Marc Trestman sent out Robbie Gould for a 47 yard field goal attempt in overtime. It was second down. Usually, the go for it or kick argument involves a decision on fourth down. Not this time. Trestman opted to try to win the game after a first down run by Matt Forte gained 3 yards and got it within 50 yards of the goal posts. He did it from “being around Robbie.”
I actually think this is both a case of coaching scared once arriving in Field Goal Range™ and the recency effect of what happened to Minnesota. The Vikings made a field goal to apparently win it earlier in overtime, but the edge blocker was called for a costly face mask penalty while attempting a block. It was moved back fifteen yards, then Adrian Peterson (because it was third down) ran, but was stopped in the backfield, and Blair Walsh missed a 57 yard field goal.
As a result, Trestman attempted the longest field goal (other than end of half situations) on a down other than fourth down, going back to at least 1999. There have been 53 field goals attempted prior to fourth down in overtime since 1999. Coaches understandably don’t want to risk a negative play when the benefit of more yards does not improve the chances of winning that much. Only four of those pre-fourth down kicks, though, were 40 yards or longer, with the previous long being 44 yards by both Mike Hollis (Buffalo vs. Minnesota, 2002, miss) and Dan Carpenter (Miami vs. Green Bay, 2010, make).
As I have said many times, the concept of field goal range is a myth. There is no such bright line, and kicks gradually have a higher success rate as one gets closer to the posts. Trestman likely worried about losing 5 yards when gaining 5 yards would have been just as valuable the other direction.
Robbie Gould just missed. It wasn’t a horrible kick. It wasn’t a shank or a pull. From 40, the same kick would have been just good.
Robbie Gould has been one of the better kickers in the league in recent years. His performance shows the same thing as most, though. He is better the closer he is.
Gould has been 13 of 20 (65%) over the last five years on kicks between 45 and 49 yards, within 2 yards either way of where this one occurred. Take ten yards off the kick, and he is 15 of 17 (88%).
Ahhh, but Gould plays in Chicago, and this game was in a dome. Perfect conditions meant that this accurate kicker had a much better chance, right? In truth, domes are ideal–for shorter kicks. No cross wind, no bad field conditions, nothing to affect the kick. On longer kicks, though, domes are, surprisingly, not as favorable as you might think. The distinction of gaining yards to make it a shorter field goal are just as important in a dome.
Visiting kickers have been only 7 of 14 over the last five years on kicks between 43 and 52 yards in the Metrodome. In the same time frame, they are a perfect 17 for 17 from between 33 and 42 yards. If we expand it to other domes (Ford Field, Edward Jones Dome, Superdome, and Georgia Dome) we get the following results based on 5 yard differences.
You can see where the biggest increase is. Kickers become near automatic once they approach a 40 yard kick and in. In the range where Trestman opted for the kick, it was far from certain, even for a good kicker like Gould. That over 20% jump in likelihood of winning with a kicker like Gould more than offsets the risk of a negative play.