Last Friday, the Edmonton Eskimos came within a missed field goal of pulling off an unlikely comeback against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. While the game will go down in the history books as a 30-29 Eskimo defeat, the sequence of events leading up to the last second field goal attempt by Grant Shaw provide us fans with the opportunity to debate the decisions of the Eskimo coaching staff.
Let me replay the scenario for you: Hamilton, having just taken a 30-22 lead on the strength of a Luca Congi field goal, had 1:59 left to victory. Incredibly, Edmonton was able to score a touchdown within a mere 29 seconds, to close the gap to 30-28. After having failed on its two-point conversion, Edmonton kicked off to Hamilton with 1:23 left in regulation.
Taking over on its own 14 yard line, Hamilton was able to garner one first down on a short run and a beautiful touch pass from Henry Burris to Samuel Gigure before punting to Edmonton with 26 seconds left on the clock.
Here is where things get really interesting.
Edmonton knows that, to the win the game, it will likely have to kick a long field goal. And, obviously, the success rate of field goal attempts is impacted by its length. A summary of field goal attempts over the three-year period 2010 - 2012 is as follows:
Less than 10 yards: 15/15 (100%)
11-15 yards: 80/81 (98.8%)
16-20 yards: 115/119 (96.6%)
21-25 yards: 114/122 (93.4%)
26-30 yards: 117/131 (89.3%)
31-35 yards: 145/174 (83.3%)
36-40 yards: 144/193 (74.6%)
41-45 yards: 116/177 (65.5%)
46-50 yards: 87/133 (65.4%)
More than 50 yards: 15/34 (44.1%)
Total: 948/1179 (80.4%)
Now, not knowing in advance where they are going to end up, but being aware of the correlation between field position and field goal success rate, Edmonton should do everything in its ower to get as far down the field as possible.
But Edmonton did not do this. That is, after a 22-yard Mike Reilly run that took Edmonton to the Hamilton 53 yard line with 10 seconds remaining, Edmonton intentionally downed the football.
They did this despite having a full 15 seconds between the time they lined up on offence and when the officials blew the play in. The process of downing the football took two seconds off the clock.
After downing the football, Reilly completed a clutch 10-yard pass to Fred Stamps that set up Shaw’s ill-fated 50 yard attempt, with two seconds left on the clock.
So, by my calculations, Edmonton had four seconds of game clock it chose not to use in the dying moments of this game (the two seconds in downing the football, plus the two seconds at the end of the game). Did Edmonton make the right decisions?
Well, what is interesting about the field goal attempt data above is that the likelihood of making a field goal between 46 and 50 yards (65.4%) is just about the same as making a field goal between 41 and 45 yards (65.5%).
In other words, there only would have been value to Edmonton running an additional play had they been able to run an additional play that got them more than 10 yards closer to Hamilton’s endzone than they ended up being.
And the benefit of doing so would have had to have been weighed against the risk of taking more than four seconds off the clock in the attempt. Do you think Edmonton could have advanced the ball more than 10 yards in less than four seconds?
Trevor Hardy is the CFL's Director, Salary Expenditure Reporting, responsible for the administration of the league's Salary Management System. A Chartered Accountant, He is also one of approximately 225 designated CA specialists in Investigative and Forensic Accounting in Canada. Trevor is an expert in the use of analytics, statistical modeling and forecasting.