The current research proves something we've all known for a long time: the fans know more than the professional coaches. There are unwritten rules for fourth down in American football. If it's fourth down in your own half of the field, you punt. Fourth down inside the opponents 35 yard line, you attempt to kick a field goal. If it's fourth and one (or less), you will sometimes see teams go for the first down, assuming they are at least to midfield.
Now, statisticians and math nerds have come to the conclusion that regular fans have known for years: more teams should go for it on fourth down, especially fourth and one...
As it turns out, going for it on fourth and one from anywhere on the field makes statistical sense. Teams convert a fourth and one — which includes situations ranging from fourth-and-inches to fourth-and-a-yard-and-a-half — around 74 percent of the time.
Overall, limiting the number of possessions an opponent's offense gets, really stacks up in a team's favor. That strategy has grown even sounder in recent years because offenses have exploded. Just this season, quarterbacks racked up four of the six highest ever totals for passing yardage.
"Offenses have gradually gotten the upper hand," Burke said. "The value of possession is so much greater because of the greater chance of scoring. You never want the other offense to have the ball, and field position" — usually the argument for punting — "has become less and less important."
Punts still do stand as the better option in many cases, for example on fourth and threes or more within an offense's own 30-yard line or so. But even at midfield it's statistically smarter to go for it on fourth and sixth, according to Burke's figures.In fact, in most scenarios of score and time, when between an opponent's 45- and 30-yard line and facing a fourth down and 10 yards to go or less, offenses should stay on the field. A field goal adds up as a wiser move from about fourth and 11-plus at about the opponent's 33-yard line.
The author of this study feels the main reasons coaches don't go for it more on fourth down is psychological. They don't want to be held responsible for failure. Here's an NFL films segment about a successful high school team from Arkansas whose coach never punts or kicks field goals. He's 65-13 and been to three state championships. That alone doesn't prove anything. To me, the biggest predictor of success in high school sports, or any other, is having the horses to begin with. If you concentrate on recruiting the best athletes to come to your school, you can try all sorts of "Sam Wyche"-like plays and be successful.
Something tells me the professor of a similar study at 2:53 would much rather watch figure skating than football. As the 21 century cliche goes, I'm just saying...
Football Statistics Suggest Teams Should Go For It On Fourth Down