Saints Fake FG?

Chris asked the following:

The Saints had 4th and 3 on the Steelers 13 with no timeouts and 12 or 13 seconds left in the first half. The Saints lined up for a field goal and then changed it up to show that they were going to run a play. The Steelers called a timeout, and after the timeout, the Saints kicked the field goal.

In the post-game press conference, Sean Payton confirmed that the Saints were actually prepared to run a play and weren't just trying to get the Steelers to take a timeout.

I guess my question is this: would this fake field goal be a) a boneheaded call, or b) the most boneheaded call ever? I guess that Payton might have had some kind of spectacular play called, but it would have to be pretty spectacular to overcome the horrible odds that were against it. Only a touchdown (from the 13 yard line) would have given them a much better expectation than they had before the play, and most other results would have given them a far worse expectation.

At the end of the half, it's a slightly easier analysis because you don't have to kick off and a FG is worth a full 3 points and a TD is worth a full 7. Also, you don't need to worry about the EP value for missing the FG or failing to convert. It's just zero.

FGs are good from the 13 91% of the time, so a FG attempt is worth 2.7 EP.

Therefore, to go for the TD, you'd need the EP for going for it, regardless of whether it's a fake FG or normal scrimmage play, to be at least as high as the EP for the FG attempt. So:

2.7 = 7x
x = 0.39

If Payton truly thinks his team has a better than a 39% of getting the TD on the fake FG, then sure, it would be a good call. There just aren't enough fake FGs that we can get a good estimate of a baseline probability of success.

From the 13, a normal play from scrimmage might have a better chance, but I doubt it. The baseline success rate for 4th and 13 inside the 20 yd line is only 20%. As good as Brees and the NO offense is, I doubt they'd have better than double the baseline success rate.

8 Responses to “Saints Fake FG?”

1. Chris says:

It wasn't 4th and 13, it was 4th and 3.

There is also a possibility that the Saints could have gotten a first down (but not a touchdown), spiked the ball, and kicked the field goal. The baseline for 4th and 3 is over 50%.

Assume the chance of a touchdown after getting the first down is neglible, you should have considered:
2.7 = P(touchdown on one play)*7 + P(first down & field goal)*3

2. Brian Burke says:

Chris-Right, but they needed the full 13 yards for the TD. For practical purposes they had 1 play to score from the 13.

The probability of a 1st down but no TD is fairly negligible. That would require getting out of bounds. There's no way Payton calls a play that is anything but a pass into the EZ.

3. Chris says:

I understand, but we're not talking about LSU here. It seems reasonable that some NFL teams could throw a slant and spike the ball within 12 seconds (especially, if they practiced this play the week before).

4. Ian Simcox says:

Chris - I see your point but why would a team bother? It's 4th and 3, if you're going to kick the field goal you might as well kick it now, rather than run a slant, get the first down, spike the ball and then kick the field goal. The fake FG had to be designed to go for a TD because otherwise it makes no sense.

5. MattyP says:

While I have no numbers to back this up, I would imagine that the Saints chances of scoring the TD are higher if the Steelers FG defend defense is on the field compared to their regular defense. So the element of surprise likely works in Payton's favor as well and explains why he kicked the FG after the timeout.

6. chris (different) says:

However, I don't believe Brees was on the field. I think it was Chase Daniels. Plus one of the WR was the kicker.

I think the other Chris is saying that they could get the first down and then have one more play to get a TD.

7. James says:

If you don't go for a TD you're asking Chase Daniels and the field goal unit to complete some kind of out route or a quick completion followed by spiking the ball to stop the clock. Even then you have maybe 3-5 seconds on the clock from say the 8 yardline. Do you kick a field goal then or take a shot into the end zone with Brees?

Overall I don't think you're gaining much there.

8. zlionsfan says:

I'm not convinced Payton actually wanted to run a play there; if he did, and if I recall correctly, then he should have had the pseudo-FG unit snap the ball as soon as they were set, rather than giving Pittsburgh the chance to realize something was up (aside from not having the K on the field).

Trying to run a first-down play from that distance makes little sense for a normal coach and zero sense for an aggressive coach: the upside is negligible, even given the troubles NO has had with shorter FGs this season, and the downside is pretty significant. Running a touchdown play is a little understandable, but I don't see why they didn't just run the play, unless there was concern about not being set ... and if he wasn't sure they'd be set long enough to run the play, that might suggest he wouldn't have confidence in their ability to run two plays before trying a shorter FG.

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