Game of the Week

With 6:46 to go in the 4th quarter against hated rival Dallas, the Redskins faced a 4th down and 4 from the Cowboys' 37 yard line. First-year head coach Jim Zorn made the fateful decision to go for the first down. Jason Campbell forced an incomplete pass, handing the ball over to Dallas. The Cowboys went on to seal the victory by running for four straight first downs. Washington never saw the ball again. Was Zorn's decision a good one?

Punting the ball would have given Dallas the ball at about their own 10 yard line. With 6 and a half minutes remaining, Washington would have a 0.22 win probability (WP). Attempting a 54 field goal might have been pointless. Even if it were a successful kick, Dallas would have kept a one-point lead and possession, giving the Redskins a 0.37 WP. A missed kick would have handed Dallas the ball at their own 42 giving Washington a 0.19 WP. A 54-yd field goal is only good about 55% of the time. All in all, a field goal attempt would have net Washington a 0.29 WP.

Going for the 1st down with 4 yards to go is successful 52% of the time. Getting the first down would have given the Redskins a 0.51 WP. An unsuccessful conversion attempt would leave Dallas with the ball on (or near) their own 37, giving Washington a 0.20 WP. Going for it on 4th down gave the Redskins a WP of:

(0.52 * 0.51) + ((1-0.52) * 0.20) = 0.36

So it's pretty clear, even adjusting for the particulars of the game such as environment or the specific match-ups on the line of scrimmage, that going for the first down was the call to make.

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3 Responses to “Game of the Week”

  1. Anonymous says:

    There was another interesting play call in this game, when Phillips decided to go for it on fourth down near the opponent 20. Dallas was up 4 with 1:10 left on the clock.

    I suspect that going for it on 4th down in this situation had more value than kicking the field goal (especially if you consider that with the sorry state of the Dallas Special teams, they would most certainly have squibbed the ensuing kick off and given field position at the 40 up 7 with approx. 55 seconds left)

  2. Anonymous says:

    For this situation, I think the FG % is much lower than the average 55% -- Suisham missed a 46 yard attempt that was short by about 10 yards. Trying a 10 yard longer FG would seem to be pretty futile. Wind may have been an issue for the miss, but the Game Book says it was only 7mph. This attempt would have been to the opposite field side as the short attempt.

  3. Brian Burke says:

    Good point about the Dallas 4th down try. Watching it I planned to do an analysis of that one too, but forgot. That was bold. 1:10 is a long time.

    Also good point about the FG. The winds were stronger than 7mph in the area that night. But Suisham knows his range from pre-game warm-ups, and sometimes kickers don't get "all of it" just like golfers. I agree with you, that you can't say for certain he didn't have the range for it, but the chances may have been less than 50%.

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