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December 17, 2007

Does It Ever Make Sense Not to Score a TD?

On Sunday, Brian Westbrook was hailed by his coach for not scoring in the win over Dallas. With just over two minutes remaining (and Dallas lacking a timeout), Westbrook broke free for an apparent touchdown that would have put the Eagles up 16-6. Instead, he took a knee at the one-foot line and the Eagles proceeded to run out the clock. Sure, it made for a good story on ESPN (and enraged several fantasy-football players). But was not scoring really a good idea?

Probably. If Westbrook had scored, Dallas would have had just over two minutes to score a touchdown and then recover an onside kick and then score again. Highly unlikely, but Dallas happened to execute something very similar earlier this year against the Bills. Even though Bill Krasker points out on FootballCommentary.com that Dallas could have stopped the clock after the knee-taking with an intentional defensive penalty, Football Outsider's Aaron Schatz (who Gelf interviewed last week) still thinks the Philly's chances are better without scoring:

The odds of there being a defensive penalty that stops the clock, then the Eagles not being able to score a touchdown seems a lot smaller than the odds that the Eagles score, and the Cowboys manage to come back with a TD and recover the ensuing onside kick.

But we're talking miniscule upticks in an already incredibly high winning-chance percentage. Perhaps the only time that a team really hurts its chances by scoring a touchdown is when it is leading by one point against a timeout-less team with less than two minutes on the clock and already has a first down in hand. (Football Outsiders gives an example of this happening: Three years ago, Emmitt Smith scored for the Cardinals when he should have taken a knee.)

Enough football-nerdiness for right now. Are there any other sports where stalling is better than scoring the maximum number of points available?

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- Sports
- posted on Dec 17, 07

perhaps basketball? especially in college basketball, with the longer shot clock, I would think it'd be a smart coaching move to "run the clock" by passing and then taking a shot as late as possible; versus going for an immediate score.

just my first-time-commentator $0.02


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