Contrary to what many believe, analytics don’t always recommend going for it on 4th down. Instead, analytics can be used as a proactive tool on 1st down to help coaches identify what 4th down and distance is a “GO”.
To see how, this week we’ll focus on the NO vs CHI game, specifically Saints drives that resulted in 4th downs.
In the chart above, the columns with the grey labels reflect the game state on 1st down for all Saints drives that result in a 4th down attempt.
The columns with yellow labels reflect the possible 4th down and distances (4th & 1 thru 4th & 10+) and our recommendations, customized for this specific (NO vs CHI) match up. Any box with green is a 4th down and distance that our analytics recommend as a “GO”, and the numbers represents the win probability increase – the darker the green, the higher the win probability increase and stronger the recommendation.
The thick bordered boxes reflect actual 4th downs and distances faced by the Saints. Boxes with black borders are decisions our analytics agreed with (good decisions), red borders are decisions our analytics disagreed with (viewed as errors), and gray borders are decision below a 3% threshold.
On the first play listed, with 10:09 remaining in the 1st quarter in a scoreless game, the Saints faced a 1st and 10 from the CHI 21-yard line. Using a very conservative “GO” threshold of 3%, on 1st down our analytics recommended the Saints go for it if they get to 4th and 1. To provide this recommendation, on 1st down we look ahead to each 4th down distance and identify the decision that gives the Saints the best chance to go on to win the game.
In this example, going for it on 4th and 1 will increase the Saints (pre-snap) win probability by 4.2%, calculated as the difference in win probability between the Saints two best options (i.e. if they “GO”, they are expected to go on to win the game 68.0% of the time and if they attempt the FG, they are expected to go on to win the game 63.8% of the time). The Saints actually ended up facing a 4th and 9 and attempted a FG, and our analytics agree with the decision even though it is below the 3% evaluation threshold.
In another situation, in the 4th quarter with 3:26 remaining and leading the Bears by 3 points, the Saints faced a 1st and 10 at their own 34-yard line. On this 1st down (based on the game state, the match up, and a 3% threshold) our analytics recommend the Saints go for it they ended up facing a 4th and 7 (or less). And, from the chart you can see the double-digit win probability at stake if they are able to get to 4th and 1 or 4th and 2. The coaches using analytics to the fullest are the ones who understand these numbers and use them to their advantage in terms of personnel and play calling on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd downs.
The Saints and ended up facing a 4th and 7 and punting and based on a 3% threshold, our analytics only slightly disagreed with their decision. If they had made that same decision facing 4th and 1 or 2, it would have been huge error.
In all, the Saints faced eleven 4th down decisions and made 3 correct decisions (i.e. Q2 1:28, Q3 2:57, and OT 7:58), 2 errors (both 4th down punts, on drives starting at Q2 6:03 and Q4 3:26), and had 6 decisions that had less than 3% (pre-snap) win probability at stake (i.e. Q1 10:09, Q2 12:55, Q2 8:03, Q3 10:51, Q3 8:34 and Q3 6:28). In short, our analytics provide proactive information that’s easy to use and understand and actionable.
Notable High School Calls of the Week
Mater Dei Prep Seraphs (NJ) vs Rumson-Fair Haven Bulldogs (NJ)
Each and every week Coach Mangiero and his staff do a great job in all three phases of the game. This past weekend was no exception. Twice the Seraphs attempted 2-PAT’s after scoring TD’s, and both decisions came with double-digit (pre-snap) win probability increases. The Seraphs went on to win the game 26-19.
Ashland Arrows (OH) vs Norwalk Truckers (OH)
With 8:17 remaining in the 3rd quarter and leading 14-7, Coach Seder and the Arrows faced a 4th and 1 at the Norwalk 32-yard line. By deciding to go for it, instead of attempting a FG attempt, Coach Seder increased the Arrows (pre-snap) win probability by 6% and they went on to win the game 21-7.
Bear River Bears (UT) vs Green Canyon Wolves (UT)
With 0:28 remaining in the 3rd quarter and trailing the Wolves 19-28, Coach Wise and the Bears found themselves facing a 4th and goal at the Green Canyon 1-yard line. By deciding to go for the touchdown instead of attempting the FG, Coach Wise increased Bear River’s (pre-snap) win probability by 5%. Bear River went on to win the game 32-28.
Great calls Coaches!
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Analytics can be used to evaluate decisions in terms of play calling and player execution, in all facets of the game (ie. offense, defense, and special teams). Every decision matters and it’s important for coaches and players to make the ones that give their team’s the best chance to win the game. For more information about how coaches are using analytics to make better decisions, visit www.edjvarsity.com.