make it a one-possession game, I’m not sure how that part is missed. In their minds, in the most successful of all outcomes, they not only would make it a one-possession game, but they would make it a more manageable one-possession game as the deficit would be seven points. That is literally the goal.
There is no question that going for two at this moment in time carries a risk for the Cowboys. If they are unsuccessful (as they obviously were) then the deficit remains a two-possession game which makes coming back even more difficult (which makes that they did come back all the more improbable). But... wouldn’t you want to know that as soon as possible?
This is admittedly a non-exact proposition, but play out the rest of the game identically assuming the Cowboys kicked the extra point instead of trying for two:
- Dalton Schultz touchdown (extra point is good)
- Falcons punt
- Dak Prescott touchdown (1:52 left in the game)
If we are to assume that things work out the same then the Cowboys would have been down two points after Prescott’s rushing touchdown, needing a two-point conversion to tie. If we also assume that it would play out the same way as the two-point conversion that actually happened then the Cowboys would also have not gotten it. They then would have still needed the onside kick and field goal. And if you want to say that perhaps they even got the two-point conversion in this scenario it is worth mentioning that, with the game tied, they would have kicked the ball off and given it to Atlanta with about two minutes left. That last point is extreme hindsight.
We can’t prove anything one way or the other, but time actually might have been less with an alternative approach
On the subject of time, it should be mentioned that in the way the actual game played out that the Cowboys ended up recovering the onside kick with just under two minutes left. As you know that was vital in getting in position for the game-winning field goal. But would that time have existed had the Cowboys kicked the extra point instead of missing out on the two-point conversion?
Let’s go back to our hypothetical and say the Cowboys kicked, kicked off, and Atlanta punted. In reality Dallas started with the ball down nine with 2:57 left, but if they had been down only eight thanks to an extra point on their previous score they could have viewed the game as being that of a one-possession variety where they had three minutes to go get the necessary score.
Obviously we can’t prove this one way or the other, but it is certainly possible that the Cowboys could have called things differently from an offensive perspective. To be blunt, they could have felt less urgency since it was only, in a literal sense, a one-possession game. Here is that drive play by play:
- Dak Prescott to Amari Cooper for 11 yards
- Dak Prescott to Ezekiel Elliott for 3 yards
- Dak Prescott incomplete to CeeDee Lamb
- Dak Prescott to Noah Brown for 47 yards (penalty brought it back)
- Dak Prescott to CeeDee Lamb for 14 yards
- Dak Prescott to Michael Gallup for 38 yards
- Ezekiel Elliott for 4 yards
- Dak Prescott incomplete to Michael Gallup (penalty on Atlanta)
- Dak Prescott incomplete to CeeDee Lamb
- Dak Prescott touchdown
The drive was nine plays long and consumed 1:08 of game clock. The Cowboys only ran the ball once, but don’t you think it is possible that they could have felt the freedom to do so had the game only technically been a one-possession contest?
We know the Cowboys are not afraid to run the ball in clutch situations. With the mentality that they simply needed to punch it in they might have not been as urgent offensively. Consider this tweet from the mothership’s Nick Eatman in those moments.
just think if you could actually run your regular offense here, with Zeke as a true option to run. Absolute terrible decision to go for 2.— Nick Eatman (@nickeatman) September 20, 2020
If the Cowboys had run their “regular offense” they might have very well scored a touchdown. That’s true and totally possible. But if that had been the case they obviously would have consumed more time in most theoretical senses because that’s a result of running the ball and the clock continuing to tick. Even if we then assume that the onside kick goes their way like it actually did they might not have had as much time to operate for the field goal that they would need. Or as mentioned they might have given Atlanta the ball after a tied game and lost it there or in overtime. There are a lot of potential results.
The point is that going for two when the Cowboys did establishes a known level of information, even as unfortunate as it was in the moment that they were down nine points and facing an uphill battle.
Acquiring as much information as possible is worth the risk in my own humble opinion. Things ultimately worked out for the Cowboys and they very well could have even if they’d kicked the extra point as opposed to going for two, but I’m glad that they went about it this way.
What do you think?
Do you agree with the Cowboys decision to go for two when down nine late against the Falcons?
This poll is closed