Late in the game against the Steelers Sunday night, the Raiders managed to pull it to a one-score game. Down 23-15, that one score would be a touchdown and a two-point conversion. And, yet, despite driving to within four yards of having a decent shot at doing just that, they turned it down. Leaving the question of why.
For that, there is no good answer.
Let’s set the scene.
The Raiders first found themselves in fourth and six from the Pittsburgh 29-yard-line with 3:15 remaining. One could have argued they should’ve gone for it then. It seemed like the clear better choice. But with that much time left, there was an outside chance of making a stop and having enough time to try and drive for a touchdown.
For that reason, it was a little surprising they opted to kick the field goal, but not a huge misstep.
Then the Steelers were flagged for a personal foul on the field goal try, giving the Raiders a fresh set of downs. From that point, it was all or nothing. Nothing but a TD would do. Right?
Yeah, about that…
The Raiders would be stopped on the first three downs faced with a fourth and four from the eight-yard-line with 2:25 on the clock. No question whatsoever, you go for it to try to either pick up four yards for the first down or eight yards for the touchdown.
A field goal does you almost no good. It’s no better than going for it and not making it. In fact, it’s actually worse. Don’t believe me? Just look at the numbers.
Raiders kick on 4th-and-4 on PIT 8
WP Go: 15.8%
WP Kick: 10.2%
A big error by McDaniels, per our model.
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) September 25, 2023
Their winning percentage was more than five points lower with a field goal than going for it.
Here is Josh McDaniels’s attempt at an explanation along with some more numbers that prove it isn’t a convincing one.
Steelers ML increased from -500 to -1000 after the Raiders kicked the field goal. https://t.co/KCtIAl35RP
— Covers (@Covers) September 25, 2023
How could it be that adding three points is worse?
Well, let’s go with the possible scenarios.
1. Get stopped on 4th down
Turnover on downs. Steelers get the ball in the shadow of their own end zone. Easier to make a quick stop as they must avoid a safety. Get the ball in great field position to take another shot.
2. Pick up first down
Fresh set of downs inside the five-yard-line. Four down territory gives them solid shot of getting in the end zone.
3. TD without a two-point conversion
They have to make a defensive stop. Then they need only drive for a field goal to win it rather than a touchdown which was a lot higher probability from the eight-yard-line than being pinned deep off a punt.
4. They get the TD and two-point conversion
Stop the Steelers shaky offense to send it to OT.
5. Kick a field goal
Still down five points. Give the ball to the Steelers at their 25-yard-line off the kick off. Have to make a quick defensive stop. Hope the Steelers’ punt doesn’t pin them deep, making for a long drive.
The field goal clearly sets up the most complicated path to victory of all the options. Even getting stopped on 4th down.
I am no coach. I don’t make that declaration to suggest McDaniels might have some reasonable method I just can’t comprehend. I say that to point out that even from where I’m sitting, this is plain as day. Where he was standing — on the sideline as the head coach of an NFL team — it should have been far more obvious.
Down eight points on fourth and four from your opponent’s eight-yard-line, you go for it. All day, every day.