Mad Math on Fourth-and-1 and How Numbers Don’t Lie

It happened again today, sadly this time involving our beloved Buffalo Bills. Head coach Thomas Chandler Gailey faced a fourth down with less than one yard to go and — as he should — decided to go for it.

I’m not a fan of punting, but there is one call that galls me over any other: turning around and handing off to a running back. The Bills did it unsuccessfully today with Fred Jackson and it set me over the edge of numbers fan to numbers nerd. Yes, I would be combing through box scores in the vain hope of proving a point: when you need three feet, don’t move in the other direction before trying to get it.

So what did I do? I went through literally every play of the 2011 season leading up about 5:35 p.m. today. Sixty-two times this year, a team has “gone for it” on 4th-and-1 or 4th-and-inches.

— Not surprisingly, 81 percent of plays were runs, with just 19 percent being designed passes.

— Of those 50 run plays, the QB kept the ball just 15 times (30 percent). The data does not show if any of those plays were scrambles out of passing calls, but only one was for more than three yards (Tampa’s Josh Johnson for eight).

— The other 35 times found the quarterback handing off to a running back.

Now for the success rates:

— Perhaps because of the defense being geared up for a run, pass plays were successful 83 percent of the time, with just two failures. One of those successes was Ryan Fitzpatrick’s connection to David Nelson in Buffalo’s Week Two comeback win over the Raiders.

— When the QB has rushed the ball on 4th-and-1, it has been successful all but once, 93 percent of the time. Fourteen successes to go with just one failure, the miss being Kansas City’s late game stuff of Philip Rivers in Week Three.

That leaves the 35 RB runs. Now, I expected the QB runs to yield a far better return rate than the back runs, but no way did I expect this: only 11 of 35 times did the back gain a yard or more. That’s a horrendous 69% failure rate at trying to move forward three feet or less.

Time and time again on the UB broadcasts this year, you’ve heard myself or Scott Wilson call for the QB keeper on any 4th-and-1. I don’t see these demands changing any time soon. I mean, LOOK at this photo:

Now look at it again with my Van Gogh-esque artwork added:

Just fall forward, dudes. It”s football, not rocket science. You wanna give it to a back? “Have fun storming the castle.”


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