As the 2020 NFL season gets underway, the Best and Worst Decisions from Week 1 continue trends that we’ve seen over the past few seasons.
BEST Decision – KC vs HOU
With 3:00 remaining in the 1st quarter, 3 timeouts, and trailing the Texans by 7 points, the Chiefs faced a 4th and 1 at their own 34-yard line. Coach Reid made the correct call by deciding to go for it. The decision increased the Chiefs (pre-snap) win probability by +4%.
Our Edj Power Indexes (EPIs) had KC with an advantage in this matchup, with the Chiefs rush offense ranked above league average (#7) and the Texans rush defense ranked below league average (#21). Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that go for it, go on to win the game 58% of the time and teams that punt, go on to win the game 54% of the time.
Although this attempt (early in the game and in minus territory) runs completely counter to conventional wisdom, it shows why Coach Reid continues to be one of the best decision makers in the NFL, by giving his team the best chance to win the game.
Honorable Mention – DAL vs LA
With 11:46 remaining in the 4th quarter, 3 timeouts, and trailing the Rams by 3 points, the Cowboys faced a 4th and 3 at the Rams 11-yard line. Coach McCarthy made the correct call by deciding to go for it. The decision increased the Cowboys (pre-snap) win probability by +3%.
Our EPIs had the matchup of the Cowboys offense versus the Rams defense as a fairly equal matchup: the DAL pass offense (#5) vs the Rams pass defense (#12) and the DAL rush offense (#4) vs the Rams rush defense (#11). Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that go for it, go on to win the game 47% of the time and teams that attempt a FG, go on to win the game 44% of the time.
Despite his team’s failure to execute, Coach McCarthy’s decision was the correct call.
WORST Decision – LA vs DAL
With 2:35 remaining in the 4th quarter (LA had 2 timeouts and DAL had 1 timeout), and leading the Cowboys by 3 points, the Rams faced a 4th and 1 at their own 49-yard line. Coach McVay made a HUGE error by deciding to punt. The decision cost the Rams -18% in (pre-snap) win probability.
Our EPIs had the matchup as equal between the Rams rush offense (#17) versus the Cowboys rush defense (#11). Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that punt, go on to win the game 67% of the time and teams that go-for-it, go on to win the game 85% of the time.
With Dallas only having 1 timeout, a successful conversion would have essentially put the game away. However, let’s take a closer look at the Rams three options on this 4th down:
- Gain 1-yard (successful conversion): Rams win probability goes to 99%
- No gain (unsuccessful conversion): Rams win probability goes to 52%
- Punt (DAL takes possession at their 9-yard line): Rams win probability goes to 69%
Based on the numbers above, the “Risk” is 17% (69%-52%) and the “Reward” is 30% (99%-69%), which means the required success is 36%, calculated as 17%/(17%+30%).
In other words, if the Rams believed they could convert this attempt at least 36% of the time (an average NFL offense is expected to convert this attempt more than 70% of the time), then they should have gone for it. As a result, this should have been a clear “Go” for McVay.
In fact, if the officials hadn’t made a questionable offensive pass interference call during the Cowboys final drive, the game’s outcome could have been very different. If the Rams had lost, this error would have been a big part of why.
And, just to give a little more context to this decision, when compared to all 4th down errors from last season (i.e. all 2019-20 Regular and Post Season games) it ranks #3 on that list of “Worst Decisions”.
Over the course of a season, costly decisions like these can accumulate and be the difference between making the playoffs or getting an early start on the off-season program…
Notable High School Calls of the Week
This year, each week I’ll also highlight a few great decisions in High School football games.
Calhoun (GA) vs Dalton (GA)
In the 2nd quarter of this game and leading by 14 points, the Yellow Jackets faced a 4th and 3 at the Catamounts 20-yard line. Coach Stephenson made an aggressive (and correct) call by deciding to go for it, increasing his team’s chances to go on to win the game by 1%.
North Jackson (AL) vs Whitwell (TN)
In the 4th quarter, the Chiefs faced a 4th and 4 at their own 27-yard line. Coach Tygard made the correct call by deciding to go for it and increased his team’s chances to go on to win the game by 2%. Like Coach Reid, Coach Tygard and his Chiefs are leveraging analytics and making good calls, even in minus territory.
Great calls Coaches!!!
This week, the analytics show that good calls aren’t always conventional and don’t always result in wins and bad calls don’t always result in loses. The one sure thing is that every decision matters and it’s important to make the ones that give your team the best chance to win the game.