Mike McCarthy defends controversial punt

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers
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Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy repeatedly decided to punt on Sunday in situations where the analytics said they should have gone for it, and the last of those decisions was the first question he was asked after the game.

With the Cowboys facing fourth-and-10 and trailing 19-12 with 2:11 left in the game, the analytics recommendation was strong: Go for it. McCarthy was asked why he punted.

“What was the down and distance?” McCarthy asked the reporter.

When the reporter replied that it was fourth-and-10, McCarthy responded, “Yeah. That’s the answer. Yeah.”

But while a fourth-and-10 conversion attempt is a low-percentage move, punting the ball back to the other team when you’re down by seven points just before the two-minute warning is an even lower-percentage move.

That wasn’t the only time McCarthy punted when a more analytics-minded coach might have gone for it. On a fourth-and-5 at the 49ers’ 40-yard line, the Cowboys took a delay of game penalty and then punted when the analytics recommendation was strongly to go for it. On a fourth-and-5 at the Cowboys’ 48-yard line, the Cowboys punted when the analytics recommendation was moderately to go for it.

We’ll never know whether the Cowboys would have won had they been more aggressive on fourth downs, but they lost a winnable game on a day when they repeatedly punted when the analytics said they shouldn’t.

40 responses to “Mike McCarthy defends controversial punt

  1. Smart football and clock management was never McCarthy’s strong suit. It’s one of the more frustrating things us Packer fans had to deal with during his time in Green Bay.

  2. He has a lot of things to defend this morning, because he’s just a not a very good coach. He’s lucked out with a lot of talented rosters and has continuously underachieved over the years. I don’t think he gets another gig after Owner, GM, Coach, Team Doctor, President of Operations, and Radio Personality Jerruh fires him.

  3. Should’ve been treated as 4 down territory and never gotten to 4th & 10 is the right answer

  4. The earlier decision to punt on 4th and 5 from the 49ers 40 yard earlier was definitely questionable, but going for it when you’re 4th and 10 at your own 18 yard line is not. You punt the ball.
    The only mistake here was that they allowed the clock to run down too much before they punted. The 49ers got the ball at 2:05 which meant they could run any play without worrying about the clock.
    Dallas’ defence was playing well enough that with 3 timeouts and more than two minutes and fifty seconds on the clock, punting was the obvious and correct choice.
    That they ended up wasting 45 seconds is the problem, not the the choice to punt.
    Analytics are useful but the focus on them has now reached absurdity.

  5. McCarthy is one of the top 32 head coaches in the NFL.

    /s

    Terrible decision.
    terrible hire by Jerry.

  6. When you’re down in the 4th you have to choose a hill to die on. Punting there was wrong decision. 9ers offense is too strong and there was only 2 min left.

  7. As usual Mike McCarthy outsmarted us all! We were all playing checkers while McCarthy was playing …. Dungeons and Dragons maybe??? counting on his super secret weapon ultimate trick play – featuring Ezekiel Elliott as the center no less – to win it all on the last play of the game. That is some braniac coaching there folks. And it looked like it just might work for one one-hundredth of a second!

  8. I know Jerry really really wants Sean…..but I think he’s going to lose out to the Panthers , or Chargers or Buccaneers once the owners wake up and CAN both their coaches.

  9. meh. The punt was fine. The Cowboys have a Dak problem. In that they have Dak. When he got the ball with 3+ minutes left, I said, here’s where you tell us whether you’re worth your massive contract. He told us that he’s not. Time for the cowboys to move on.

  10. Based on all those interceptions Dak threw (including a pass that should have been caught and returned for a pick six), punting was the Cowboys best offense yesterday.

  11. Decision was correct, extend the game especially with three time-outs, lack of being ready to punt wasting all that time is an epic coach failure on confused, not prepared head coach and special teams coach. The big issue is the defense has no depth (will get worse next season when Dak’s salary goes up by $30 million), unable to adjust and based on one-player which with a coach that can make adjustments becomes easy to run over in the 4th.

  12. going for it on 4th and 10 from your own 25 is essentially an automatic loss. You have about a 10% chance of making that which means it’s a 90% chance of losing the game because the 49ers would’ve run the ball three times and Robbie Gould would have kick to make it a two score game, game over. So let’s not pretend that the Cowboys would’ve won or even had a better chance of winning, if they would have gone for it. I can see you going for it on the other fourth down situation’s, but whether they went for it on the fourth and 10 is irrelevant

  13. The people saying he should have went for it there do realize they were on the 15 or something against the best defense in football, right? I say that the media doesn’t influence people but then I see that they do when stupid stuff like this becomes a thing. Like no one should have thought it plausible to go for it there, especially since their defense was the only reason they had a chance up to that point and they had three timeouts still with the two minute warning coming up. Even Bill Belichick with Tom Brady in his prime punts it there.

  14. You need to start the possession consciously knowing you likely will be going for it. That should be part of the playcalling and the QB and skill players should also be informed. That means your goal needs to be picking up some yardage the first 3 downs to make 4th down realistic.

  15. Sean McVey gets a lot of criticism on this site, but one thing he’s never criticized for is being too conservative and punting when his team is down late.

  16. Good decision to punt. The defense just couldn’t do their job. They even got gifted with a run out of bounds.

  17. Malcomreynolds

    You are 100 percent correct in your assessment of the time mismanagement that cowboys wasted precious seconds…in the last 3 weeks the cowboys lost to two 3rd string quarterbacks(Sam Howell Brock Purdy)and beat a hall of fame quarterback…

  18. Smart football and clock management was never McCarthy’s strong suit. It’s one of the more frustrating things us Packer fans had to deal with during his time in Green Bay.
    _____________

    I’ve always said that MM needs the equivalent of a baseball bench coach. He’s a very fine coach in many aspects, but his decisions on when to use timeouts and challenges have been questionable at best.

  19. ob2040 says:
    January 23, 2023 at 10:23 am
    going for it on 4th and 10 from your own 25 is essentially an automatic loss. You have about a 10% chance of making that which means it’s a 90% chance of losing the game…..
    ________________

    Interesting, because the analytics experts obviously did not come up with the same percentages.

  20. And when they failed to convert 4th and 10 on their own 18 yard line and the niners iced the game with a chip shot FG, the articles would be why they chose to go for it when they could punt with 3 TO’s left.

  21. Would you trust that kicker or that QB when the chips are down? Dakota DNA has strands of interceptions woven through it.

  22. He has more issues than the punt although smart money says to go ahead and run your best play down the field win or go home right? Dakokta is NOT a elite QB stats dont lie he stinks. Cannot have those picks in that game, Poor decision making and hes been around for a while almost like Wentz really bad football IQ.

  23. Does analytics take into account the defense you are playing and the flow of the game? No. I’m a 49ers fan but going for it on 4th and 10 there would be dumb. If it was 4th and less than 5? Maybe. Midfield? Probably. Only 1 or 2 timeouts left? Absolutely. But that was not the case here. It amazes me how people come out of the woodwork when they have hindsight on their side. If you have never coached a football game in your life you can’t just use analytics as the end all be all with the advantage of hindsight. The earlier calls were more suspect but not that one. Again, Niners fan here and I think McCarthy is terrible but you can’t come down on him for that decision.

  24. Can’t wait to hear Skip Brainless excuses today w/ Sharpe. How he will defend “my Cowboys”, as if he owns the team.

  25. Lotta McCarthy articles and not many Dak articles. He looked shell-shocked the entire game. Thoroughly outplayed by a rookie. Dallas can hire and fire as many coaches as they want, they’ll never win it all with this guy.

  26. I have a hard time faulting MM for the decisions in this game, other than perhaps that weird final play, but by then the game was over. This loss is on his QB.

  27. I don’t think this punt was the problem at all, and I think leaving out the field position (the Dallas 18 yard line) in this post is a sin of omission. It was a low chance of conversion and a near-guaranteed SF score if they miss, which ends the game. This call was simply putting trust in a defense that had done well most of the day to give them one last drive.

    The game was lost well before this play.

  28. The 2nd half meltdown in the divisional round against Seattle years ago was a clear indicator of how bad McCarthy is. Surprised Jerrah hasn’t fired him to get Sean Payton.

  29. sfniners42 says:
    January 23, 2023 at 12:00 pm
    Does analytics take into account the defense you are playing and the flow of the game?
    ______________

    Yes, it does. A good statistical model takes all factors into account.

  30. gibson45 says:
    January 23, 2023 at 12:34 pm
    sfniners42 says:
    January 23, 2023 at 12:00 pm
    Does analytics take into account the defense you are playing and the flow of the game?
    ______________

    Yes, it does. A good statistical model takes all factors into account.

    ————————

    Sure, to a degree. Do you think the statiscal probablility of other teams getting that first down matter? Analytics will take the percentages of most/all games played to determine the “correct” choice there. That doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to do given the way the game was going and the exact teams playing. Sometimes “all factors”, as you say, shouldn’t be taken into account. Classic analytics vs gut decision. I’m not saying using analytics is wrong but you can’t fault McCarthy for using his timeouts wisely and trusting his defense (considering they were playing well) to get a stop vs taking a low percentage 4th down shot that effectively ends the game if not converted. If he goes for it there and doesn’t convert he would be bashed even more for not punting and using his timeouts.

  31. sfniners42 says:
    January 23, 2023 at 1:14 pm
    gibson45 says:
    January 23, 2023 at 12:34 pm
    sfniners42 says:
    January 23, 2023 at 12:00 pm
    Does analytics take into account the defense you are playing and the flow of the game?
    ______________

    Yes, it does. A good statistical model takes all factors into account.

    ————————

    Sure, to a degree. Do you think the statiscal probablility of other teams getting that first down matter? Analytics will take the percentages of most/all games played to determine the “correct” choice there. That doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to do given the way the game was going and the exact teams playing. Sometimes “all factors”, as you say, shouldn’t be taken into account. Classic analytics vs gut decision….
    __________________

    If you have the proper analytical/statistical model it will include the exact teams playing. The models are adjusted for each game. There is no overall model based solely upon past games.

    The proper model also takes into account the way the game is going. The models are constantly updated during the games, something that is fairly easy to do with modern computer programs.

  32. @sfniners42 – I don’t fault MM for punting in that situation either. Overall however, going against proper analytics is a losing proposition. Statistics are indisputable facts, gut reactions are based upon fallible emotions.

  33. @gibson45 – I agree. I am all for analytics as a tool and understand the advantage. My point in all of this is the frustration in the ignorant reactions by many based off of the result instead of what actually goes into the decision, analytics or otherwise. It would be interesting to see what the actual analytical percentages were for this scenario.

  34. The Cowboys will never go to the Super Bowl and win one with Dak as their QB. His inaccurate passes and interceptions just destroy any possibility to keep a drive moving forward! He is undisciplined and uses poor judgement. Both his offensive coordinator/QB can’t get him under control with a HC who has worked with prior winning QBs will not break him of his bad habits!

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