On Wednesday night, the Redskins-Bengals game was one of the matchups featured on NBC Sports Network’s fine show Turning Point. The segment on the Redskins ran about 10 minutes and it was interesting even though there not much new that was uncovered.
However, there was one comment that was pulled from one of the audio of one of the broadcast feeds that caught my ear. I can’t quite identify who said it—it may have been Solomon Wilcots, a former Bengal who was doing the color commentary for CBS or perhaps a member of the Cincinnati radio broadcast team, or maybe someone else—but the words are very blunt.
“I like what Cincinnati’s doing. You show no guts and don’t go for it on fourth and one, you deserve it.”
Harsh, but you really can’t argue with it. In each of the last two games, the Redskins have faced crucial fourth-down situations in the fourth quarter. Each time, Mike Shanahan has elected to kick. In St. Louis, it was a virtually impossible 62-yard field goal and against the Bengals it was a punt that ended up netting 24 yards. The Redskins lost both games due in no small part to the failure of the fourth-down calls.
It is always easy to criticize a decision with hindsight when it doesn’t work out. But going for it on fourth and one against the Bengals should have been an easy call. They were running the ball well. The Cincinnati defense had no idea what was coming at them next. They gave up a boatload of high draft picks to get their playmaking quarterback. The Redskins’ defense had made a couple of stops but looking at the game through the first three quarters the faith Shanahan placed in them was not warranted.
The odd thing is that the Redskins had gone for it on fourth and one twice against the Saints in the opener and got a first down both times. In all, the Redskins are six for eight on fourth and one since Shanahan arrived in 2010.
And it also should have been easy to decide to go for it on fourth and 16 against the Rams. Even though the odds of converting for a first down were slim, they were much better than the chances of Billy Cundiff (career long field goal of 56 yards in 2005) hitting a 62-yard field goal.
In both cases, Shanahan went with his gut feeling and it’s hard to argue with the instincts of a coach with his track record. But given that they have been successful when being aggressive and that the whole discretion being the better part of valor thing hasn’t worked out too well, he should perhaps take the path of being bold the next time a key fourth-down situation comes up.