Six weeks into the NFL season, we are heading into another record year in terms of fourth-down conversion attempts. This isn’t necessarily new, as the numbers have been increasing every year since 2014. Adding an extra week to the season will break a lot of records, but this is also true per game.
For additional context, here are the year-over-year totals since 2010, along with team attempts per game, which accounts for the fact that four teams were off last week.
The reasons for this are twofold. The first is that it is obviously a good deal. Sometimes it takes a decade of hitting coaches over the head with analysis (and now it’s been 12 years since Bill Belichick made him famous in his own finale at the end of a great game against the Colts) before sensitivity start to settle down. Second, coaches have found a brilliant way to rephrase the decision from a public-facing perspective, making it much more tolerable for the non-professional soccer fan and therefore easier for coaches to call in.
We are just days away from a series of very high profile fourth chance calls. Upon Monday night football, Bills coach Sean McDermott, trailing by three in the final moments of the game and facing a quarter and an inch, opted for a quarterback rather than an extremely easy field goal, which probably would have sent the game in overtime. Josh Allen did not convert it.
Meanwhile, Chargers head coach Brandon Staley searched for a quarter-and-one at his own 19-yard line while trailing the Ravens in the third quarter Sunday. Staley has been one of the most aggressive coaches in the NFL for the fourth time this year.
In both cases, the analyzes supported the decisions of the coaches. Take any sample you want from the wonderful and countless fourth chance predictor bots that exist in the world today. Next Gen Stats calculated that McDermott increased the Bills’ chances of winning by nearly 25% when attempting the fourth quarterback attempt. Staley’s decision improved the Chargers’ winning percentage by 1% (the game was already a bit explosive). Both plays had a 70% or better chance of converting.
However, the true brilliance here from both coaches was not that they left with overwhelming statistical evidence to make the decisions. This is how they explained their decisions, both this week and in the weeks leading up to these fourth-down tightrope walks. Essentially: It’s not about analysis, it’s about trust in my players.
Here’s McDermott after the game: “I owe it to my players and I believe in my players. I believe in our quarterback. So, I trust my guys. Obviously, we didn’t succeed in this case, but I trust my players ”.
Here’s Staley in the locker room after a postgame victory speech on October 4, following a win over the Raiders: “I loved our fourth down conversions. I loved how aggressive we were. We were smart. But we’re going to pick up the pace because we believe in you. ”Google“ Brandon Staley + Fourth Down + Trust ”and you’ll get enough hits to get the picture. This wasn’t just an isolated quote.
In good measure, here’s Lions coach Dan Campbell, who has gone fourth more than any other coach in 2021 save for the Browns’ Kevin Stefanski, and made a nearly identical decision to McDermott’s in a loss. against the Vikings. October 10: “I trusted us to score a touchdown. And, again, if I’m going to continue to trust, then we have to start working much better and being better because we are not efficient enough at the moment ”.
In a Week 2 win over the Chiefs, Ravens coach John Harbaugh made a public demonstration by asking Lamar Jackson if he wanted to go for a consistent fourth down (even though, as he told our Albert Breer afterwards, I had already made the decision). to go for it).
By painting this obviously analytical decision as one of guts and sensations, coaches have discovered a fascinating way to eat their cake and eat it too. They get to play the role of the badass and boastful guy and scoff at egos inside their locker rooms while clearly hearing the number crusher in their booth. They will not be victims of the same virulence that so many baseball managers have been beaten up over the years because they are not stating the obvious. Somehow, miraculously, it’s working.
They understand what many advertisers, marketers, and political campaign managers discovered about us long ago: We are an odd bunch. I have spoken with scientists who have conducted experiments that test the validity of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory and who will explain his work to crowds who strictly believe in creationism, without using the word “evolution.” The answer is usually: Oh great! However, the moment they call it evolution, the whole crowd shuts down. There were Americans who liked the Affordable Care Act but not Obamacare, even though they are exactly the same.
If Staley or McDermott had come out and said “our fourth-down decision matrix said to do it,” they would usually be prepared to toast, as is Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash, for taking Blake Snell out of the box. That turned out to be the deciding factor. World Series game after his ace had allowed two hits in more than five innings of work. While anyone who judges the validity of public conversation by what The Daytime Sports Debate Shows discuss is severely disconnected from the real world, the fourth adherence to analytics would be like mince in a frying pan for Stephen A. Smith.
We, as a society in general, seem to like our coaches to have some kind of mystical feeling for the game, but we can’t bear to be guided by a sensible mathematical equation that takes into account the probability of success in the face of a past story. of hits, location. on the field, score and time remaining. Thank God they have found a way to make one and have convinced us that it is another.
And to think, getting to this point was simply a matter of faith.
More NFL coverage:
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.