Despite Winning, We Can't Ignore That Steelers Fake Field Goal Attempt

(Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

I'd be remiss if I didn't start this out by commending the Pittsburgh Steelers on their gritty 15-10 win yesterday on the road at the Cleveland Browns.  That was the definition of winning ugly but those are the types of games we've come to expect over the years when two AFC North teams face off.  Rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth made a spectacular, bobbling touchdown catch in the back of the end zone that he secured just in time to put the Steelers up in the third quarter.  Then the defense kept the Browns off the scoreboard the rest of the game to seal the win.  Unfortunately, that catch isn't the play that most people will be talking about from this game.

The Thought Process

Let's set the stage a little bit.  There's 1:44 left on the clock in the second quarter of a game tied at three points.  Both teams have had little success moving the ball and putting points on the board.  The Steelers have the ball on the Cleveland 10-yard line and it's 4th and 9.  On the previous play, 3rd and 17, the Steelers ran the ball for 8 yards, forcing the Browns to use their second timeout of the half.  The Steelers get the ball to start the second half so they have a chance to take the lead, get a stop to end the half, and then come out and score again to begin the second half.

Now, the logical move here would seem to be to kick the field goal and take the lead in what has been an extremely low scoring game thus far.  In a divisional road game, every point matters.  The Steelers also employ the third most accurate kicker of all-time.  I'm under the belief that you have to kick the field goal there, given the circumstances.  

In today's analytically-driven era of football, there will be people who will side with going for it on 4th down so close to the end zone.  While I wouldn't consider this a very manageable distance, especially when you consider the woes the Steelers have had on their 4th down attempts this year, it's not an outlandish idea.  However, if that is the route you choose to go, you keep your offense on the field and try to pick up nine yards or a touchdown.

The Outcome

If you happened to miss the game, in the scenario I just laid out, the Steelers opted to attempt a fake field goal where kicker Chris Boswell rolled out to the right, attempted a poor pass out of the back of the end zone and took a huge hit which knocked him out for the rest of the game.  This was such an inexplicable decision for so many reasons, that I'm still dumbfounded by it as I write this.

As I stated earlier, you're trying to pick up nine yards.  Whether the team saw something on film that said this would work or not, it is just such a low percentage play.  If you truly want to go for it, you put your best offensive guys on the field and try to pick it up like all of the other times they've gone for it this year.

The other problem with this is the risk you're placing on your kicker by putting him in a situation that he almost never encounters.  As Boswell passed the ball, he took a hit to the head by the defender, causing a bloody nose and concussion that knocked him out for the rest of the game.  It should be noted that the hit appeared to be illegal and should have been flagged, as former official Gene Steratore states below.  There's also something to be said that neither of the broadcasters, Jim Nantz and Tony Romo, mentioned this possibility during the broadcast, nor did they bring on Steratore during the game to talk about this.  But I digress... I watched a lot of football this weekend and there was atrocious officiating in just about every game.

Exposing your kicker to oncoming rushers is just asking for something bad to happen, and sure enough it did.  As I wrote about last week, Boswell has been an invaluable member of this team that doesn't get talked about enough.  Losing a kicker as consistent as he is can have a huge long-term impact on your team.  We saw the short-term impact on full display yesterday.  

With Boswell out, the discussion soon became who would kick for the team.  Punter Pressley Harvin III has never been a place kicker, going all the way back to his high school days.  When his time came to kick off, he was only able to manage to get it halfway down the field, while also kicking it directly out of bounds.  In such a close game, it forced the team into decisions they didn't want to make, like going for two point conversions after touchdowns and going for it on 4th down, regardless of being in field goal range.  Such was the case with the Freiermuth touchdown in the third quarter.  The Steelers could have very easily lost this game as a result of having no kicker, so they, and the fans, should feel very fortunate to escape with a win.


Everything considered, I see such little upside to calling a fake field goal in that situation.  The risk outweighs the reward by such a significant amount.  I'm thankful the Steelers were able to squeak out a victory despite the poor decision-making and that it appears Boswell will be OK following the hit.

How about from now on, we leave the passing to our quarterback?  That doesn't seem like too much to ask.  I hope Boswell has a speedy recovery and is able to return quickly.  I've seen the inconsistencies by the employed kickers in the league, so I can only imagine what the free agent ones have to offer.  He's been rock solid and I look forward to having him back, just as I look forward to never seeing a roll-out fake field goal pass by our kicker ever again.