Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy repeatedly decided to punt on Sunday in situations where the analytics said they should have gone for it, and the last of those decisions was the first question he was asked after the game.
With the Cowboys facing fourth-and-10 and trailing 19-12 with 2:11 left in the game, the analytics recommendation was strong: Go for it. McCarthy was asked why he punted.
“What was the down and distance?” McCarthy asked the reporter.
When the reporter replied that it was fourth-and-10, McCarthy responded, “Yeah. That’s the answer. Yeah.”
But while a fourth-and-10 conversion attempt is a low-percentage move, punting the ball back to the other team when you’re down by seven points just before the two-minute warning is an even lower-percentage move.
That wasn’t the only time McCarthy punted when a more analytics-minded coach might have gone for it. On a fourth-and-5 at the 49ers’ 40-yard line, the Cowboys took a delay of game penalty and then punted when the analytics recommendation was strongly to go for it. On a fourth-and-5 at the Cowboys’ 48-yard line, the Cowboys punted when the analytics recommendation was moderately to go for it.
We’ll never know whether the Cowboys would have won had they been more aggressive on fourth downs, but they lost a winnable game on a day when they repeatedly punted when the analytics said they shouldn’t.