Down six to the Steelers on the road, Michael Vick and the Eagles took the field near the start of the fourth quarter. After three short gains, the Eagles faced a 4th-and-1 from their own 30-yard line. In today's NFL, this is an easy decision for coaches: Teams punt the ball over 90% of the time. Since there was still significant time remaining in a one score game, it's safe to assume that the Eagles should have performed similarly to a score and time-agnostic situation (although obviously it had some factor in Reid's decision).
Reid was feeling some extra confidence from his tufty moustache, so he decided to go for it. I mentioned it was an easy decision for coaches to punt, but is it the right decision?
On 4th-and-1 from your own 30, the league-average success rate is 74%. Both using win probability and expected points, we can see that the correct decision is to go for it if you believe you can convert above 56-58% of the time.
The conversion increased the Eagles chances of winning to 24% and they would continue the drive. No praise for Andy, though. He would only be ridiculed if the decision had failed. Five plays later, he faced another fourth down, this time from the Steelers 47-yard line. At this point, Andy was all-in and with the clock becoming more of a factor, he once again made the correct decision to go for it.
A success increases the Eagles win probability to 32%, a failure drops it to 12% making the break-even point for deciding to go for it over a punt a mere 30% conversion rate.
The Eagles would convert on two more third downs on the drive capping off a 17-play 79-yard TD drive that lasted over 8 minutes. Unfortunately, too much time was left on the clock as Big Ben orchestrated a game-winning field goal drive.
No one will remember Andy's "gutsy" correct calls since they lost; and he would have been crucified had either of the attempts failed -- in particular, the first one. As always, it's important to evaluate these decisions based on the process, rather than the outcome.
You can also see the development of this noteworthy, yet ultimately unimportant drive using our Markov model:
As a side note, the Eagles also burned two timeouts early in the second-half that ultimately could have had a huge impact on the result of the game. That is an Andy Reid specialty.
Keith Goldner is the creator of Drive-By Football, and Chief Analyst at numberFire.com - The leading fantasy sports analytics platform. Follow him on twitter @drivebyfootball or check out numberFire on Facebook.