Fourth Down Faith

Posted Nov 2, 2010

Haley is comfortable with Chiefs four-down system; tries to remove emotions from process

Todd Haley spent nearly half of his Monday press conference answering various questions about his fourth down strategy. The Chiefs have now attempted 11 fourth down conversions and been successful on 54.5% of those tries, but it’s not the frequency of the attempts (which is the fourth-highest in the league) or the conversion rate (which is the 11th-highest in the league) that triggered the line of questioning.

Kansas City’s head coach is being prodded and second-guessed because a handful of those 11 attempts have occurred at unconventional times. Leading the charge was Sunday’s second quarter fourth-and-two from the Buffalo 19-yard line (score 0-0) and coming in a close second, several weeks earlier, was a first quarter fourth-and-two from the Indianapolis eight-yard line (score 0-3).

“I don’t expect everybody to agree with me or understand always exactly the way I’m thinking,” Haley said. “But we’re trying to develop a team here and I want to be a great team.”

Haley went on to say that his fourth down approach will be different once the Chiefs are closer to becoming a “great team.” For this moment, however, the Chiefs aren’t far enough along in their transition to alter the strategy of when to enter “four-down ball.”

We discussed this very topic right here some two weeks ago and everything that was written still holds true. The decision of when to enter fourth-down territory is researched, thought out and planned for well in advance. Haley has set his own rules and he’s apologizing for nothing. On Monday, he said that he was still comfortable with his fourth down decisions.

“The fourth down is not a crazy man mentality, it’s well thought out in advance,” Haley said. “There were many situations in that game where we were in four-down mode so-to-speak, that nobody outside of that sideline knows about, because we never got to fourth down, but we were in the mode and that’s so much of it.”

If you’re going to be as aggressive as the Chiefs have been, there must be a clear blueprint for success. Haley’s been adamant over the last month about the preparations made throughout the week regarding the timing of fourth down attempts.

It’s when Haley breaks his own rules that he gets uncomfortable. That happened…or almost happened…against Buffalo.

A controlled chaos ensued over the Chiefs offensive headsets with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. Kansas City wasn’t in a situation that qualified for the team to be in its four-down mode, but the Chiefs lined up for the conversion attempt anyway.

On a fourth-and-one from his own 29-yard line, Matt Cassel took a quarterback sneak over the top of Buffalo’s defensive line for a first down. Shortly after the whistle, referee Al Riveron announced that Cassel’s conversion would not stand. Haley had called a timeout just before the snap of the football.

“I just didn’t like the way that that went because that felt too much like all of sudden you were letting your heart and your emotions get in it,” Haley explained. “You’re hearing different voices saying different things.”

“That kind of thing will get you beat,” Haley continued. “I cannot allow that to happen.”

After the timeout, Dustin Colquitt and rest of the punt team headed out to give the football back to Buffalo with 1:17 to play. After Roscoe Parrish returned Colquitt’s punt 33 yards to the Kansas City 48-yard line, who knows if Haley was second-guessing the second-guess.

It shouldn’t matter. Haley stayed true to his plan for fourth downs, and that’s as important as a decision as any. When you’ve bought into an aggressive style of play, based solely off extensive study, emotions can’t get in the way of decisions.

“My emotions of seeing the amount yardage needed, knowing we’re averaging six (yards) a clip every time we hand the ball off, knowing that you could give the ball back to a team and never see it again and watch your chances of winning the game go down the tubes, there was too much emotion involved on that particular situation,” Haley said. “I’ve worked real hard on trying to keep that from occurring and I feel like we’ve done a good job in a lot of aspects.”

Haley’s aggressive style has been both hailed and criticized. Almost everyone agrees that it’s fearless. But on Monday, we learned that there is fear involved on Kansas City’s sideline. It occurs if Haley is tempted to break the rules he’s set into place.

When the Chiefs decide to go for it on fourth down, Haley isn’t immune to the fear that others feel. Fans get nervous, announcers get giddy and media members furiously log the setting each time Kansas City’s fourth down call goes outside the realm of conventional football thinking.

Haley experiences some of those same feelings when emotions find their way into the decision-making process. That almost happened on Sunday, but it didn’t, and Haley continues with an appearance of collectiveness when the down marker strikes 4th.

“If there was a lot of waffling going on, on my part…those players, when they hear that, it has to mean something to them and I think we’re developing that,” Haley said.

Kansas City’s four-down philosophy isn’t for everyone. But it’s for the Chiefs.

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