The numbers suggest teams like the Dallas Cowboys should be going for it on 4th down more than they are, maybe their FG struggles lead them that way.
Down by 28 points at one point, the Dallas Cowboys battled back to narrow the gap to 10 late in the fourth. But hope surrendered when field goal kicker Brett Maher shanked a routine 33 yarder, ending the potentially historic comeback and dropping the Dallas Cowboys to 3-2.
In a game chock-full of ill-timed mistakes from the offense and defense, it’s special teams that suffered the immediate backlash of Cowboys Nation. Most specifically, field goal kicker Brett Maher who’s only hitting on 57 percent of his attempts this season. But what if I told you his struggles and inconsistencies could actually be a good thing for the Dallas Cowboys this season? We dive into that topic now…
For years we as fans (and even they as coaches) have been conditioned to accept 4th down inherently meant it was time to kick a field goal or time to punt. And only in extreme situations like on the opponent’s goal line or late in game do we accept “going for it” as the wise move to make.
many of our priors towards “going for it” are baseless and built on our natural aversion towards risk rather than on fact.
As data became more readily available and analytics became more generally accepted, we see that many of these obvious kicking/punting situations are more harmful than helpful, and many of our priors towards “going for it” are baseless and built on our natural aversion towards risk rather than on fact.
Brian Burke, the Godfather of NFL analytics, has been behind this movement (less kicking/punting) for quite a while now. It’s his work that spawned the infamous New York Times 4th down bot that mathematically decides when a team should go for it and when they shouldn’t.
It’s human nature to take the easy money and avoid the risk, even if it does mean you’re statistically hurting yourself in the long-run. It’s similar to a card player buying “insurance” from the dealer who’s showing what may be blackjack. The numbers clearly say it’s always unwise to buy it, yet we see people (rookies) buy it all the time. Much like insurance in blackjack, our risk averse nature is negatively impacting our decision making in football games, effectively limiting our full scoring potential.
Kicking is now a gamble and the uncertainty of attempts of any distance may lead Jason Garrett, the ultimate Cowboys decision maker, to make more analytics-based decisions going forward.
But Brett Maher is not easy money. He’s anything but the sure thing many Dallas Cowboys fans were accustomed to during the Dan Bailey era. Kicking is now a gamble and the uncertainty of attempts of any distance may lead Jason Garrett, the ultimate Cowboys decision maker, to make more analytics-based decisions going forward.
Using Expected Points (EP)models we can place value on down, distance, and field position. We also have conversion percentages by distance to go, relative to location on the field. Since distance of field goals depends greatly on the actual location of the punt, we can even apply the EP to likely outcomes of a punt vs the risk/reward of a 4th down attempt (on the opponent’s side of the field, a punt is barely beneficial to even a failed 4th down attempt).
Rather than regurgitate all of Brian’s great work, check it out for yourself and you may see your priors challenged.
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The point I’d like to make is that since we can mathematically see we kick and punt far too often and should be going for it considerably more than we do. Brett Maher’s struggles may make Jason Garrett more inclined to embrace the risk-reward nature of going for it, and ultimately help the Dallas Cowboys in the long run.
Clearly the Dallas Cowboys would be better served with the best possible players at as many positions as possible. With all coaching decisions and play-calling being equal, great field goal kicking can be a huge asset to a team with lofty postseason aspirations.
But in league where coaches let fear rule their decisions and often play to not lose rather than play to win, Maher’s struggles could lead Jason Garrett to go against his instincts and make different decisions on 4th down.
After suffering their second loss in as many weeks, the ire of Cowboys Nation largely fell upon their field goal kicker, Brett Maher. But what if Maher’s struggles lead to more 4th down conversion attempts? And what if the mathematicians are right (and they are #BecauseScience) and Dallas helps themselves score more points in the long-run? Then the Dallas Cowboys would be helped by Brett Maher’s struggles more than hurt and have a better blueprint to continued success going forward.
- Published on 10/08/2019 at 12:52 PM
- Last updated at 10/08/2019 at 12:57 PM