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Blog Entry

To punt or not to punt

Posted on: December 28, 2010 9:07 am
 
D. Brees and J. Graham celebrate a New Orleans win (Getty). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

ATLANTA – In the immediate aftermath of the Falcons 17-14 loss to the Saints on Monday night, an interesting debate arose about coach Mike Smith’s decision to punt on fourth and six from the Atlanta 43 with 2:52 to play, his team holding two timeouts and losing by three points.

Personally, I liked the decision. The Falcons defense had been whipping the Saints offensive line for most of the game and Drew Brees hadn’t played extraordinarily well. Atlanta fans seemed upset at the move, but I didn’t mind it all.

That’s not how Brian Burke of the NY Times saw it. This morning, he wrote that, stastically, it made sense for the Falcons to take their chances and go for the first down.

From the Times:

The conversion attempt would have been the percentage play, by a margin of 0.23 to 0.15 (in Win Probability). One way to think of it is that the Falcons’ decision to punt lopped between a third and a half off their chance of winning. …

I also think game-specific considerations would tend to favor going for the conversion and keeping the ball out of Drew Brees’s hands. Normally offenses ahead in that situation are very reluctant to do anything but run straight ahead, making them predictable and easy to stop. But the Saints trust Brees to make completions.


He makes a good point about Brees’ ability. The Saints ended up converting two first downs and running out the clock, and in part, that was because Brees completed seven-yard passes to TE Jimmy Graham and RB Pierre Thomas that gave New Orleans second-and-short and third-and-short situations in which Thomas could run for the first down with ease.

Smith, though, thought he made the right call.

“Definitely thought it was the right thing to do,” Smith said. “On fourth and six, we felt like the way we’d been playing defensively, and we had two timeouts and we hopefully could wrap one around the two-minute warning. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done there at the end.”

The problem, I think, was that the Falcons defense seemed to tire a little, because suddenly, the New Orleans offensive line began picking up the Atlanta front four with relative ease.

“I think it was a little bit of that (fatigue),” DE Jamaal Anderson said. “But they’re the Super Bowl champions. They know what to do in those situations. They rally.”

And though I don’t think Smith made a bad decision, the Saints took advantage of a conservative play-call that might have cost his team a chance to win the game. Thus, he opens himself up to the easy second-gues.

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Since: Nov 3, 2006
Posted on: December 28, 2010 10:00 am
 

To punt or not to punt

The play in that situation should ALWAYS be to go for it on fourth down.  If you succeed (Ryan is a 65% passer) your drive stays alive.  Even if you fall short you can still use your time outs, the 2 minute warning and stop them without points.  If the opposing team takes over at the 43 they STILL have to make a first down.  Let's say they gain 8 yards and are facing fourth down on the 35.  Then what do they do?  By going for the first down you are giving yourself two chances to win, not just one.


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