We know now what it takes for Rex Ryan to get aggressive on fourth down.
Being out of the playoff race.
We can’t say the same for Jason Garrett.
The Buffalo Bills owe the Dallas Cowboys’ coach a belated Christmas gift for his painfully conservative coaching Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Three times – count ’em, three – Garrett punted inside Buffalo territory. In a game that was meaningless to both teams.
Those decisions played a huge part in costing Dallas the game.
Garrett’s breakdown of questionable calls: Punting on fourth and 9 from the Bills’ 39-yard line in the second quarter (the most defensible of his offenses), kicking a field goal on fourth and goal from the Bills’ 4-yard line, punting on fourth and 4 from the Bills’ 44-yard line in the fourth quarter (yuck) and punting from the Bills’ 44 again on a fourth-and-8 play later in the fourth quarter.
For Bills fans worried about Ryan’s lack of aggression, Garrett’s display is a good example that things could be worse.
The Bills faced fourth down five times against the Cowboys. Here is a breakdown of what they did on each one:
1. Fourth and 3 from the Cowboys’ 35-yard line, 3-0 Dallas lead, 5:50 remaining in the first quarter.
Ryan’s call: Go for it!
What the Times suggests: Go for it! The Bills’ win probability increased to 69 percent by attempting a conversion, which had a 56 percent chance of succeeding.
Our call: Way to go, Rex. That it didn’t work when the Bills went for it is not the point here.
This was a good decision by Ryan. Yes, the weather probably made a field-goal attempt unlikely, but we like to think Ryan is learning.
2. Fourth and 1 from the Bills’ 23-yard line, 6-3 Buffalo lead, 8:31 remaining in the second quarter.
Ryan’s call: Punt.
What the Times suggests: Going for it or punting were both Times-recommended. The Bills’ win probably would have gone up from 71 to 72 percent had they attempted a conversion, which had a 69 percent chance of succeeding.
Our call: Usually, going for it on fourth and 1 is an automatic “should have gone for it.” But the Bills had failed in getting 3 feet on both second and third down, so it’s somewhat more understandable that they punted it away here. Amazingly, the Times says that 97 percent of the time, coaches punt in this situation. Big sigh.
3. Fourth and 10 from the Bills’ 32-yard line, 6-6, 13:31 remaining in the third quarter.
Ryan’s call: Punt.
What the Times suggests: Punting is the right call here. The Bills’ win probability would have dropped from 57 to 55 percent by attempting a conversion.
Our call: An easy one here: Punting is the right call.
4. Fourth and 9 from the Cowboys’ 14-yard line, 6-6, 6:21 remaining in the third quarter.
Ryan’s call: Field-goal attempt.
What the Times suggests: The paper agrees with Ryan. The chance of a successful conversion was only 26 percent. Going for it would have been a big mistake – it would have dropped the Bills’ win probability from 68 to 63 percent. The chances of a successful field goal were 92 percent.
Our call: We again agree with Ryan. Taking the lead made sense here.
5. Fourth and 4 from the Bills’ 28-yard line, 9-6 Bills lead, 11:51 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Ryan’s call: Punt.
What the Times suggests: The paper says the Bills should go for it. They had a 53 percent chance of converting, and their win probability would have gone from 65 to 67 percent by making it.
Our call: Here is an example where we disagree with the math.
The Cowboys simply couldn’t move the ball with Kellen Moore at quarterback. Kicking it away meant they would have to put together a drive to get into scoring range, but going for it and failing would have given them the ball with a chance to tie the game. It rarely happens, but we’re OK with the Bills going against the math here.
Season totals: 110 fourth downs, 77 punts, 22 field goal attempts, 3 of 11 conversion attempts.