Sunday, January 29, 2012

Individual or systems error? Or, leadership lapse?

Was Baltimore Ravens Billy Cundiff at fault for that missed field goal attempt last week, or was he the victim of a systems error?  Or, was it the coach's fault?

This is not about Cundiff trying to pass off the blame. He took full responsibility for the miss.

Stefan Fatsis offered his view on Slate.  An error on the Gillette Stadium scoreboard caused Cundiff to think he had one more down to prepare for his kick.  Fatsis explains:

Because the sidelines of an NFL game are crowded—scores of players, coaches, staff, and game officials, a tangle of benches, equipment, and cables, all crammed between the two 30-yard lines—the best way to follow down and distance, and to watch the plays, is on the scoreboard, which is how Cundiff coordinates his pre-kick routine. On Sunday, during what would be the Ravens’ final set of downs, Cundiff completed his first-down prep and checked the scoreboard: second down. He ran through his routine and looked up at the scoreboard again: third down. 

Then, suddenly, chaos on the sidelines. Coaches were screaming—from the opposite end of the field to where Cundiff was thinking his third-down pre-kick kicker thoughts—for the field-goal unit. The play clock was ticking and Cundiff, as per normal, was back from the sideline and farther from the line of scrimmage than his teammates. As he was not expecting to go in yet, he had to run to get into position for a game-tying kick.

Then there was a quick snap to avoid exceeding the allowed time on the play clock.  Cundiff's kicking form was off, and the ball went wide.

And now look at this leadership decision:

The Ravens, of course, could have made all this confusion moot by calling a timeout. Instead, coach John Harbaugh decided to let Cundiff run on the field and kick.

What was the coach thinking?  We get it directly from him here:

With the play clock winding down, it appeared that Cundiff might have benefited from a timeout. But coach John Harbaugh said he didn’t think about calling the team’s final timeout to slow things down for Cundiff and the field-goal unit.

“Yeah, that never occurred to me,” Harbaugh said. “I didn’t think that. You know, looking back at it now, maybe there was something we could have done. But in the situation, it didn’t seem like we were that rushed on the field. [I] thought we were in pretty good shape.” 

He also put the blame right back on the kicker, saying:

Sometimes the kicker is in back, he’s on his own, he’s at the net, and they get themselves in that place to kick a field goal.  He might be looking at the scoreboard . . . but he’s also in communication with Randy [another coach]. Those guys knew, or should have known, what the down and distance was.

There is one thing we know from the world of hospitals:  You should always take a timeout.


Mark Graban said...

Great stuff. I knew it had been a scramble before Cundiff kicked, but I didn't know the coach threw him under the bus. Ray Lewis showed much better leadership by saying basically "we win as a team and we lose as a team."

This post and the comments on my blog have a similar theme about looking at the whole system, not just blaming the kicker, going back to the Fiesta Bowl game and the Stanford kicker.

I'll post a link to your post there, as well.

Brent said...

It’s amazing how much energy goes into fixing the blame, instead of fixing the system.

Gary said...

Systems failure and human error...sometimes they go hand in hand.

John said...

As a diehard Giants fan, I was hoping for a Ravens rematch, and your analysis confirms that I was right to do so. Bill B. would have taken a different tack, and that's why Sunday's rematch should be a game for the ages.