The Falcons lost to the Saints in overtime on Sunday after a controversial decision by Atlanta head coach Mike Smith to go for it on fourth down. Like any other coach would for a gutsy call gone wrong, Smith has been crucified in the media. Facing a fourth and inches at his own 30-yard line, Smith decided to let his offense try to keep the drive alive. The Falcons had moved the ball on the ground against New Orleans all afternoon, rushing for 138 yards including 96 from Michael Turner — the man who was stuffed on the play. If Atlanta converted and went on to win, it’s a ballsy call by a coach who trusted his offense. Since they failed to pick up less than a yard, many have said it was a bonehead move from someone who doesn’t trust his defense.
Here at LBS, we were on both sides of the fence. On one side you have Del, who argues that no matter what you should always give your defense a chance to stop the other team when you are that deep in your own territory. On the other side is L.B., who is a strong advocate for going for it since the odds of picking up less than a yard are heavily in the offense’s favor.
As Pro Football Talk pointed out, the website AdvancedNFLStats.com crunched some numbers that help make sense of the situation. Their statisticians determined that if the Falcons punted, they had a 42% chance of winning. If they converted the fourth down play, they would have had a 57% chance of winning. They also unveiled that teams going for it on fourth-and-one convert 74% of the time. Considering the Falcons were facing fourth-and-inches, it would stand to reason that they stood an even better chance of converting.