Punting From Your Own Goal Line

Recently, we looked at how teams are too conservative with play calling when backed up against their own end zone. The main idea is that coaches want to give their team more room, and in particular, they want to give their punter more room so he does not have to stand in the back of the end zone. But, are punters actually more efficient with more room between them an the end line?

Let's look at average EPA on punts based on yards from goal. Specifically, we're going to look at inside the 3-yard line vs outside:

At first look, there definitely seems to be a significant relationship between yards from the end zone and punting EPA.  Just looking at the averages, there is a 0.68 correlation, extremely significant. Yet, if we look at it by individual plays, there is only a 0.06 correlation. Trying to estimate punt EPA from yards from own goal, we get a weak, but significant relationship. The p-value for yards from own goal is 0.039 which means the relationship is significant at the 95% confidence level. That being said, the 0.06 correlation is not anything to write home about.

But more specifically, let's look at plays inside the 3 versus plays outside the three. We can do a t-test to determine whether there is a significant difference between these two cases. Average punt EPA inside the 3 (inclusive) is +0.093; average outside the 3 but inside the 10 is +0.188. The difference is significant at the 90% level but NOT at the 95% level.

So, what does all this mean? Giving your punter room does make a difference in the expected outcome of a punt, but not an enormous difference. But, teams should not be playing for the punt on 1st down due to the prolific offensive ability in the NFL nowadays. Passing is the superior option. As Brian notes, the more offensive efficiency improves league-wide, the less field position matters. Teams should be trying to score points on every drive.

It is also notable that there is no relationship between touchdowns allowed on punts and yards from own goal when inside the 10-yard line:

Keith Goldner is the creator of Drive-By Football, and Chief Analyst at numberFire.com - The leading fantasy sports analytics platform.  Follow him on twitter @drivebyfootball or check out numberFire on Facebook

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9 Responses to “Punting From Your Own Goal Line”

  1. Anonymous says:

    This does not fit my intuitive expectations or when I play Madden. What about [anecdote]? Your model doesn't have an answer to that. Useless research.

  2. j holz says:

    giving your punter room has a benefit, as we always thought.

    but passing is better, because of some evidence you haven't shared with us.

    I assume the data will back you up, but at least provide some.

  3. j holz says:

    giving your punter room has a benefit, as we always thought.

    but passing is better, because of some evidence you haven't shared with us.

    I assume the data will back you up, but at least provide some.

  4. Kulko says:

    @JHolz The evidence was provided in the linked article in the first sentence, and about every other article on this site.

  5. MarkP says:

    Is EPA really the best metric in this particular case? The problem is that the EP is different leading into the play, making a direct comparison more difficult. For example, following: 4th & 7 from own 4 (-1.49 EP) or 4th & 10 from own 1 (-1.62 EP), a 39 net yard punt (current median of NFL average by team) results in EP (for your opponent) of +2.49 and +2.66, respectively. This leads to EPA of -1 and -1.04 for two identical punts, and could explain the pattern seen in this data.

    I understand that average net of punts would lose some information, but it might be informative to see. Additionally, at least my (anecdotal) thinking is that the reduced room increases the chance of a blocked punt, not necessarily increased TD returns or shorter net punts.

  6. Ezzie says:

    What @MarkP said.

    Also, the last table seems to imply that it helps the punters to be outside the 7, which makes sense when one assumes they stand about 15 yards behind the line to punt.

  7. nottom says:

    @JHoltz The evidence that wasn't shared, basically consists of the fact that by playing to "give the punter room" you give up significantly more EPA during the first 3 downs than you gain on 4th down. This should be pretty obvious to most people reading this blog.

  8. James says:

    Does this include blocked punts?

  9. tmk says:


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