The decision to go for it on fourth-and-4 from the Tampa Bay 30-yard line late in the first quarter fits tidily in Ben McAdoo’s head-coaching portfolio. He’s by nature a gambler.
In McAdoo’s first season as head coach, the New York Giants were tied for fourth in the NFL with 19 fourth-down attempts. They converted a respectable nine.
The Giants are already tied for third this season with six attempts in four games. McAdoo may not be Doug Pederson with Philadelphia’s analytic team in his ear, but he tends to be more aggressive than most.
“It hasn’t surprised me. I know he wants to be aggressive,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “He has faith in our offense to complete the ball and convert on fourth down.”
It can backfire when it doesn't work. McAdoo is bypassing the potential for points -- which have been at a premium this season (the Giants are averaging 15 points per game) -- for the opportunity to continue drives. More often than not, it has not worked in his favor this year.
The Giants are 1-of-6 on fourth-down conversions this season.
With two straight games decided by field goals on the final play, it has left McAdoo’s decisions open for substantial second-guessing. There were more than a few that left many scratching their heads after Sunday's 25-23 loss to the Buccaneers kept the Giants winless at 0-4.
Let’s take a look at each situation, whether it was the right/wrong decision and how it played out.
No field goal in first quarter
The Giants went for it on a fourth-and-4 from the Buccaneers' 30-yard line trailing 7-0 in the first quarter. Manning threw incomplete to wide receiver Brandon Marshall for a turnover on downs. Tampa Bay scored a touchdown two plays later to grab a 13-point lead.
“We were right on the border there,” McAdoo said. “It was challenging to handle the ball, and I thought we had a good call and a makeable fourth down.”
That’s McAdoo admitting that the rain that started moments before kickoff and lasted most of the first quarter factored into the decision. Even if it didn’t, ESPN’s analytics team calculated that the decision to go for it under those circumstances (down, distance, time, score, etc.) was ever so slightly the right call.
There was no guarantee that rookie kicker Aldrick Rosas would make a 47-yarder in those conditions, even though it had stopped raining. He missed from 43 yards later in the game when the conditions had improved. There was also a 46 percent chance of the Giants converting that fourth-down play.
Of course, none of this takes into consideration that the Giants desperately needed points after another slow start. It has become a staple in their 0-4 start to the season.
They still haven’t scored a point in the first quarter of a game this year. Maybe kicking that field goal would’ve helped mentally.
“We look at each decision, and if we thought it was best to kick the field goal there, we kick the field goal,” McAdoo said. “The decisions early in the game ... the game changes with the decisions that you make. The game changes.”
The most questionable decisions?
McAdoo’s biggest head-scratcher, according to ESPN's analytics, came when he decided to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 12-yard line in the second quarter. That cost a 2.3 percent chance to win, based on the decision only and not on any outcome.
The Giants would’ve needed only a 38.5 percent chance to convert to make the gamble worthwhile, and the league average conversion rate in that situation is 64.5 percent.
It’s possible McAdoo’s earlier decision affected this one. The Giants desperately needed points trailing 13-0 after not getting any earlier. So McAdoo had Rosas kick the 30-yard field goal.
Sometimes there's a snowball effect. That seemed to be the case here.
Giving up at halftime
The Giants had the ball at their own 40-yard line with 12 seconds remaining in the first half. It was almost identical to what the Eagles had the previous week in the fourth quarter on their game-winning drive. Philadelphia had the ball at their own 38-yard line with 12 seconds remaining and kicked a game-winning 61-yarder as time expired.
The Giants decided to run a draw on third-and-8 with 12 seconds remaining and trailing 16-10 on Sunday. It was ... curious.
“Twelve seconds at the 40-yard line. That was a situational decision at the end of the half,” McAdoo said. “I would rather not have to punt in that situation.”
So the Giants ran out the clock. In retrospect, giving up the chance for points because they were scared to punt to a team that was already out of timeouts proved costly.
The Giants burned a timeout early in the fourth quarter when they challenged a call of an incomplete pass to Mike Evans. The Bucs were driving and cornerback Janoris Jenkins knocked the ball away from Evans almost immediately.
McAdoo challenged in hopes of it being overturned to a fumble. It would’ve been a potential game-changing play with the Giants leading 17-16 at the time.
“I saw a catch, and I saw a football move,” McAdoo said. “I thought that it was worth the risk at that point.”
The Giants have now lost three of four challenges this season.
“I think this year seems to be more difficult than years past to try to get one overturned,” McAdoo said. “Fourth quarter, a big play in the ballgame like that was, it’s always worth the risk.”
Another example of The Gambler at work. He lost this one, but with minimal recourse. The Giants weren't short on timeouts at the end of the game.