The method for evaluating plays from last week remains unchanged. For this post, we will only be looking at the situation the coaches should be getting right the most often: 4th and 3 or less in opposing territory.
There are a few reasons why I am limiting the analysis for this post to that restriction, but there is one that stands above all the others. Every single play evaluated here has to be entered into the 4th Down Calculator individually. There were over four thousand 4th down plays altogether in the regular season last year. If I were able to enter the situation and record the result four times a minute (and I'm not that fast), it would take me nearly 17 hours to get them all done. Instead, I am restricting to this situation where the most value is lost when a coach makes a mistake. This reduces the data set to a more manageable 571 plays.
Again I'll be converting the points lost using Pythagorean Wins. Pythagorean Wins is a win-loss record predictor based on points scored and points given up. To keep all teams on a level playing field for the adjustment, I calculated the values as if each team were a league average 375 points for and against.
Every Team On 4th and 3 or less In Opposing Territory
|Team||Plays||Opt. Decisions||Pct Opt.||Points Lost||Win Prob. Lost||Pyth. Wins Lost||Total Wins Lost|
So, the criticism over the course of the season is well deserved. No matter how it is sliced, Mike McCoy was the worst head coach in the NFL last season in regards to 4th down decision making. If you were to break it down to find out which team was the worst on a per-play basis, the Chargers still come in last. The Raiders were not far behind in terms of rate of making poor decisions at only 25%. On a per-play basis, the Cowboys were slightly better than the Chargers.
The best team in the league? The Jacksonville Jaguars. The team may not have been very good at converting opportunities, but Gus Bradley certainly tried his best to give his team every opportunity to win.
The Cowboys faced an unusually low number of 4th and short situations in opposing territories, with only 7. All other teams had at least 6 more than that. Jason Garrett did not make very much of those plays, costing his team 5 points in just 4 incorrect decisions.
I was very surprised to see the Bengals so high on the list, after performing so poorly in these very same situations in the playoffs. I was also surprised to see that the Panthers were only slightly above average. It turned out that Riverboat Ron tended toward conservative in the first half, but would get more aggressive in high-leverage situations in the second half.
It is only fair to take this data to highlight some of the worst decisions over the course of the season.
3. Mike McCoy punts on 4th and 1 from the 39 against the Titans
This play represents the deepest into opposing territory that a team punted on 4th and 1. The 4th Down Calculator predicts the decision to punt rather than go for it cost the Chargers 1.66 points.
2. When a coach opted to kick a field goal from the 1 in a contested game
There were 17 times when a coach decided to send out the kicker to post 3 points from the 1 yard line. Of those 17, 14 were clearly the incorrect decision. The other 3 times the game was already out of hand and even a punt wouldn't have budged the team's chances of winning. I am going to give the Broncos special mention here as they are the only team to opt for the field goal from the 1 yard line twice during the season. In regards to points, a team would score an average of 2.06 more points going for it than kicking the field goal.
1. Mike McCoy kicks a field goal from the 1 to tie the game against the Redskins at the end of regulation
Going through the play by play, no single 4th down decision cost a team's chances of winning more than this one, and it isn't even close. The worst part is that the math for it is stupidly simple. Either go for the win now, or go for overtime. Clearly, the chances of winning in overtime are about 50%. So that leaves just one question: are the chances of going for it and making it from the one yard line better or worse than 50%? The 4th Down Calculator has the historical rate of success for this situation at 68%.
Do I really need to say it at this point? The league averaged 17.8 4th-and-short plays in opposing territory, and coaches averaged making the optimal decision on 8.4 of those plays, a rate of 47% Mike McCoy's 23.8% falls far, far short of the that league-wide average. In addition, McCoy made big mistakes on a regular basis, giving up the most win probability on a per-play basis as well.
Next week will be the final installment of this series, continuing to compare coaches, this time on all 4th down plays. To accomplish this, a new stat will be introduced to measure a coach's aggressiveness.