Detroit Lions Were Wrong to Play for Field Goal in Overtime

Andrew Kaufman@akaufman23Senior Analyst ISeptember 25, 2012

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 23: Shaun Hill #14 of the Detroit Lions gets stopped on a fourth down play in overtime by the Tennessee Titans during the game at LP Field on September 23, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans won 44-41. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

In Sunday's most dramatic game, the Tennessee Titans held off the Detroit Lions 44-41 in overtime when they stopped the Lions on a poorly designed fourth down quarterback sneak.

The play was doomed from the start, primarily because the Lions were not actually intending to run a play on fourth down. After the game, Detroit Head Coach Jim Schwartz acknowledged that his players were attempting to draw Tennessee offside before accidentally snapping the ball.

Detroit fans have a right to be disappointed in their team's botched execution, but what is more troubling is that Schwartz was not intending to go for it in that situation.

Due to the new overtime rules, the Lions were given a chance to score following a Tennessee field goal to start overtime. The Lions had a 4th-and-1 from the Tennessee 7-yard line with 6:35 remaining when Schwartz sent out his troops to attempt to draw the Titan defenders offside.

If the Lions had not snapped the ball and had ended up successfully kicking a field goal, the game would have been tied with roughly 6:30 remaining, and the Titans would have gotten the ball in a sudden-death game.

Given the minimal amount of time remaining in the game, it would have been very unlikely that the Lions could have emerged from the game victorious. In any event, Tennessee would have had a substantially higher likelihood of winning the game than Detroit.

The Lions' other option was to try to gain one yard from the Titans' 7-yard line, knowing that if they gained that yard, they had something resembling a 90 percent chance to win the game.

If the odds of gaining one yard were anything close to 50 percent (and the likelihood is that they were in fact materially higher than 50 percent), the Lions should have attempted to pick up the first down.

Instead of choosing a strategy that would have made the Lions more than 50 percent likely to win the game, Jim Schwartz chose a path that made his team 10 percent likely to win, 50 percent likely to tie, and 40 percent likely to lose.

The decision Schwartz made may have been the safer one that "let the players decide the game," but he let the players decide the game in a way that made his own players extremely unlikely to win. It is hard to believe that coaches are still botching such easy mathematical decisions in 2012.