Did I Figure Out How to Cheese an NFL Game?

LogoYou’re up one or two points with three minutes left. Both teams have all timeouts. 

I think I can guarantee you a win – by legally breaking the rules. Let me explain starting with a common football scenario.

For the purpose of this article, here’s the situation:

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I ask: can the Cowboys run out the clock?

Yes, by abusing a legal loophole in the way holding penalties are enforced.

First, we never think about the unguarded, easily accessible half of the field – there’s a half acre of land behind you.

Can you coordinate three (or four) plays who’s sole purpose is to average about negative-10 to -15 yards per play, with the goal to eat up the most time possible?

We know the longest duration plays in football are the wildly entertaining multi-lateral desperation end of game tries.

I googled “amazing lateral football:”

Cal-Stanford 1982 took 20 seconds
Duke Miami 2016 took 46 seconds
Trinity Millsaps 2007 took 1:02

No I’m not linking you to the video. It’s not the point. If you want, google “amazing lateral football.” Now focus.

The scenario: 

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You’ll see something like this:

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But what about this? (P) for Dak Prescott and (Z) for Ezekiel Elliot

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Note the location of Prescott. More than 10-15 yards deep with Elliot taking the snap in the wildcat.

With Zeke and Dak acting like sprinters passing a baton, coordinate a play where at the last safe opportunity, Zeke pitches it to Dak somewhere, say, around the 25 yardline. Now, maybe eight seconds in, you have a wide open field and a mobile quarterback with coordinated protection AND one remaining forward pass.

Now, coordinate your play not for the purpose of gaining yards, but finding space.

Defensive exhaustion is a trend in those miracle plays I didn’t link you. If the offense can survive the first 10-15 seconds, can Tavon Austin alternate with Zeke for four 50-second plays?

BUT COREY HOLY SHIT WHAT IF you fumble the ball or it goes horribly wrong?


BUT COREY WHAT IF there’s a penalty? Forty seconds is a long time to play perfect football.

And here’s my headline…

It doesn’t matter. 

A penalty “penalizes” you in yards, not time. What if you don’t care about yards?

It’s 1st & 10 at midfield. I’m just out of field goal range up one point with 3:00 left. They have Tom Brady and three timeouts.

So what if I hold?

So what if every single offensive player holds their defender and gets flagged?

(I understand this makes a total mockery of the game. I ask for the purposes of this article to leave that emotion out, because I totally get it. I don’t really “want” to see this either).

You can only enforce a maximum of one (non-unsportsmanlike) penalty per play. Eleven offensive players hold, Zeke/Tavon run around like mad men and it takes the defense however long to bring em down.

Maybe you score a touchdown that gets taken back (45 seconds?). Maybe you lose 15 yards (45 seconds)?

Again, who cares?

Belichick, there’s now 2:20 left. You’re down one. You can give them:

1st & 25 (own 35)
2nd & 30 (own 30)

Even if it’s 2nd & 20, the correct play in this situation is to decline the penalty to bring the team closer to fourth down.

So eleven players hold, and you’ll decline the penalty.

But over the course of that play, if just ONE player on the Patriots commits ANY penalty…

Offset penalties. Redo down. You don’t get those 40 seconds back.

My team can break the rules. Your team must abide by all – perfectly – for 4x longer than you’re used to.

Okay let’s say the Patriots played penalty-free ball for the whole play.

Second down. Same thing. Took 40 seconds. 1:30 left at the two-minute warning.

Back to the obvious criticism this article spoon-feeds: there’s so much that can go terribly wrong.

• You can fumble – and a fumble in so much space will end as a defensive touchdown more often than regular fumbles (disregarding holding disadvantage)
• You can fail to run out the clock
•This will cause fights – can your team contain themselves when they get a cheap shot by a Patriot retaliating for a perspectively bush-league holding penalty

And pro-football reference gives a broad estimate of 80% chance Cowboys would win this game if played out normally.Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 9.16.46 PM.png

But what if my example gives you, say, a 90% chance to win the game? Or higher?

The first team to do this also has the element of surprise. Can a team run a two-minute play? How long until the defense realizes for the first time in their football life their opponent has negative interest in advancing the ball net-forward.

The holding penalties would stop the clock, rendering Belichick’s timeouts meaningless. I can hold maybe eight or nine Patriots per play. And it doesn’t matter. You can’t get that time back. Penalties in football are designed to assume you’re trying to advance the ball forward on every play.

Well what if I don’t want to?