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Mike McCarthy was right to decline the penalty against the Panthers to keep it third and long

The conventional wisdom doesn’t think so, but here is why McCarthy was right.

Carolina Panthers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have won three games in a row and look like one of the most well-rounded teams in the National Football League. It is only Week 4, but so far this is true.

While we are all celebrating the latest Cowboys win, we are always looking to see how the team can get better. This is why last week we discussed Mike McCarthy’s decision to not call any timeouts near the end of the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles. Where the coach lacked a bit of aggressiveness last week, we look at a decision he made this week that he should get credit for.

Kellen Moore gets all of the shine for the offense thriving, Dan Quinn is attributed all glory for the defense taking the ball away, but what about McCarthy? Where is his love?

Right here.

Mike McCarthy was correct to decline the penalty against the Panthers to keep it third and long

Let’s reset the stage. Context is key.

  • Dallas is leading Carolina 13-7
  • The Panthers have the ball on their own 25-yard line and false start on first down
  • They pick up three yards as Sam Darnold throws to Chuba Hubbard
  • On 2nd-and-12 (from the Carolina 23-yard line) Darnold throws an incomplete pass to Robby Anderson, but Cam Erving (our old friend!) is called for an offensive facemask penalty

This is where the decision that many are debating comes into play. Mike McCarthy has two options in front of him:

  • ACCEPT THE PENALTY: If Dallas accepts then it is going to be 2nd-and-23 for the Panthers from their own 12-yard line, but they will obviously have two attempts at converting a first down (enforcement of the penalty would have been half the distance to goal)
  • DECLINE THE PENALTY: We know that Dallas chose to decline the penalty which established a 3rd-and-12 for the Panthers from their own 23-yard line

Obviously you are well-aware that the Panthers successfully converted their 3rd-and-12 situation which is what has a lot of people playing hindsight after the fact. 2nd-and-23 is certainly a difficult hole to be in, but every NFL head coach (especially Mike McCarthy given the success of his defense this season) should absolutely expect his defense to hold a team from gaining 12 yards in one play in a moment like that.

There is no denying that 23 is more yards for a team to cover than 12, but with Carolina having another down to try and to do so complicates the situation a bit more. This is why McCarthy decided to end things right away.

Not only does Mike McCarthy have every reason to believe that his team can successfully get a stop on 3rd and 12, but he has to believe that they can. As in he literally has to believe that or else the Cowboys are doomed.

Prior to this point in the game the Panthers had held the ball twice and gone three and out the very first time. Another three and out here, especially since the Cowboys had scored just before Carolina got the ball, would have given them the opportunity to get the ball with promising field position. Obviously this is true if Carolina would have been stopped had the penalty been accepted anyway, but Mike McCarthy took what he thought was the path of least resistance.

It didn’t work out for the Cowboys, plus they allowed a conversion on 3rd-and-11 later on in this same drive. But McCarthy is coaching with a stern directive and that is to end things whenever he can and on his terms.

This is the way.