We’re all guilty of watching an NFL game and screaming at the screen to go for it during a fourth-and-one situation, only to have the head coach decide to trot the punt unit out onto the field.
According to some outstanding research put together by the folks over at Football Perspective, NFL teams are getting more and more aggressive about going for it, at least within certain parameters that were studied.
In their research, they looked at all fourth-and-one plays dating back to 1994 that occurred in the first three quarters of the game, with the offense at about midfield (within the 40-yard lines) while holding a lead or being behind by no more than 10 points.
The research uncovered some interesting details by decade. From 1994-2004, head coaches decided to go for it just 28% of the time. The decade after that (2005-2014) saw teams go for it 35% of the time – coincidentally as the shotgun became more and more prevalent around the country. The last two years also saw a significant bump, with teams going for it over 40% of the time in both the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Of the nearly 500 4th-and-1 attempts within the 40-yard lines since 1994, teams moved the chains an impressive 72% of the time while leaning towards running the rock (84% of the time), as opposed to passing (16% of the time).
That 72% conversion rate is what really caught my attention. Those are great odds in a game like football, and I never understood punting from the +40, and if the ball ends up going through the end zone you effectively just punted the ball 20 yards. I’ll gladly take an extra down and a 72% conversion rate, thank you.
Head over to Football Perspective to see a chart that illustrates the decision-making process since 1994, as well as some more intriguing numbers on the subject.