October 29, 2015


MAN VS. MACHINE: NFL WEEK 8 PICKS (Rufus Peabody and Will Leitch, 10/29/15, Sports on Earth)

Bruce Arians got some flack this week for not being able to run the clock out late in the fourth quarter against the Ravens. I was on a date, so I didn't get to watch the second half of the game, but when I flipped on ESPN afterward, I was surprised to learn that the Cardinals mismanaged the clock, since there is no coach I would rather have salting away a lead than Arians. My reasoning is pretty simple: Arians plays to win, rather than playing not to lose, like most NFL coaches. The version of the so-called "four-minute offense" most NFL teams employ is the ugly stepbrother to the dreaded prevent defense. Most of the time, it involves running the ball three times against an opponent expecting the run, punting, and relying on your defense to stop an offense with nothing to lose. There is a good reason teams behave sub-optimally in these situations, and it's the same reason they punt more than they should: incentives. When a coach makes a decision deviating from the traditional, overly conservative league norms, he's remembered for it if it's unsuccessful, but rarely noticed when it works. And in this day and age of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, coaches do not want to be seen as actively bad.

When I actually looked through the play-by-play of the Cardinals' four-minute offense (well, technically their drive started with 4:26 remaining), it looked like typical Bruce Arians play calling -- some runs, some passes. Of course, nobody in the media mentioned this non-conservative play calling that generated two first downs, took two minutes off the clock and forced the Ravens to burn all three timeouts. What they do remember is Carson Palmer getting penalized for intentional grounding with 2:27 remaining and the Ravens out of timeouts. Sure, the play didn't work out, but it was not due to a flaw in the decision-making process; the play called was a screen pass, and a first down would have ended the game. Arians said after the game "that's the time to go for the throat." He was doing what he's quietly done so well for the last few seasons -- playing to win. -- Rufus Peabody

Posted by at October 29, 2015 6:06 PM

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