4th Down Trend?

As most regular readers know, I'm a big proponent of going for it on 4th down far more often than is currently practiced in the NFL. There is good research on when teams should go for it on 4th down, but what about the "currently practiced in the NFL" part? How often do offenses roll the dice? And are teams going for it more frequently?

This two-year-old article by Len Pasquarelli of ESPN.com says that as of late 2006, the trend in the NFL was that offenses were going for it on 4th down more often. I like much of what the article has to say--that going for it on 4th down isn't just for desperate situations and that teams with leads should sometimes go for it.

But in 2006, there was no trend. Pasquarelli's misguided observation was just the product of a small sample size and failing to account for the varying amount of 4th down opportunities there were in each year. Here are the 4th down conversion attempt numbers since 2002 accounting for 4th down opportunities, including projected(*) numbers though 11 games for 2008.

Year4th DownsConv. AttemptsRate (%)
ConversionsSuccess (%)

If you just looked at 2004 through 2006, yes, you'd see an increase in absolute numbers of 4th down attempts. But as a percentage of 4th down opportunities, 2006 marked the end of a small downward trend.

Since Pasquarelli's article however, we've seen a remarkable increase in 4th down attempts. 2007 marked the first increase since at least 2002 with a 13% rate. So far 2008 has shown an even larger increase with a 17% rate. The season's not over yet, and two seasons does not a make trend. But something could be changing.

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4 Responses to “4th Down Trend?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I would be curious if there's trend among particular coaches.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have noticed the colts starting to go for it on 4th down quite a bit more this year compared to years past when they would very rarely go for it. It has helped them in a couple of situations and hurt them in a couple of situations. Unfortunately they don't really have a great line or power running attack to really take advantage of going for it on 4th down but hopefully they continue the trend.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It would be interesting to see how the 4th down attempts themselves break down. Is this upswing simply a result of more 4th downs happening to occur in the area of the field where going for it has always been acceptable or are coaches really going for it more in spots where they used to punt or kick. Certainly my gut tells me that at the very least teams are going for it on 4th and goal more often this year, but I'd like to see some data to back that up.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I would like to see the stats for 4th and inches.

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