Bears' Fake Punt vs. Saints?

With a 7-point lead and 7:44 left in the 4th quarter, the Bears faced a 4th and 4 from their own 47 yard line. Chicago faked the punt as punter Brad Maynard threw to receiver Adrian Peterson. It was close to being caught, but ultimately ruled incomplete. Was this a good call by head coach Lovie Smith?

I don’t think we have enough information to have a solid idea how likely that exact play would succeed in that particular game situation. But what I will do is estimate how often a fake punt would have to be successful for Smith’s play call to make sense.

With a 7-point lead and about 7 minutes to go in the game, a team that punts from its own 47 can expect a win probability (WP) of 0.79. That is, they’d win about 79% of the time. A team that turns the ball over on downs at the 47 would have a WP of 0.57.

If a fake punt-pass were successful, a 1st down and 10 on the opponent’s 40 yard line would yield a WP of about 0.95. A completed pass might have put the game on ice.

The break-even probability of success (Ps) for the fake punt to make it worth-while can be calculated as follows:

0.79 = 0.95*Ps + 0.57*(1-Ps)
0.38*Ps = 0.22
Ps = 0.58

So the fake punt play would have to be successful at least 58% of the time to make the risk worth it. That’s pretty high, and it’s only the break-even point. So I doubt it was a good call, but can't say conclusively.

This analysis doesn’t factor in the potency of the Saint’s offense, which was what I’d bet Lovie Smith was thinking of when he made the call. But that consideration works on both sides of the equation. Failing to convert for the 1st down would have handed the ball to the Saints offense in very favorable field position. Plus, the Saints would have had a fair chance of scoring even with the punt. Chicago’s defense isn’t exactly filled with slouches, and had been holding their own all game. I can’t be certain it’s a complete wash, but it’s pretty close.

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5 Responses to “Bears' Fake Punt vs. Saints?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hello. First time commenter here. I have some questions for you regarding data. I don't want to clog up you comment area, as it may get a little long. If you could shoot me an email at mcunius@luzerne.edu, I'd appreciate it. Thanks.

    -Mike

  2. Anonymous says:

    It wouldn't shock me if a fake punt has a high probabilty of success. I remember reading somewhere (FO?) that onside kicks are recovered at a 1/7 or 1/8 rate when anticipated at the end of game whereas unexpected kicks were recovered more than half the time. 4 yards is not an insurmountable gain, so I don't know that it's a horrible call. You could argue that a 20 yard pass was not the best designed play but the other AP did catch the ball thrown into double coverage and subsequently fumbled it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    re #2
    "It wouldn't shock me if a fake punt has a high probabilty of success. I remember reading somewhere (FO?) that onside kicks are recovered at a 1/7 or 1/8 rate when anticipated at the end of game whereas unexpected kicks were recovered more than half the time. 4 yards is not an insurmountable gain, so I don't know that it's a horrible call."

    Don't forget that for a fake punt you usually have worse offensive players trying to convert. While 4 yards isn't a particularly tough 3rd down conversion that would be with your top QB and RB in, not your punter potentially throwing the ball to your 2nd or 3rd string RB.

  4. Jarhead says:

    How does this tie in to your "no man's land" article?

    How many of the 4th down conversion ties in your no man's land were fake punts of fake field goals? How many were botched punts or field goals. Does one have to go to the play by play for each game for the stats. The play by play in the Game Book only reads (punt formation)...how does one know if it was a true fake or a pass attempt on a botched play?

  5. Brian Burke says:

    True. 3rd and 4s are converted 50% of the time. Ideally, 4th and 4s should have the same expected success rate.

    Jarhead-Good question. From 2000-2007, 41 of the 2354 pass attempts on 4th down (1.7%) were from the "punt formation." 60 of the 1388 run attempts (4.3%) were from the punt formation. I suspect a few of those would not have been called plays but aborted punt attempts. In total, 2.7% of all 4th down conversion attempts were from the punt formation.

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