Saints Shocked: 4th Down Decision

RGIII was the only rookie quarterback to win on Sunday, when his Redskins took down the Saints 40-32. Brees was pressured heavily all game and while it's extremely difficult to quantify the value of coaching, people are wondering what kind of effect the loss of Sean Payton will mean.

One immediate impact is strategic decision-making. Sean Payton is known for his risky decisions. And by that, I mean he is known for those decisions that are publicly perceived as "risky," even if they are the statistically correct decision. Last year, the Saints were the No. 8 team in terms of win probability forfeited on 4th down (meaning they were in the top quarter of the league in 4th-down decision-making). So, what did we learn on Sunday?

With just about 2:00 to play in the 3rd quarter, down 30-14 already, the Saints were faced with a 4th-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Below you can see the results from the 4th-Down Calculator:

Down 16, the Saints win probability was at 5%. A missed field goal or turnover-on-downs both result in a loss of 4%, leaving them with just a 1% chance of winning the game. In reality, these numbers are probably over-conservative given the Saints ability to score and score quickly. Going for it on 4th-and-3 converts at a rate of 49% on average. In that situation, a touchdown means the Saints win probability would jump dramatically to 16%, leaving their expected win probability at 8% when going for it. A field goal keeps it a two-score game and win probability would only increase marginally.

So, if you are Sean Payton, the decision is fairly clear cut. But, interim head coach Aaron Kromer is not Sean Payton. Kromer takes the field goal, diminishing the Saints' comeback chances even further.

One theory for inefficient coaching decisions is the lack of job security. Coaches are scared to go against the group mentality for fear of losing their job when the outcome is bad. Teams need to learn to evaluate decisions based on the process, rather than the outcome. In this case, Kromer has nothing to lose by making a "risky" decision. Sean Payton will be the Saints head coach of the future. The only reason Kromer would stay away from those kind of decisions is if he is treating this opportunity as a future job interview.

Let's be clear, this decision did not lose the game for the Saints. One play does not a game make. If Kromer wants to maximize his team's chances of winning, though, he may want to think more like his predecessor. 

Keith Goldner is the creator of Drive-By Football, and Chief Analyst at - The leading fantasy sports analytics platform.  Follow him on twitter @drivebyfootball or check out numberFire on Facebook

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7 Responses to “Saints Shocked: 4th Down Decision”

  1. James says:

    I thought the exact same thing - "Payton would go for this!"

  2. Misfit says:

    Nicely done.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I can't wait to see Lovie Smith. Wooo, I feel like he's bad at decisions. 20 secs left in the 3rd, lets the clock expire to the 4th, oh wait the play clock isn't over 20 secs, challenge flag!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I wanna see how bad GB's fourth down punting was in terms of WP forfeiture. We were really, really, really terrible on that front last night.

  5. Mark B says:

    Wait til Joe Vitt!

  6. Anonymous says:


    There were 3-4 times where I yelled "C'MON GO FOR IT YOU IDIOTS"

    I also pulled up the 4th down chart for my friends in the room.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Sean Payton's way of thinking is similar to that of head coach Kevin Kelley of Pulaski Academy who does not punt. Over almost a 10 year period, he has proven that not punting and istead going for it does not negatively effect your overall record. In fact, it has done the opposite. Great article. Two things I would love to see. Less punting in the NFL, and elminate the extra point and make it a 2-point try instead.

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