Deadspin/Slate Roundtable: Fourth Downs Galore

Here's a contribution I had to the weekend's recent discussion at Slate and Deadspin. I looked at some how a few critical 4th downs made the difference in two of the wildcard games and consider some of the factors that are causing the game to evolve.
There are many doubters when it comes to four-down football. If you’re in that camp, indulge me in a quick thought experiment. Let’s imagine a football world where the punt and field goal had never been invented. (Sorry, Ray Guy and Jan Stenerud.) In this universe, there would be no second-guessing: Teams would go for it on every fourth down.

Then one day, some smart guy invents the punt and approaches a head coach with his new idea. “Hey coach,” he’d say, “instead of trying for a first down every time, let’s voluntarily give the ball to the other team.” Our coach would be incredulous at this suggestion. “You want me to give up 25 percent of our precious downs for just 35 yards of field position? Do you have any idea how difficult it would be for us to score?” And the coach would be right.
Catch it here at Deadspin or here at Slate.

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2 Responses to “Deadspin/Slate Roundtable: Fourth Downs Galore”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I forget who put it together, but there was a table designed which combines various factors such as score, field position, down and yards to go. Each point plays a role in whether or not you go for it on 4th down. For example, if you are 4th and 3 on the 4 midway through a close game, it makes sense to go for it rather than take the field goal. Of course, if your play call is a QB sneak, you probably shouldn't bother - but if you're going to run a real, meaningful play, then you can make it work and pay off.
    This grid, I have been told, was picked up by Bill Belichick when he went to New England, and he has more or less adopted it (though from what I've seen, he uses it when he wants to).

    While I can't stand New England, I really respected Belichick for doing something other coaches wouldn't - actually utilize logic and good statistical reasoning.

    I believe this grid was put together by Stanford mathematicians, but it's been years since I've seen it or heard anything about it. I can't find anything on the internet about it (yet that is where I first read about it back in the late 1990's).

    You're probably familiar with it. Would be nice to see it posted again.

  2. Anonymous says:

    You're probably referring to this:

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