I made this point in a comments thread, but I think it bears amplification because I think it's become cliche to just assume that the analytics say that you should ALWAYS go for it when it's 4th and short near or beyond midfield and that is simply just not the case.
Today, Mike Schoop has an article bemoaning the fact that we didn't go for it on 4th down after Stevie's drop.
But let's take a look at that. If you remember the situation was this: The Bills were leading 21-20. There were roughly 8-9 minutes left to go in the game and it was 4th and a very long 1 (I'm going to go ahead and say it was 4th and 2 based this GIF--warning you will be reliving bad memories). For the purposes of this discussion I used the graph from this article which illustrates the expected points of having a 1st and 10 at any given yardline.
The analytics say that if you are able to get a 1st and 10 a little past midfield is worth about 2 expected points. So that's what we had to gain: 2 points.
What did we stand to lose? I was unable to find any data on this subject, but I'm going to conservatively assume that if you punt from your own 48 yardline, the average opponent field position is about the 15 yard line.So if we punt the Patriots get it at the 15 yardline, which has an expected utility of about .1 points. If the Patriots get a 1st and 10 at midfield however the expected utility is 2.0 points, as we just mentioned. And so by not converting the 4th down we would cede 1.9 utility points to the Patriots.
The league average for converting a 4th and 2 is about 60 percent. So we stand a 60 percent chance of gaining 2.0 utility points. Meanwhile, we stand a 40 percent chance of losing 1.9 utility points. And thus, by a very, very, slim margin the analytics favor going for it on 4th down, all else being equal.
Of course, all else was not equal. Remember we had a 1 point lead midway through the 4th quarter and thus it is pretty apparent that in that situation, losing 1.9 expected points was an unacceptable result, while gaining 2.0 points was comparably less significant. So to me, the analytics say you punt.
And then there is also reason to be skeptical that we had a 60 percent chance of converting. We had been horrible on 3rd down conversions all day, and the offense was really not performing well.
This I think gets at a larger point which is that while it's definately true that there are many instances where NFL teams do not maximize their winning percentages by failing to go for it on 4th down, it's also true that an army of half wits have uncritically taken that observation and inexplicably come up with the idea that any time it is 4th and short-ish at or near-ish midfield, that DATA says to go for it. This is not true, as I hope I have demonstrated.
In fact, what the analytics truly bare out, based on my reading, is that you really want to be going for it on 4th and short when you are deep in the redzone, or in between the 40 and 25 yard lines. Those, to me, seemto be the low hanging fruit, the obvious mistake that a lot of coaches typically make. But then again, something tells me if Marone goes for it on a 4th and 1 at the 9 and we don't get it nobody will want to hear that.