Fraidy Cat Coaches vs. the 4th Down Bot

Long have I held the position that most football coaches either are on automatic pilot with their situational football decisions or that they make decisions based on what questions they will be asked later and who to either credit or blame for the outcomes. To quote Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game,” which was his response to reporters who questioned his bold decision rather than accept a defeatist move that they would approve of.

Example: if a coach sends in the punt unit when the team is down by 10 in the second quarter, ball at the opponent’s 40 yard line, that’s what’s expected of him. The line “The team is forced to punt” is spoken many times every Sunday by the commentators. I have a newsflash for you.


The coach always has a decision to make. They have never been forced to do anything. To say that they were forced to punt is to cover for cowardly decisions based on the common practices of other coaches who are also fearful of the questions the media might ask if they do fail on a bold play, and how that might result in the termination of their positions.

If the punt team takes the field in the first half, nobody asks why. If a coach goes for it on 4th and 1 on the opponents side of the field and they fail to make it, he’ll say something about how the team needs to execute better. Which means that his players didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. That’s coaching from behind.

Let me repeat for you the words of Herm Edwards. “You play to win the game.” You might note that Edwards is no longer a head coach. That’s not because he took too many chances that failed. He was among the more “conservative” play callers out there, with predictable play calling.

I haven’t directly been on Twitter for years. I think I may have sent a message to one guy a few weeks ago through it, but now I’m considering a return, if only for the statistical program that often agrees with me that going for it is often the play that gives you the best return, and indeed makes the most sense. That’s what Twitter is all about, you know. Finding people that agree with you so you can hear more of what you already think. Brilliant. The same holds true for all flavors of social media, by the way. That’s a rant for another time though.

Anyhoo, if you want to expand your football IQ, and if you still use Twitter, considering following  @NYT4thDownBot for some real time opinions that are based solely on scientific data, rather than on a coach’s aversion to scrutiny. You can argue with the robot if you disagree. Heck, you can say nasty things about it’s non-existent mother for all I care. You won’t hurt its feelings. It doesn’t have any. And that allows it to make the most intelligent choices that would revolutionize the game, add excitement, and lead to championships.

Fortune favors the bold. Especially in sports.

Desiring Boldness in the NFL

It’s a new football season, which means a new Tuesday Morning Quarterback season. This year, Gregg Easterbrook can be found at Gregg has convinced me that going for a 4th down conversion is the logical move more often than most head coaches will admit, among other unorthodox strategies that have statistical support, but not the support of the “experts.”

You tell ’em, coach. The reason to make any call is to win the game, not to avoid uncomfortable questions from the press. Making fraidy cat decisions my point the blame of a loss at your kicker or the holder or what have you, but they seldom are instrumental in victory. You might win with them, but you just don’t win because of them. Correlation does not equal causation.

In today’s TMQ column, Gregg points out the statistical likelihood of kicking an extra point following a touchdown from the 15 and going for the two point conversion from the 2, both running and passing the ball. To give you a TL;DR on this, going for 2 is successful greater than 50% of the time while kicking for 1 is successful less than 100% of the time. Thus, the expected points a team can come away with are greater if your team goes for it more frequently. So NFL teams ought to just go for it!

While I’m on the subject, the PAT rule in the NFL has removed the surprise factor from the play. It used to be that you could kick for one or go for two, with both plays beginning at the 2 yard line. If you lined up to kick and instead faked the play, you could end up with 2 points against the opposing team’s kicking defense. But now that the 2 point play is known in advance and the 1 point play begins at the 15 yard line, there’s no incentive to fake out the other team and go for it. This should not be so!

So here’s my proposal. If your team lines up at the 15 to kick the extra point, but instead get the ball past the end zone by running or passing it according to standard rules, your team should be rewarded an additional 3 points. So a touchdown plus a successful fake would net you 9 points.

Yes, there are times this would be the only play available toward the end of a game. But think of the excitement this would create! Imagine your starting quarterback serving as the holder for the kicker on a more regular basis so the fake wouldn’t be telegraphed so easily!

What do you think? Is this an idea you could support? Why or why not?