For this week’s analysis of decisions, let’s take a look two games (ARI @ NE and CAR @ MIN) that went down to the wire and had some interesting 4th down decision.
ARI @ NE
In terms of overall 4th down decision making in this game the Cardinals made good decisions (+8.3%) and errors (-25.7%), for a team net win probability of -17.4%. The Patriots made good decisions (+8.9%) and errors (-4.1%), for a team net win probability of +4.8.%. The Cardinals went on to lose this game 3 points and the -12.6% net difference between the teams (on 4th down decisions, alone) is part of the why.
CAR @ MIN
In terms of overall 4th down decision making in this game the Panthers made good decisions (+8.9%) and errors (-16.7%), for a team net win probability of -7.8%. The Vikings made good calls (+10.0%) and errors (-15.9%), for a team net win probability of -5.9%. The Panthers went on to lose this game by 1 point, and the -1.9% net difference between these teams is, again, part of the why.
“Taking the Points” vs “Taking the Win Probability”
In each of the games, the 4th down decisions with the most win probability at stake were choices between going for it versus attempting field goals. And, we’ve all heard the mantra “you gotta take the points.” However, these games are great examples of the inherent flaws in this conventional wisdom. Most notably, they’re called field goal attempts (not makes) for a reason – you can’t assume a successful conversion. And, all decisions must be considered in the proper context (i.e. how the teams match up AND the game state).
With 1:52 remaining in the 4th quarter and the game tied, the Cardinals faced a 4th and 1 at the NE 27-yard line. Coach Kingsbury made an error by deciding to attempt the FG. However, missing the FG was not the error, attempting the FG was the error. If ARI had decided to go for it on this 4th down, they would have been expected to go on to win the game 84.6% of the time. With the decision to attempt the FG, ARI was expected to go on to win the game 64.6% of the time. This decision alone cost the Cardinals -20.0% in (pre-snap) win probability. This was the biggest error of the weekend and ranks as the second biggest decision-making error of the year!
With 1:54 remaining in the 4th quarter and leading by 3 points, the Panthers faced a 4th and goal at the MIN 3-yard line. Coach Rhule also made an error by deciding to attempt the FG. And, despite successfully converting the FG, attempting the FG was an error. If CAR had decided to go for it on 4th down, they would have been expected to go on to win the game 85.0% of the time. Attempting the FG came with an expectation to go on to win the game 71.9% of the time. This decision alone cost the Panthers -13.1% in (pre-snap) win probability.
To be clear, analytics are not suggesting that teams shouldn’t attempt ield oals. Instead, analytics that can be customized to consider match up and game state, can be used to help coaches understand what decision gives their team the best chance to go on to win the game, and how much win probability hangs in the balance.
Notable High School Calls of the Week
Catholic High – Baton Rouge Bears (LA) vs. Acadiana Rams (LA)
On the opening drive of the game, Catholic B.R. faced a 4th & 3 on the Acadiana 25-yd line. Coach Fertitta made the correct call by deciding to go for it, increasing his team’s (pre-snap) win probability by +5%. Th successful conversion ended up being a 25-yd TD rush which further increased the Bears win probability by +13%. Great coaching by Coach Fertitta
Lake Highland Prep Highlanders (FL) @ Orlando Christian Prep Warriors (FL)
With 9:39 remaining in the 3rd and trailing 6-14, Coach Bullock and the Highlanders faced a 4th and 1 at the Warrior’s 28-yard line. By deciding to go for it, instead of attempting a FG, Coach Bullock increased the Highlander’s (pre-snap) win probability by 9%!
Great calls Coaches!
Have a question about analytics and coaching?
Once again, 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.
For more information about how coaches are using analytics to make better decisions, visit www.edjvarsity.com.