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Doug Pederson may still have the market cornered on 4th down attempts

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Other coaches may have crawled back into their shell

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last week we looked at if teams are now suddenly going for it more on 4th down, having been emboldened by Doug Pederson and the Super Bowl. For one week at least, they were, though only when faced with 4th and 2 or less.

Another week gives us double the games to observe. We won’t look at this every week, but fads in the NFL tend to die quickly, so looking at it in Week 2 makes sense. Dirk Koetter, who has gone for it on 4th and short in opponent’s territory only once in his head coaching career, explains the hesitation:

The percentages say you should go for it almost every time. We’ve studied the analytics on it and the problem with looking at it like that – those are all looking at all fourth downs over the course of the season. You might get three in a row, but if I don’t get it in this particular game, we might be losing, and I might be out of here. We’ve got a plan for every game. We have a plan for the season and then we do an analytical plan based on the team we’re playing. There’s analytic number that tell you what to do on every play, but this game isn’t played by computers. It’s combination there – you’ve got to make decisions in real time and not look back.

That’s exactly the opposite of Doug Pederson’s philosophy. Sunday’s game was case in point for both. Dirk Koetter didn’t go for it, and he got the win. In his mind, the ends justified the means. But while Doug Pederson, who went for it in that game, lost, he won the Super Bowl with that aggression. All Koetter did was increase his job security for this year. Pederson already has his.

So would teams stay aggressive in Week 2, following Pederson’s lead? Yes and no.

In the first two games in 2017 coaches who aren’t Doug Pederson went for it on 29% of 39 attempts. In 2018, they went for it on 41% of 24 attempts. That’s a significant increase, and a sign that Pederson has changed the league. But that alone doesn’t tell the story.

  • The total increase over the first two games entirely from Week 1, when coaches who aren’t Doug Pederson went for it on 5 of 10 opportunities. In their second game of 2017, coaches who aren’t Doug Pederson went for it on 4th and 2 or less on 5 of 16 opportunities. In their second game of 2018, coaches who aren’t Doug Pederson went for it on 4th and 2 or less on... 5 of 16 opportunities, exactly the same as the year prior. With such a small amount of opportunities, it could mean nothing. Or it could be an indication that coaches weren’t swayed by Week 1.

When faced with a similar scenario in Week 2, teams that went for it Week 1 usually chose to send out their special teams.

  • Up 7-0 at midfield against the Cardinals in Week 1, the Redskins went for it on 4th and 1 and converted. On Sunday, trailing against the Colts and with the ball in Colts territory, Jay Gruden twice punted on 4th and 4.
  • In Week 1 the Falcons went for it on the goal line at 0-0, then didn’t from the 3. In Week 2 Dan Quinn was faced with 4th and 4 in Panthers territory and up 24-10, he punted.
  • The one coach who did go for it in both weeks did so bizarrely. In Week 1, down 13-6, the Giants kicked a field goal from the Jaguars 26, then down 13-9 they went for it on 4th and 2 from the Jaguars 38. In Week 2, down 7-0, Pat Shurmur punted from 4th and 1 from his 48 on his first possession, drawing the ire of everyone watching Sunday Night Football. Perhaps someone said something to him. In the 2nd quarter, down 10-0, he went for it on 4th and 1 from his own 35 and then again that drive on 4th and 1 from the Giants 46. Such inconsistency does not indicate that the Giants have a coherent plan for 4th downs.

Most teams that went for it in Week 2 didn’t have a 4th and short opportunity the week before. However one team did have such an opportunity in both games, and was inconsistent.

  • In Week 1, the Rams had 4th and goal from the Raiders 2 with 2:43 left in the half and down 10-7. Sean McVay opted for the field goal. In Week 2 with 2 seconds left in the first half and 4th and goal from the 2 and up 11-0 against the Cardinals, the Rams ran the ball. Pederson’s 4th down philosophy is to use it to keep his foot on the gas on a good drive, McVay seemingly is content to take conservative approach and take it off when trailing.

Perhaps though that is better than having no plan. The Seahawks and Lions are the only teams to punt from opponents territory on 4th and 2 or less, both doing so in Week 2, and both were in 0-0 games. Both teams also went on to lose by one score.

On one hand it is good for the league that teams went for it and lost in Week 1, and the coaches league wide didn’t crawl back into their shell alongside the Dirk Koetters of the world. However with such a small sample size, there have been few opportunities for coaches to show that they’re going to methodically stick with it like Doug Pederson does. At the very least, no one has the consistency that Doug Pederson has, and if so the Eagles retain that advantage.