The average NFL play gains, roughly 4.6 yards. That means, facing a 4th-and-1, the numbers indicate you would pick it up between four and five times for every time you miss it.
Turns out, the numbers do say exactly that, and NFL coaches are starting to adjust accordingly.
NFL data and analytics analyst Michael Lopez tweeted the following charts, showing teams are keeping their offenses on the field for 4th-and-1 69 percent of the time, and picking it up 77 percent of the time.
The charts below show a sharp incline in the number of 4th-and-short attempts in recent years.
Thus far this season, teams have gone for 154 fourth downs and converted 85 of them (55 percent). According to Pro Football Talk, the league is on pace to go for 626 fourth downs, an increase from the 609 of a year ago.
As a result, this season is on pace to become the highest-scoring in NFL history.
The numbers are clear: While there’s always a chance you’ll fail on any individual attempt, on the whole going for a 4th-and-short will lead to more points in the long run.
Through 64 NFL games in 2019: 547 punts
Through 63 NFL games in 2020: 435 punts
Trend-line has no punts in the game by 2025
— Michael Lopez (@StatsbyLopez) October 6, 2020
Okay, now that’s crazy. Maybe.