When Should DAL Have Allowed DEN to Score a TD?

Once Demaryius Thomas crossed the line to gain at the DAL 14 yard line with 1:50 to play, the DAL defense should have intentionally allowed the TD. With 2 timeouts and 1:40+ to play, they would have had a better chance of winning than allowing DEN to choke the life out of them and kick an easy FG for the win.

That's based on this analysis of when teams should intentionally allow a TD when tied.

Aften Thomas gained a 1st down, DAL correctly called a timeout setting up a 1st down and 10 at the DAL 11 with 1:49 to play. This chart illustrates DAL's chances of winning based on field position and time remaining with 1 timeout left.


The strategy of forcing a FG is highlighted in red. It's worth about a 0.01 or 0.02 WP. The strategy of allowing the TD is highlighted in blue. It's worth about a 0.12 WP. Getting the ball back with all four downs and 1:45 to force overtime isn't where you want to find yourself, but it's twelve times better than hoping for a FG miss.

DEN appeared to be completely cognizant that they had DAL in the field goal choke hold, but only after the timeout while Manning and Fox had time to think. I'm not sure Demaryius Thomas would have been so alert in the midst of play. The instinct for the goal line is too great--see Bradshaw comma Ahmad in Super Bowl XLVI. I don't have access to the tape, so it's not certain if that was even a possibility--but that's when DEN should have been prepared to allow the TD.

The right thing for the DAL defense to do is to instruct their players prior to the snap on 1st down and 10 from the DAL 24 with 1:57 to play: If DEN gains a 1st down, miss the tackle.

DEN was able to gain another 1st down, which was the absolute worst possible outcome for DAL. That final 1st down made it a no-brainer, and DEN milked the clock and kicked the FG for the win.

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17 Responses to “When Should DAL Have Allowed DEN to Score a TD?”

  1. NateTG says:

    I wonder whether Dallas should have taken an intentional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (e.g. by having a player take his helmet off on the field) to move Denver from the 11 to the 6 yard line to deny Denver a second set of downs.

  2. Unknown says:

    Agreed. With that being said, Denver got the first down by about 2 inches (literally). With the line to gain being so short (and the goal line a yard further), I don't think it's possible to try to stop them until they reach the first down marker then let them score - it's an either or proposition.

  3. Anonymous says:

    First sentence should be "the DAL defense".

  4. Brian Burke says:

    Thx. Fixed.

  5. Brian Burke says:

    At least I spelled "Demaryius" right.

  6. ASG says:

    Sorry if you've done it before but would be interested to see an article on taking a delay of game penalty vs burning a time out.

    Also, do you some kind of "speak to type" software? Because the Bradshaw reference is just weird.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Extending Nate's comment, might it be better for the defense to have 1st and goal with 2 minutes left and 3 timeouts than 1st and 10 from the 30 (which, using Nate's strategy, means intentionally but subtly committing multiple dead ball penalties)? The only real benefit to the 1st and 10 would be a more difficult fg if the offense fails to convert, since if the offense can convert 10 yards in 3 or fewer plays, the td is better for the defense than the first down (since they can only stop the clock on 3 plays). I don't know how bad the opposing QB and kicker need to be for the 1st and 10 from the 30 to be better for the defense, but the breakeven point is definitely not Peyton Manning. I realize this would never happen, especially since once coaches are analytic enough to realize this and attempt this strategy on defense, the coaches on offense are likely to realize the benefits of more field to burn clock and probably only accept the first penalty (to set up 1st and 10 from the 20, which makes for both a fairly easy fg and one first down conversion opportunity).

  8. NateTG says:

    I had thought an intentional foul on the first and 10 on the 11, but according to ESPN, the interception was on the 24, so a 15 yard penalty would put them at 1st and goal on the 9 with 1:57 to go.

    So an intentional foul right after the interception would have denied Denver the field goal choke hold barring a first down from a penalty. Barring a first down from penalties, Dallas can burn its three time outs and expect to receive a kick-off from a TD or Field Goal with about a minute left in the game.

    The way the defenses were playing, I think that would have been a good move.

    > ... and probably only accept the first penalty ...

    This leads to an even more academic hypothetical:
    After the interception, the clock would be stopped. Let's say the Cowboys intentionally foul, and then the Broncos decline the penalty. Since a dead ball foul works, the Cowboys could ostensibly foul again before the snap.
    How do the refs adjudicate repeated fouls and declinations?

  9. James says:

    "How do the refs adjudicate repeated fouls and declinations?"

    Probably ejections.

  10. Anonymous says:

    @NateTG

    "I had thought an intentional foul on the first and 10 on the 11, but according to ESPN, the interception was on the 24, so a 15 yard penalty would put them at 1st and goal on the 9 with 1:57 to go."

    Half the distance to the goal would apply here, and a 15 yard penalty on the 24 would have but Denver on the 12. They would have needed to commit two consecutive personal fouls.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I'm confused by this analysis. It seems you only account for a FG miss as a way Dallas could win this game. What about the probablity of forcing a FG on 3rd and 1 and coming back to score a FG or TD. These must be added to the probability of a FG miss. No? And the fact that you can still win the game with a TD must give this scenario, trying to force Denver to kick a FG, a decent probability of working.

  12. Johnathan Birks says:

    I agree with the request for TO vs. DOG penalty. I can't believe it's ever a good idea to burn a TO early in either half with under 5+ yards to go and/or on 1st or 2nd down. But I'd love to know how that all plays out statistically.

  13. Anonymous says:

    This discussion has come up a few times. And it always about the defense allowing the TD. You are on the wrong side of the field. The defense has no power to allow a TD, it is the OFFENSE that you should be talking to.

    Only the offense can control the TD. They can take the TD and leave time on the clock, or intentionally go down and run the clock out.

    As in this game, according to peyton manning's comments immediately after game, where they knew not to get the TD.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Dallas had two timeouts remaining when there was 1:49. They called their first timeout at 1:49. I think this may be the wrong graph. Looking at the two timeout graph, the optimal decision is still the same, but it's much closer.

    4 1:57 1 10 DAL 24 Peyton Manning pass complete short left to Demaryius Thomas for 13 yards (tackle by Brandon Carr)
    4 1:49 1 10 DAL 24 Timeout #1 by Dallas Cowboys
    4 1:49 1 10 DAL 11 Knowshon Moreno up the middle for 1 yard (tackle by DeMarcus Ware)
    4 1:45 1 10 DAL 11 Timeout #2 by Dallas Cowboys
    4 1:45 2 9 DAL 10 Peyton Manning pass complete short right to Julius Thomas for 8 yards (tackle by J.J. Wilcox)
    4 1:40 3 1 DAL 2 Knowshon Moreno up the middle for 1 yard (tackle by Sean Lee and J.J. Wilcox)
    4 1:35 3 1 DAL 2 Timeout #3 by Dallas Cowboys

  15. Anonymous says:

    Nobody has answered my question above:

    "What about the probablity of forcing a FG on 3rd and 1 and coming back to score a FG or TD. These must be added to the probability of a FG miss. No? And the fact that you can still win the game with a TD must give this scenario, trying to force Denver to kick a FG, a decent probability of working. "

    I think the assumptions of this graph are wrong. I think playing to hold to a FG is the correct play. If you hold them to a FG you get the ball back with a minute to play to either win or tie the game. Can someone calculate the proper percentages for playing for a hold?

  16. Nathan Lazarus says:

    @ Anonymous
    What's going on here is that Denver was able to run the clock out, hike the ball with one second left, and kick the game winning field goal, leaving no time on the clock for Dallas. When the lines become flat that's possible (in the 1 timeout remaining scenario depicted here).

    @ another anonymous
    I agree that the offense can control whether they score or not, and in situations where the defense would allow a touchdown the offense should avoid scoring one. However, offenses are often going for a touchdown when they shouldn't be, and defenses should not try to stop them in these scenarios. Had the Cowboys not tried to stop the first down run, I think Moreno's momentum would have carried him into the end zone.

    I third (is that a thing? It should be) the request for a TO vs. DOG analysis. Although it's difficult to translate time to yards, that's why we have the WP model! I believe that since the WP model takes timeouts into account, it can say whether a team has a higher WP on 1st and 15 with 3 timeouts or 1st and 10 with 2.

  17. Anonymous says:

    "The defense has no power to allow a TD"

    If the defense picked up the ball carrier and dragged him across the goal line - that would be a touchdown, right?

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