Who’s the Best Coach in the NFL? Fourth-Down Strategy – The Wrong Read, No. 23
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Welcome to the 23rd installment of the “The Wrong Read,” an article series that reflects on recent podcast episodes, pushing the ideas discussed on the podcasts to their logical conclusions and offering some further thoughts on the topics broached by the guests and hosts. The Eagles famously incorporated analytics into their decision-making en route to winning Super Bowl LII. This further fuels my optimism that the NFL is getting smarter. After a trick play call on fourth down helped propel the Eagles to becoming Super Bowl champions, Anthony Amico addressed optimal fourth-down strategies on the second episode of The Coaches Box. He discussed a lot of research that has gone into determining the best times to punt or kick a field goal and the best times to go for it. To distill the findings he discussed into a single sentence: NFL coaches should go for it on fourth down far more often than they actually do. This will probably surprise very few of us. Since 2009, the team that has gone for it on the highest percentage of fourth downs is the 2017 Green Bay Packers. They tried to convert more than 24 percent of the time they had a fourth down. According to data Anthony presented, teams ought to be going for it on every fourth-and-one, and on almost every fourth-and-two, and a little less than half of all fourth-and-threes, with the number of situations in which going for it is optimal declining as the yards to go increases. Since 2009, about 35 percent of fourth downs faced league-wide have been with less than five yards to go. Teams ought to be going for it nearly 60 percent of the time when facing less than five yards to go on fourth down, so it’s possible the 2017 Packers were close to optimal in terms of aggressiveness.