Throwing Out The Clock

Posted Nov 23, 2010

Todd Haley's decision at the end of the first half was an overlooked aspect in the Chiefs win over Arizona

Following a game like Sunday’s, where the Chiefs turned in a complete performance and re-gained sole possession of the AFC West lead, it’s easy to simply look at the highlights; and there were plenty of them.

Dwayne Bowe obviously stood out with yet another multi-TD catch game as he turned in his second consecutive 100-yard receiving outing. The offensive line was an easy group to like after they helped put together a dominating rushing performance (159 yards on 5.5 yards per carry) and kept Matt Cassel off the ground for a full 60 minutes of football.

The list goes on and on with a game like Sunday’s. Matt Cassel’s efficiency, the rise of injury replacements and a defense that stayed tough in the Red Zone have all gotten play over the past 36 hours. But there was one aspect of Sunday’s game that has generally gone overlooked. In this instance, it was a coaching decision.

Rarely is a coaching decision that doesn’t lead to points or feature a change of possession highlighted, but there was one on Sunday worth talking about. Overlooked in Sunday’s blowout win over Arizona was Kansas City’s final play before halftime.

Leading 14-3 and having been shutout for yardage on three consecutive snaps inside the one-yard line, Kansas City was forced to bring out its punt team with just a few ticks left on the clock. Or were they?

Dustin Colquitt marched onto the field with the punt unit and lined his heels just inside the end line with 48 seconds to play in the half. Instead of snapping the football, Kansas City opted to take a delay of game penalty. The football was moved back roughly a quarter of an inch and the punt team jogged off the field. Back onto the field marched the Chiefs offense.

For a split-second, there was some uncertainty in the stands at Arrowhead.

When the offense lined up in shotgun formation, Matt Cassel had no intention of even attempting to convert the play for a first down. Instead, the goal was only to put enough air under the football in order to burn the final two seconds off the clock. Cassel did just that and his deep pass to Verran Tucker flew harmlessly out of bounds to end the half.

At its core, Todd Haley’s decision to bring out the offense in that situation was a no-brainer, but it’s one that many coaches have mishandled when having to make a split decision during the heat of battle. Haley handled the circumstances before halftime perfectly.

Too many negatives could have happened if Colquitt had attempted a punt. Arizona’s block squad was on the field with a shorter route to the football and, even if the Chiefs went into max protection, there was still a chance for a return TD or for Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt to utilize football’s abstruse free kick rule.

Free kick rule, you say? Aka…the “Fair Catch Kick”

Fair Catch Kick

After a fair catch, the receiving team has the option to put the ball in play by a snap or a fair catch kick (field goal attempt), with fair catch kick lines established ten yards apart. All general rules apply as for a field goal attempt from scrimmage. The clock starts when the ball is kicked. (No tee permitted.)

Here’s some video footage of Whisenhunt utilizing the rule (or at lasted attempting to utilize the rule) in 2008 when Todd Haley was on his staff.

Ensuring that Arizona went into the half down two scores was critical. The Chiefs had already escaped danger once within the final two minutes of the second quarter when the defense made a third-and-one stand at the Kansas City 47-yard. Whisenhunt opted to punt rather than attempt a 4th-and-1 conversion.

Bringing in Cassel to “throw out the clock” sealed Kansas City’s 14-3 halftime advantage and the Chiefs capitalized on that move by beginning the second half with a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that extended the lead to 21-3. By that time, the hammer had been lifted.

Had a different decision been made to close the first half, who knows what path the game might have taken?  After all, Arizona did finish the day averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Kansas City’s eventual 21-3 left the Cardinals with no choice but to abandon their run game in the second half.

The end to the first half was just another part of Kansas City’s “TEAM” victory on Sunday.

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