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Doug Pederson is still the king of fourth downs

The league has followed the leader

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskins Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

In just three seasons, Doug Pederson has already built himself an impressive legacy. There is of course the Super Bowl 52 win, which on its own is enough to make him an Eagles legend, and it is amplified by outcoaching the best coach of his era if not of all time. But his lasting legacy in the NFL looks to be that he changed the league’s attitude on fourth down attempts.

For years a growing number of fans and writers have begged coaches to keep the offense on the field on fourth and short in opposition territory. The failed attempts would easily be offset by the gains. Since the first game, Doug Pederson listened to those calls. In 2016 he led the league in total fourth down attempts, and in attempts in the first three quarters (over half of fourth down attempts are in the fourth quarter or overtime, when coaches hands are forced). The league didn’t care. In 2017, coaches not only didn’t take notice, they actually went for it less often than they did in 2016. But then the Philly Special happened, and it changed the NFL.

Looking at the first three quarters only of 4th and 2 or less, excluding FG attempts within 30 seconds of the end of the first half, and excluding Doug Pederson’s attempts, we can see that the league got its act together overnight.

4th Down Attempts

Year Att %
Year Att %
2018 65.2
2017 48.2
2016 52.3

In 2018, the league took both the philosophy behind the Philly Special and the actual play itself.

But Doug Pederson is still the king of aggressiveness, and he gets the more out of it than most coaches. To illustrate this, I came with a not-at-all-serious but still revealing matrix measuring a coach’s aggressiveness (how often they go for it on fourth down in any situation in the first three quarters) and the fruits of their labor (how often they convert those attempts into first downs [or touchdowns]). It’s called BALLS, or Being Aggressive Lends Likely Success (full credit to BLG for the backronym).

Even though the league upped it’s fourth down game, nobody goes for it more than Doug Pederson, and even though everyone knows he does this, he still converts at an above average rate. And though some teams are better at converting those fourth down attempts, what good does that do a team if they’re going for it often?

For fun, let’s look at Doug Pederson vs the rest of the league during his head coaching career.

Doug Pederson changed the way the game is played, which is an incredible contribution. And yet the league hasn’t caught up to him, giving him an advantage.

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