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Doug Pederson has brought fearlessness to the NFL

The 4th down revolution is here

Indianapolis Colts v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

There are a lot of perks when you win the Super Bowl, but there are also a few drawbacks. One is that everyone wants to be like you, “it’s a copycat league” still applies. Teams try to mimic player usage, or a drafting philosophy, or a style of play. They also try to import the ideas by hiring coaches from the winning team. The Eagles have seen that happen, as Doug Pederson’s top two offensive assistants got promotions with other teams. The other big area to copy without hiring anyone is Pederson’s trademark aggression on 4th down.

But 4th downs are big risk. With most teams six games into the season, it’s a good time to check if teams are really following Pederson’s lead or not.

They are.

Early in the season it was clear that when teams went for it, they were doing so almost exclusively when 1 or 2 yards was needed for a first down. That’s logical, as getting 1 yard is far easier than getting 4, and with 2 yards being the distance needed for a 2 point conversion, a short yardage do or die situation is both practiced and planned for. But it was unclear if coaches would stick with it, or if the early results were just an aberration in a small sample size. With the season a third of the way over, the results are clear.

Through 6 weeks of 2017 on 4th and 2 or less on or inside their opponent’s 40 in the first three quarters, and not counting end/near end of half field goals (in other words, short yardage in field goal range and not in desperation time), coaches that weren’t Doug Pederson went for it 45% of the time.

This season in the same situations, coaches that aren’t Doug Pederson have gone for it 61% of the time. And they’re doing so consistently, the attempt rate is 50% or better every week of the season.

Coaches are even coming out of their shells a bit on longer distances. With the above parameters but with a distance of 3 to 10 yards to go, coaches went for it 5% of the time last season. This season that rate has doubled, they’ve gone for it 10% of the time. These are seismic changes.

For years many fans and an increasing amount of analysts have begged and pleaded with coaches to go for it more often, arguing that the reward justifies the risk. It did for Doug Pederson, and it is for coaches. So far this season there have been 30 4th and short attempts. 13 of them either scored a touchdown on the play or the drive resulted in a touchdown, 6 were converted but the drive resulted in a field goal, while 10 failed to gain a first down, and 1 was converted but the drive later ended on a failed fourth and long attempt (the Bills trying a fake field goal). This season the league average field goal conversion rate is 84.4%, if we apply that to the 30 attempts we would expect 75 points to be scored.

In reality, teams have scored 122 points, an average of 4 points an attempt. Teams are converting on 67% of attempts. 65% of teams that convert are turning would be field goal attempts into drives ending with a touchdown.

Coaches going for it on 4th and short should be here to stay, and it’s an overdue and welcome change. Everyone can thank Doug Pederson for it.

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