With a loss to the Redskins on Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys would leave themselves vulnerable to being eliminated from the playoffs by an Eagles win on Sunday Night. Heading into the fourth quarter, Tony Romo and company trailed 23-14. Starting from their own 20-yard line, the Cowboys drove to the Washington 35 before facing a 4th-and-1.
Fourth Down #1:
4th-and-1 converts around 70% and results in 22% win probability on a success and 7% win probability on a failure. E[WP] = 18%
In 2013, a 52-53 yard field goal converts about 62% and results in 17% win probability on a success and 6% win probability on a failure. E[WP] = 13%
E[WP] for a punt is a mere 9%.
Jason Garrett decided to go for it, this was the right decision. Unfortunately, Doug Free moved early forcing a 4th-and-6.
Fourth Down #2:
4th-and-6 converts around 45% and a 57-58 yard field goal converts just under 50%.
E[WP Go For It] = 13% > E[WP Field Goal] = 11% > E[WP Punt] = 9%
A much closer decision, but again, using league baselines, going for it is the optimal decision. Garrett decided to go for it and Tony Romo completed a 20-yard pass to Cole Beasley. Two-for-two so far.
The Cowboys continued to drive until they were ultimately stopped for a 4th-and-7 at the Redskins 7.
Fourth Down #3:
After one first down, the Redskins were forced to punt, giving the ball back to Tony Romo at the Dallas 13-yard line with just under four minutes remaining. The Cowboys drove down the goal line thanks to a 51-yard completion to Terrance Williams, but on 3rd-and-1, DeMarco Murray ran backward for a nine-yard loss, forcing 4th-and-Goal from the 10.
Fourth Down #4:
This one is a no brainer. Down six with no timeouts left, a field goal really does nothing to help the Cowboys. Their only chance to win is to convert (either through a TD on that play or penalty forcing a new set of downs). Romo completed the ball to a wide open DeMarco Murray underneath, who redeemed himself rushing to the pylon.
Garrett will in all likelihood not be praised for his decision-making, but had they failed to convert on the original 4th-and-6, I'm guessing people would have called that decision the end of their season (along with their epic collapse against the Packers last week). Four-for-four on fourth downs in the fourth quarter and they are still alive in the playoff hunt.
Keith Goldner is the Chief Analyst at numberFire.com - The leading fantasy sports analytics platform - and creator of Drive-By Football. Follow him on twitter @drivebyfootball or check out numberFire on Facebook.