OT in the HOU-WAS Game: Punt or Field Goal?

My weekly post at the Washington Post's Redskins Insider site breaks down the decision making in overtime of the Texans-Redskins game Sunday. Both Kubiak and Shanahan faced the nearly identical situations: 4th down on the opponent's 34. One punted and one attempted the field goal. Which coach made the right call?
And yes...I know the commenters there are buffoons.

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25 Responses to “OT in the HOU-WAS Game: Punt or Field Goal?”

  1. Joseph says:

    Brian, I thought I read that for Houston's attempt, Kubiak didn't want to go for it because it was INTO the wind, whereas WAS was WITH the wind. Also, I thought that most K's tell their coach before the game what their outside range will be based on the conditions of the field, wind, etc.
    Assuming that the FG attempt wasn't an option for the Texans because Rackers didn't think he could make it because of kicking into the wind, shouldn't they have just GONE FOR IT? What would their WPA be for that? [IMO, not converting is even a better option than a missed FG, because the Skins would have taken over ~7 yds closer to their goalline {assuming an imcomplete pass if HOU doesn't convert on 4th down}--whereas converting means you should DEFINITELY be in FG range, and have at least 3 chances to get closer.]

  2. Ian says:

    Love the commenters over there. I'm surprised some of them know how to use a keyboard. Especially liked the guy who said "you see why coaches use their gut in these situations". Yeah, because a multi-million dollar earning coach isn't going to want to know the odds even in the slightest.

  3. MattyP says:

    Wow - those comments are priceless.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Brian, what is the breakeven rate in FG% to make it equal to punting?

  5. Brian Burke says:

    I'm surprised that Kubiak would say winds were a factor. They were very light that day, and inside that stadium the wind can be non-existent.

    But that's certainly sound logic. I can't fault him for that.

  6. Brian Burke says:


  7. Adam Davis says:

    The comments are horrible, disrespectful, ignorant. And I hate to admit, but they are actually so bad that they made me laugh. It's like Beavis & Butthead or Dumb & Dumber. They were so juvenile and asinine that I couldn't help but chuckle.

  8. Jason says:

    Brian, while I love your analysis and generally agree with you, I have to admit that when you state the odds as 71% vs. 65% and state that the guy choosing the 65% "made the wrong decision," you're probably coming off as a bit too strong, given that there are other factors (like wind) that could figure into the decision. The comment by RedSkinHead states it a bit less succinctly, but if I were you, I might want to sound a little less certain when the percentages are so close.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Has anyone done an analysis of field goal accuracy and wind conditions? Other weather factors that I'd also like to see data on is temperature, altitude, dome/no-dome, and preciptation.

    Certainly the dome/no-dome should be easiest to do.

  10. Anonymous says:

    because WP uses league averages i always think it is important to look at the actual game in question to evaluate the possible options.

    take the 65% winning for the punt as an example. in this game the percentage is surely to high. the redskins had no problem moving the ball. at this point in the game they had about 400y of offense and scored 27 points. well above league average.

    i actually think given the information at the time the best course of action for houston would have been to go for it on 4th down. a conversion all but seals the win while a failure doesn't give your opponent dramatically better field position than a punt.

  11. Eddie says:

    That was the total yardage for the game, but on the previous 4 drives, the Redskins had a total of 29 yards of offense, so Kubiak might have been feeling pretty good about his defense's chances at that point.

    I also looked at the WP calculator, and if I did my math correctly, going for it on 4th down is also 71% winning probability. I think the take away here is that Kubiak should have done anything other than give the ball away.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I would like to see the analysis on whether the Saints should have gone for it on 4th and goal instead of kicking the FG to give them an 8 point lead.

  13. fracman says:

    Texans fan here. Kubiak and Rackers made the following statements after the game about the decision:

    1. There was a wind and Kubiak felt Racker's chance at making the kick was less than normal. Rackers admitted that the kick was within a couple of yards of what he considers his effective range.

    2. Kubiak was confident in Turk's ability to pin them.

    3. Kubiak felt that the defensive momentum was with them.

    What I get out of your analysis is that the decision between punting and trying the field goal was close (71 vs 65) and that the coach's feelings about the actual chances for that particular situation could easily tip it one way or the other.

    What I want to give Kubiak credit for is the fact that he made the choice he truly felt would give them the best chance to win the game, NOT the choice that was defensible or put the onus on the players. If Kubiak had allowed the kick and Rackers missed it the blame would be put on Rackers. Punt and lose the game and the blame is on Kubiak.

    It was a gutsy call that you can argue with for sure. But it wasn't idiotic nor was it indefensible, both comments I've heard a lot down here in Houston.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Going for 4th down doesn't make sense in that scenario. The reason that going for it usually has an advantage is because you can get a TD, but in OT, that is irrelevant. All you need to do is score.

  15. Memphis MOJO says:

    Love the commenters over there. I'm surprised some of them know how to use a keyboard.

    Actually, most of them know how to use a keyboard, but they have a problem of drooling all over it.

  16. Ian says:

    Anon - surely that's all the more reason to go for it. Unless deep in their own territory, the offense is always more likely to score the next points than the defense. Thus possession is even more crucial in OT than the rest of the game. Going for 4th and 4 might have been silly, but what if Kubiak had played 3rd down knowing he would likely have gone for it on 4th and short. All too often it seems coaches don't take into account the resulting 4th down when they make third down calls. They seem to think "third down, right I need to convert" then if that fails they think "oh look, it's 4th and X, now what?".

  17. Jeff Clarke says:

    I sort of feel like the wind was a specious argument. There didn't really appear to me to be much wind at all. It certainly didn't look overly significant. On a more macro level, I'd love to see a study of how much impact the wind has. It seems like everybody knows its a factor but nobody can quantify exactly how much. It would be great to have a formula that says X mph wind is equivalent to lengthening the kick Y yards. Could a show like sport science hire a kicker to do 200 practice kicks at both ends of a windy field? Could they build some sort of kicking robot and "kick" 1000 balls into various speeds in a wind tunnel? My hypothesis is that a slight breeze doesn't make much difference. I guess Kubiak's hypothesis is that it does. It doesn't seem like either of us have much real data to basis that on.

    I really disagree with the statement that 6 percent of wp makes the decision "close". I think 6% is actually a pretty big amount. If a coach makes 1 6% mistake a game, it will add up to an entire win over the course of a year. One win is very often the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. Its also the difference between a first round bye and no first round bye. Thats just 1 6% mistake a game. Some coaches routinely make multiple 6% mistakes.

  18. Tarr says:

    I argued the day of that they should have gone for it on 4th down. This potentially changes the play calling on 3rd down, too. 10 more yards make a huge difference in the chance of making the kick.

    On the flip side, I definitely agreed with Shanahan's call, because it was 4th and 8.

  19. Ian says:

    Just did a very quick number crunch on the 2005 play-by-play data and there's an interesting trend in the data. Teams that passed on 3rd and longer than 5 and ended up with a 4th and 1 went for it half of the time. Teams that rushed on 3rd and longer and ended up in 4th and 1 went for it two-thirds of the time.

    I'd want more data to draw conclusions, but that does seem to suggest that some coaches feel 3rd down is a 'must convert' down, hence why they are passing whereas others utilise the run to get to a very convertible 4th and short.

  20. Brian Burke says:

    That's pretty cool. How many observations does that cover? Even in just a single year there must be lots.

  21. Zach says:

    "In overtime, teams with a first down at their own 10 have a 35 percent chance of winning, meaning the punting team could expect a 65 percent chance of prevailing."

    "So 45 percent of the time, the opponent takes over with a first down at its own 41. This equates to a 35 percent chance of winning for the kicking team."

    Are the 35% WPs just a coincidence, or a typo?

  22. Brian Burke says:

    Not a typo. An offense has a 0.35 WP from its own 10, and a 0.65 WP from its own 41. They just happen to be complements.

  23. Ian says:

    It was 100-odd passes and around 25 rushes. Obviously there were also a lot of things not controlled for (field position, score etc) but it struck me as being quite a large difference on something that shouldn't matter to decision making (i.e. it's 4th and 1 either way, it shouldn't matter whether you passed or rushed to it).

    More investigation work needed I feel, but it has got me thinking.

  24. Ian says:

    Ok, I've looked at more 4th down data and it seems I was being fooled by small sample size. A t-test on more data reveals that there is no significant difference in 4th and 1 'go for it' choices between whether the team got there by air or ground.

  25. Andy says:

    The ignorance level of washington post blog readers compared to the nytimes readers last year is statistically significant, and kind of sad.

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