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Anthony Lynn’s Plan to Thwart Ragnarok

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4th Down is where seasons are won and lost. How have the Chargers fared on the gutsiest down of the game?

Anthony Lynn is here to kick number-nonbelievers in the Asgard!
Jason Michaels

Introduction to 4th-Down Bot

First—yes, Anthony Lynn still looks like Idris Elba, so there’s fun to be had in that regard. Check out my 2016 full-recap of the Chargers’ 2016 4th Down action in its full Pacific Rim-glory. This week we’re heading in a more Asgardian direction.

Second, if you aren’t yet acquainted, let me introduce you to the New York Times’ 4th Down Bot. It has assessed an incredible wealth of data to determine the likelihood of success for specific 4th down plays in NFL football. In general, these positions would be considered aggressive on the gridiron. However, after crunching the numbers, the ‘Bot has determined that odds would be on your side for you to go for it in any 1-yard situation. The same goes for most 2-yard situations. In fact, this algorithm shows us that field goals are an appropriate solution to certain situations, but near the middle of the field, it behooves the offense to keep the ball on 4th down.

As you can see from the above image, NFL coaches don’t always lean on historical data when it comes to play-calling. They have about an 88% agreement rate with the 4th Down Bot (the majority of those, of course, are without a second thought). There is very good reason to play it ‘safe’ on the field- “going for it” within your own 10-yard line would be considered incredibly bold (or, as bloggers would refer to it in the case of failure, incredibly stupid). The fact of the matter is that historical data would support a more aggressive attitude as a whole.

2016 Data

Let’s look at the Chargers’ 2016 season to see how they fared in regards to their 4th down strategies VS. the ‘Bot’s opinions. I went through each game’s plays, threw out plays that were no longer 4th downs due to penalties (offsides, etc.), and compared each decision to the 4th Down Bot’s analysis.

Keep in mind- this is simply an algorithm. It does NOT take into account 4th-down ‘Hail Mary’ throws (obviously this is a better alternative than punting), specific team strengths and weaknesses, or weather conditions.

A final note- the agreement totals listed below are simply measurements against the historical likelihood of success. A team that has a 0% agreement (and thus, does differently than raw statistics would urge) could win a game, while a 100% agreement could lose (and did, 2 out of 3 times that happened!). The real purpose of the stats below is to help inform the reader of how the play-calling compared to what the raw stats dictate should’ve been the most successful option.

2016 Total agreement: 72/100 (72.0% agreement)

2016 4th Down Conversions made: 6 of 12 (50% success)


2017 DATA

Game 1 vs. Denver, 2017 (LOSS)

· 4th and 5 at LAC 32√

(11:02 - 1st) D.Kaser punts 43 yards to DEN 25, Center-M.Windt, out of bounds.

· 4th and 9 at LAC 28

(10:20 - 2nd) D.Kaser punts 59 yards to DEN 13, Center-M.Windt. I.McKenzie ran ob at DEN 44 for 31 yards.

· 4th and 9 at LAC 26

(8:29 - 3rd) D.Kaser punts 62 yards to DEN 12, Center-M.Windt. I.McKenzie to DEN 20 for 8 yards (A.Phillips; N.Harris).

· 4th and 1 at DEN 48

(12:02 - 4th) C.Hairston reported in as eligible. M.Gordon up the middle to 50 for -2 yards (T.Davis).

· 4th and 11 at LAC 49

(3:15 - 4th) D.Kaser punts 36 yards to DEN 15, Center-M.Windt, downed by LAC-K.Emanuel.

· 4th and 1 at LAC 47

(0:42 - 4th) (Shotgun) M.Gordon up the middle to LAC 49 for 2 yards (V.Miller).

· 4th and 2 at DEN 26 X

(0:05 - 4th) Y.Koo 44 yard field goal is BLOCKED (S.Harris), Center-M.Windt, Holder-D.Kaser.

STAT TOTALS: 6/7 (85.7% agreement)

Note: The only time the Chargers disagreed with the 4th Down Bot was on the final play of the game-- they elected to kick instead of ‘go for it’ on 4th and 2. Obviously, with 5 seconds left in the game, that perfectly demonstrates the follies of the ‘Bot’s system. In short, the Chargers made the correct decision 7/7 times for this game, but luck looked the other way on Koo’s field goal attempt.

2 conversions were attempted, 1 successful. 1 scoring play was unsuccessful (field goal block).

Game 2 Vs. Dolphins (LOSS)

· 4th and 4 at LAC 31

(13:37 - 1st) D.Kaser punts 49 yards to MIA 20, Center-M.Windt. J.Grant to MIA 18 for -2 yards (D.Watt).

· 4th and 6 at LAC 39

(3:48 - 1st) D.Kaser punts 58 yards to MIA 3, Center-M.Windt. J.Grant to MIA 12 for 9 yards (H.Pullard, M.Davis).

· 4th and 4 at MIA 23

(13:41 - 2nd) Younghoe Koo 41 Yd Field Goal

· 4th and 9 at MIA 25

(0:35 - 2nd) Y.Koo 43 yard field goal is No Good, Wide Right, Center-M.Windt, Holder-D.Kaser.

· 4th and 13 at MIA 42

(13:36 - 4th) D.Kaser punts 23 yards to MIA 19, Center-M.Windt, downed by LAC.

4th and 3 at LAC 25

(3:12 - 4th) D.Kaser punts 40 yards to MIA 35, Center-M.Windt. J.Grant to MIA 49 for 14 yards (H.Pullard, A.Ekeler)

STAT TOTALS: 6/6 (100% agreement)

Note: All actions were in complete agreement! 1 of 2 4th down field goals attempted was successful. Thus, again, the ‘Bot’s statistics and percentages are no guarantees of success. 4th down is exactly where planning meets execution.

Of important note is that the game-choking field goal miss at the end of the game was on 3rd down and not included. Not Koo, Chargers... not Koo at all...

Game 3 vs. Chiefs (LOSS)

· 4th and 9 at KC 11

(0:00 - 2nd) Younghoe Koo 29 Yd Field Goal

· 4th and 8 at KC 45

(7:16 - 3rd) D.Kaser punts 45 yards to end zone, Center-M.Windt, Touchback.

· 4th and 6 at LAC 34

(3:58 - 3rd) D.Kaser punts 66 yards to end zone, Center-M.Windt, Touchback.

· 4th and 15 at KC 40

(13:32 - 4th) D.Kaser punts 34 yards to KC 6, Center-M.Windt, downed by LAC-M.Davis.

· 4th and 8 at LAC 38

(10:00 - 4th) D.Kaser punts 48 yards to KC 14, Center-M.Windt. T.Hill to KC 15 for 1 yard (K.Emanuel).

· 4th and 21 at LAC 32

(3:05 - 4th) D.Kaser punts 57 yards to KC 11, Center-M.Windt. T.Hill to KC 20 for 9 yards (N.Dzubnar).

STAT TOTALS: 6/6 (100% agreement)

Note: All actions were in complete agreement! The singular 4th down field goal attempt was successful. Sometimes even your best isn’t enough, and that’s the story of the game this day.

Game 4 vs. Eagles (LOSS)

· 4th and 10 at LAC 35

(5:49 - 1st) D.Kaser punts 50 yards to PHI 15, Center-M.Windt. K.Barner to PHI 20 for 5 yards (M.Davis, A.Ekeler).

· 4th and 6 at PHI 48

(12:07 - 2nd) D.Kaser punts 48 yards to end zone, Center-M.Windt, Touchback.

· 4th and 3 at LAC 32

(3:05 - 2nd) D.Kaser punts 53 yards to PHI 15, Center-M.Windt. K.Barner to PHI 28 for 13 yards (A.Ekeler, A.Phillips).

· 4th and 3 at PHI 10

(0:00 - 2nd) Younghoe Koo 28 Yd Field Goal

· 4th and 12 at 50

(7:56 - 3rd) D.Kaser punts 40 yards to PHI 10, Center-M.Windt. K.Barner to PHI 11 for 1 yard (A.Ekeler).

STAT TOTALS: 5/5 (100% agreement)

Note: All actions were in complete agreement for the 3rd time in a row! The singular 4th down field goal attempt was successful. Sometimes even your best isn’t enough.

Game 5 vs. Giants (!!WIN!!)

· 4th and 3 at LAC 32

(13:41 - 1st) D.Kaser punts 47 yards to NYG 21, Center-M.Windt, fair catch by D.Harris.

· 4th and 1 at LAC 19 X

(4:48 - 1st) D.Kaser punts 62 yards to NYG 19, Center-M.Windt. D.Harris to NYG 36 for 17 yards (A.Phillips, N.Dzubnar).

· 4th and 12 at LAC 10

(9:47 - 2nd) D.Kaser punts 51 yards to NYG 39, Center-M.Windt. D.Harris to NYG 45 for 6 yards (M.Davis).

· 4th and 10 at LAC 3

(7:02 - 2nd) D.Kaser punts 51 yards to NYG 46, Center-M.Windt. D.Harris ran ob at LAC 39 for 15 yards (N.Dzubnar).

· 4th and 3 at LAC 27

(4:26 - 2nd) D.Kaser punts 54 yards to NYG 19, Center-M.Windt, out of bounds.

· 4th and Goal at NYG 2 X

(0:06 - 2nd) Nick Novak 20 Yd Field Goal

· 4th and 12 at LAC 32

(11:09 - 4th) D.Kaser punts 68 yards to end zone, Center-M.Windt, Touchback.

· 4th and Goal at NYG 13

(4:50 - 4th) Nick Novak 31 Yd Field Goal

STAT TOTALS: 6/8 (75.0% agreement)

Note: After agreeing with the odds for 3 games in a row, coach Lynn played a little bit more conservatively here... and picked up a win! Both of his departures were more than reasonable. The 4th-Down Bot recommends going for ALL 1-yard conversions. At his own 19, he ignored the odds and chose correctly— 62 yards on a punt was the reward. Going for a field goal instead of a TD before the half is the stuff Monday Morning QBing is made of, but the Chargers got the win here, despite the discrepancy.

Game 6 vs. Raiders (WIN)

· 4th and 8 at LAC 38

(12:54 - 1st) D.Kaser punts 62 yards to end zone, Center-M.Windt, Touchback.

· 4th and 10 at OAK 30

(11:09 - 1st) N.Novak 48 yard field goal is No Good, Wide Right, Center-M.Windt, Holder-D.Kaser.

· 4th and 3 at OAK 34

(0:55 - 1st) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass incomplete short right to K.Allen (T.Carrie).

· 4th and 3 at LAC 29

(11:13 - 2nd) D.Kaser punts 52 yards to OAK 19, Center-M.Windt. J.Richard to OAK 24 for 5 yards (A.Ekeler).

· 4th and Goal at OAK 1

(1:44 - 2nd) Melvin Gordon 1 Yard Rush N.Novak extra point is GOOD, Center-M.Windt, Holder-D.Kaser.

· 4th and 14 at LAC 25

(6:06 - 3rd) D.Kaser punts 53 yards to OAK 22, Center-M.Windt. J.Richard MUFFS catch, and recovers at OAK 22.

· 4th and 4 at LAC 31

(6:08 - 4th) D.Kaser punts 56 yards to OAK 13, Center-M.Windt. J.Richard to OAK 26 for 13 yards (R.Jenkins, N.Dzubnar).

STAT TOTALS: 7/7 (100% agreement)

Note: Back in full agreement and back in the win column! As with before, going with the stats doesn’t guarantee success. One of two scoring plays went through, with the Chargers finally notching up a 4th down TD but falling to field goal woes yet again. A single conversion attempt failed in the 1st quarter.

Game 7 vs. Broncos (WIN)

· 4th and Goal at DEN 1

(10:54 - 1st) M.Gordon up the middle to DEN 1 for no gain (T.Davis, W.Parks).

· 4th and 14 at LAC 32

(4:09 - 1st) D.Kaser punts 60 yards to DEN 8, Center-M.Windt. H.Sharp to DEN 19 for 11 yards (J.Onwualu, N.Dzubnar).

· 4th and 24 at LAC 23

(0:12 - 1st) D.Kaser punts 56 yards to DEN 21, Center-M.Windt. H.Sharp to DEN 27 for 6 yards (K.Emanuel).

· 4th and 14 at LAC 34

(3:06 - 2nd) D.Kaser punts 44 yards to DEN 22, Center-M.Windt. H.Sharp to DEN 35 for 13 yards (D.Watt, N.Dzubnar).

· 4th and 10 at LAC 15

(1:55 - 2nd) D.Kaser punts 64 yards to DEN 21, Center-M.Windt. H.Sharp to DEN 37 for 16 yards (M.Davis).

· 4th and 5 at LAC 30

(12:57 - 3rd) D.Kaser punts 69 yards to DEN 1, Center-M.Windt, downed by LAC-A.Ekeler.

· 4th and 6 at DEN 40 X

(6:55 - 3rd) D.Kaser punts 31 yards to DEN 9, Center-M.Windt, fair catch by H.Sharp.

· 4th and 8 at LAC 45

(2:50 - 3rd) D.Kaser punts 35 yards to DEN 20, Center-M.Windt, out of bounds.

· 4th and 19 at LAC 20

(1:07 - 4th) D.Kaser punts 54 yards to DEN 26, Center-M.Windt. H.Sharp to DEN 35 for 9 yards (N.Dzubnar).

STAT TOTALS: 8/9 (88.8% agreement)

Note: Some sweet data-driven coaching, here! The single scoring attempt on 4th down was absolutely the correct decision, but Melvin Gordon has to hold up his end of the bargain.

Game 8 vs. Patriots (LOSS)

· 4th and 1 at NE 33 X

(8:48 - 1st) N.Novak 51 yard field goal is No Good, Short, Center-M.Windt, Holder-D.Kaser.

· 4th and 1 at LAC 24 X

(12:39 - 2nd) D.Kaser punts 56 yards to NE 20, Center-M.Windt. D.Amendola ran ob at NE 36 for 16 yards.

· 4th and 2 at LAC 44 X

(2:00 - 2nd) D.Kaser punts 47 yards to NE 9, Center-M.Windt. D.Amendola ran ob at NE 9 for no gain.

· 4th and 31 at 50

(10:52 - 3rd) D.Kaser punts 39 yards to NE 11, Center-M.Windt. D.Amendola to NE 23 for 12 yards (A.Ekeler).

· 4th and 13 at LAC 49

(2:26 - 3rd) D.Kaser punts 31 yards to NE 20, Center-M.Windt, out of bounds.

· 4th and 8 at LAC 26

(4:41 - 4th) D.Kaser punts 52 yards to NE 22, Center-M.Windt. D.Amendola to NE 34 for 12 yards (N.Dzubnar).

· 4th and 2 at NE 36

(0:14 - 4th) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short middle to A.Ekeler to NE 23 for 13 yards (K.Van Noy).

STAT TOTALS: 4/7 (57.1% agreement)

Note: After an incredible run of data-backed calls, this game fell short of Lynn’s standards. However, those were all in the first half and the second half was markedly improved. There were opportunities here for aggressive, data-driven playcalling that could’ve changed the game. The singular 4th-down field goal fell short (should’a converted that instead!), but the one conversion attempted was successful late in the game.

The gutsiest opportunity would actually have been to try and convert 2 yards from the Chargers’ 44. Few coaches would try, but all of them theoretically should.


Solid 4th down playcalling will help warm the Bifröst of the coming winter
Jason Michaels

Analysis

As most ‘figured’ from the Mike McCoy years, missed 4th down opportunities left points on the field. Half-way through the year, it appears that we are in store for 10% more 4th downs than in 2016.

In 2017, average NFL coaching decisions agree with the 4th Down Bot 81.1% of the time, a decidedly more conservative amount than in previous years. Mike McCoy was among the least likely coaches to go with the odds in high-stakes 4th down situations.

2016 Total agreement: 72/100 (72.0% agreement)

2016 4th Down Conversions made: 6 of 12 (50% success)

Anthony Lynn has blessed us with more aggressive, though data-conscious, play calling. It hasn’t worked out well for him, despite the numbers. The Chargers have suffered through a kicking nightmare, and the record totals are two kicks away from a winning season.

2017 Total agreement (8 games): 48/55 (87.3% agreement)

2017 4th Down Conversions made (8 games): 3 of 6 (50% success)

The data, to my eyes, indicates a very pleasant culture change for the Chargers. They are choosing a path of play calling that is more friendly to long-term success. It appears that, in a situation where a conversion or goal is statistically likely, they’ll opt to go for it. What’s surprising is that they haven’t put themselves in a position to press the pedal to the metal statistically more often than last year. When they run into 4th and short, it’s overwhelmingly been in their own territory this year.

Most evident, however, is that execution needs to be improved. A coach’s job is more than just choosing to go for it or punt. The good news is that the Chargers are much improved in the 4th-down gumption facet. The bad news is that the biggest issue is individual execution. Without pointing any fing-KICKING NEEDS TO NOT SUCK. 4th and 1 NEED TO BE CONVERTED. Err-hem, without pointing any fingers, if the coaches focus more on rudimentary football and scoring/conversion drills, the rewards will come.

Short of, perhaps, Doug “We have 4 downs, don’t panic on 3rd” Pederson, the Chargers have one of the most aggressive 4th down tendencies in the league. Poor field position and awful kicking have made this year an exception to the promises of success, but eventually, time should cure this variance. All of the data up to this point suggests that, if the Chargers get into enemy territory, they’ll roll the dice and reap the rewards more often than their fellow teams.

-Jason “Don’t be a Thor loser” Michaels