When I was in high school I coached a group of 3rd-5th graders to a flag football championship. My QB at that time would go on to win Mr. Football and Gatorade Player of the Year in Indiana, however I like to believe we needed each other to accomplish our goal. After I graduated WKU I then coached a group of college freshman to a flag football championship, yes that is correct 12 freshman! The point in all this is you can see I have an extensive coaching resume and a pattern of success (yes this is meant to be humorous). Many concepts in flag football vary from those in professional football, for instance there are no real offensive lineman, everyone is an eligible receiver, and there isn’t much of a run game to speak of. However there are certain intangibles of a football game, flag or pro, that might not show up in the stats, but are just as important.
Everyone knows the cliche’s about winning football games, defense, run game, limit turnovers, etc. But I have identified a few key elements to winning football that may not show up in the stat book, but are very real, and determine the outcomes of football games week after week. I will share those with you now.
1. Dropped Interceptions: How many times have you seen a LB or DB drop a “should of had,” interception early in a game, and someone jokes, “That’s why they play defense.” Well that dropped interception very well may have just cost your team the game. In my opinion a dropped interception is a turnover wether the NFL counts or not, and is probably one of the most demoralizing turnovers in all of football. You probably don’t realize how many games your team has lost or nearly lost because of a dropped interception at some point, but I bet at least one comes to mind pretty quick (we all have that one). While I could not find a statistic indicating the number of times an offense converts points following a dropped interception, I feel strongly it would be staggering, and in fact saw it twice in one game this week.
2. Turnovers not taken to the house: How many times have you seen a team scoop and run with a fumble or return an interception only to be caught at the 4 yard line by someone making a big time hustle play? For the team that committed the turnover this is a “sudden change,” and how their defense now handles “sudden change,” is a big part of winning football. This is also true for the team that forced the turnover. Getting these turnovers into the end zone is huge, and I’m not just talking about the offense converting the situation mentioned above into 3 or 6 points. I am referencing Steeler football, the defense taking that bad boy to the house. The Steelers do this better than anyone (except maybe the Ravens), and you don’t have to look any further than last year’s Super Bowl to see an example of it. James Harrison’s interception return for a TD right before the half completely changed the landscape of that game. If he is stopped short of the end zone on that play (and the there were several chances), what could have been for the Cards? Getting turnovers are great, taking them to the house is next level!
3. Chasing points: Every football fan has seen the “When to go for 2,” chart based on the margin of your lead or deficit at the time. This chart needs to be locked away and never, ever referenced outside the final 5 minutes of a football game, EVER. I have seen time and time again teams chasing points early and it almost always comes back to haunt them, either costing them the game, or making it closer than it had to be.
I recently took in a game in which a team (let’s call them the Penguins) trailing by 2 points scored at TD to go up by 4pts, versus their opponent the Tractors. The Penguins then attempted a 2 point conversion (which they failed), with the hopes of going up by 6pts, all with about 12 minutes reaming in the game. This makes no sense. For starters what is the percentage of missed PAT’s in the NFL? My understanding is extremely low, so the likelihood of the Penguins converting the 2pt conversion to go up 6, then the Tractors scoring a TD but missing the PAT is pretty far fetched. Now let’s look at how this game actually played out.
Since the Penguins did not get the conversion they maintained just a 4pt lead over the Tractors. On the next offensive possession for the Tractors the Penguins forced a three and out and proceeded to drive down to tack on a FG. Now they are up 7, instead of 8 (which they would have been if they kicked the PAT) with under 4 minutes to play, and the chances of the Tractors getting a TD and missing the 2pt conversion is far greater than the PAT in the previous scenario. The Penguins would hold on to win the game but the point is this, teams that chase points early usually put themselves in unnecessarily tough situations at the end of games. Too many things happen through the course of a football game, and those PAT’s can be far more important than the risk vs reward of going for 2.