Friday, December 09, 2005

Go For It

A Berkeley professor does some interesting math about kicking vs. going for it on fourth down. (He uses the Bellman Equation, in case Brendon or any of the other scientists were wondering.):
omer realizes that his conclusions run counter to conventional football wisdom. But he argues that the conclusions make sense if one thinks about them.

An example he gives in the paper concerns a team facing fourth and goal on the 2-yard line. The usual strategy is to attempt a field goal, which will almost certainly produce three points. In this situation, however, going for a touchdown has about a three-sevenths chance of success, and so, on average, produces about the same payoff in terms of immediate points. But because trying for a touchdown and failing leaves the opponent with the ball in terrible field position, thinking about what will happen next tips the balance in favor of the aggressive strategy.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes over a 732 game period on average you would be advised to go for it- on average, your percentage may differ based on momentum of the game (yeahgo down to the red zone and come back empty-handed in the 4th quarter), your running back, and the defense you're facing

Put the difference this way, would you go for it if:

A- you had Shaun Alexander going against the Houston Texans defense

or

B- Ryan Moats going against the Colts

Thought you would see it my way- how informative averages can be in illuminating unseen possibilites and how poor in informing specifc tactics

Mike

Jay D. Homnick said...

It's very exciting to me that someone has finally done the math. I have instinctively felt that this is the case; it's great to receive mathematical corroboration.

I would make another point. It's quite possible that you could improve on those 3-in-7 numbers if you really make this strategy a prime feature of your team's approach. You could design plays to suit it; you could also design less desperate third-down plays that might shrink your average amount of yards needed on that fourth-down play.

Thanks again. A great lead.

Anonymous said...

Nver understood in that no man's land from after your corss the 50 until you get in FG range they don't almost always go for it, since the punt usually is either a tochback or out to the 30 anyway. Coffin corner punts never happen any more. Unless you have Ben Graham , who's the only bright spot in a dismal Jets season.

Hei Lun said...

Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick both go for it on fourth down more often on average than other coaches.

lance murdoch said...

fun facts and good math do not a football god make. as many a coach has surely said "points is points, and points(not statistics), is what wins ball games."

Chris Byrne said...

I played pro-ball in europe for three seasons, and we almost always went for it when we were in good touchdown scoring position.

This has a lot to do with the physical balances of the tie, and lower quality of kiccking, but it's also about a bias for agressive play.

We went for it on fourth down a lot as well, basically any time we were in the red zone with 3 yards or less to make the first down. On balance the agressive strategy worked for us.

Oh and two point conversions were definitely more common as well.