Jim Schwartz used to be the Great Hope.He has an economics degree from Georgetown, and was supposed to be the future, the analytical white whale. He was a fan of Football Outsiders, and was supposed to have embraced the advanced analysis of football.
Jim Schwartz is no longer the Great Hope. He’s the Great Dope.
Yesterday, with his team trailing by two touchdowns in the third quarter, he faced a fourth and one at the Minnesota 40 yard line. If we were to line up a spectrum of when to go for it and when to not go for it, and put various scenarios on it, this one would fall at the far extreme of “under almost any circumstances imaginable, you should go for it.”
If you are a Romerian, this should be easy. To fail here would be to show your true colors–to reveal you are not a Belichickian, but a Jauronian. Schwartz punted.
Last week, you might recall, the Lions went for it on fourth and one to end the game in overtime. It was a classic showdown situation, but would have been a reasonable decision. Try to win near the goal line, rather than be an underdog in sudden death overtime by kicking off again. Schwartz, though, claimed he was just trying to pull them offsides, that he had no intention of going for it.
He’s just saying that to appease the neanderthals, the thought process went, now they’ll just blame the players. After yesterday, though, there can be no doubt. Jim Schwartz worships at the Shrine of the Almighty Punt, bathes in the Just Keep It Close Fountain, and skips through the Settle for the Field Goal Fields.
When asked today about that decision, he said “[t]hat wasn’t the make or break. We could have lost the game there but couldn’t win it there.”
Oh really? Let’s get the first thing straight: the result of that one play would neither have single-handedly won or lost the game. They were down by 14 so of course no single play can win it. They are already down by 14, so no single play can lose it.
Contrast it, though, to the only other decision that came on fourth and one at the opponent’s 40 this week. Last night, Tom Coughlin went for it at the end of the third quarter, trailing by 3, and the Giants got the ball down inside the red zone on the long completion to Victor Cruz. That one play, of course, neither won or lost the game. Despite the great result, the Giants lost, and Eli Manning threw an interception on the very next play.
The swing in win expectation, though, was huge. According to Advanced NFL Stats, the Giants went from 37% to 60% on that one big play (and back again after the INT, which reversed the results similar to a punt on 4th and 1).
Who had more to lose? Coughlin, in a 3-point game, or Schwartz, in a 14 point deficit? The answer, both logically and by the numbers, of course, is Coughlin. Had the Giants failed on that pass, the win percentage dropped from 37% to 30%, roughly 20% of his remaining chances of winning expiring with a miss.
You may be interested to know what the Lions’ various chances were, and you can use that Advanced NFL Stats calculator to see the impact. They had only a 9% chance of winning, down 14 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter, facing that 4th and 1 at the Minnesota 40. Punt it away, and the Vikings start at their own 10? Also 9%. Go for it, and fail, and give Minnesota the ball at their own 40, with a 1st and 10? It drops all the way to 8%.
That’s right–one percent change. Talk about losing the game.
Now look at the flip side, what happens if you go and make it. Merely get a few yards (and not the big gain the Giants did) and the odds of winning on that one play go up to 12%. The risk/reward is three times as strong for going because you are already a significant underdog.
Settle for a field goal in the next two minutes, and it jumps to 16% chance of making the comeback. Score a touchdown on the drive, and it leaps to 23%. So yes, you still haven’t won the game, but the chances have improved almost three fold over either punting, or failing, if you can parlay a successful conversion into a touchdown to make it a one score game.
I’m not going to dwell on this point, but remember, fourth down conversion rates favor the offense and are in the 65-70% range historically. Basically, the decision was about a 35% of failing and losing virtually nothing in terms of game win probability, or a 65% chance of swinging the odds a bit in your favor and making a comeback a little more likely.
You may find it interesting that the chances of losing don’t drop significantly by going for it. Remember, there is a difference between expected points and win probability here. Yes, the Vikings are a little more likely to score a touchdown or add a field goal after the failure. The odds are already so long that the impact is more negligible, though on the outcome. There is no point difference bonus in the NFL. The status quo favors the team in front, and punting maintains the status quo.
This wasn’t the make or break play of the game. I suppose if we lined them up, that would be the kickoff return by Harvin, or the punt return touchdown. It’s probably in the top five, though, of the most impactful plays in the game. It ultimately had no impact, though, because Jim Schwartz punted.
[photo via US Presswire]