If you're like me, you were upset when you found out that the Cowboys didn't re-sign Mat McBriar, and even more upset when the Eagles did sign him. Watching Chris Jones on Monday Night made me realize how good we had it with McBriar. Even the Raiders backup punter seemed better. I actually found myself liking his attitude and excitement, and wondering if we could pick him up after the Raiders inevitably cut him.
Then, while I was working yesterday, an epiphany struck me. Indulge me for a moment, after the jump.
What if, and I say this as a big "if", the Cowboys simply decided not to punt this year? I am completely serious.
The reason I pose this is due to something I had been reading about for the last few years. Gregg Easterbrook, otherwise known as TMQ (or the only reasonably respectable blogger on BSPN.com) has been a proponent of this theory for the last few seasons, and I am starting to buy into it.
I will let one of the coaches who had begun developing this idea, Kevin Kelley from Pulaski Academy in Arkansas explain it to you.
"They give you four downs, not three," Kelley told TMQ. "You should take advantage. Suppose we had punted from our own 5. The odds are the opposition will take over at about the 35, and from there the stats say they have an 80 percent chance of scoring. So even if you only have a 50 percent chance of converting the first down, isn't that better than giving the other side an 80 percent chance of scoring?" For fourth-and-short attempts, the odds of converting are a lot better than 50 percent.
So, he claims for fourth-and-short attempts the odds of converting are better than 50%. TMQ puts the number at a little higher for NFL teams, 75%.
So, if we have a 75% chance of going for it, why kick it away? TMQ has this this to say.
Nearly three-quarters of fourth-and-1 attempts succeed, while around one-third of possessions result in scores. Think about those fractions. Go for it four times on fourth-and-1: Odds are you will keep the ball three times, and three kept possessions each with a one-third chance of a score results in your team scoring once more than it otherwise would have. Punt the ball on all four fourth-and-1s, and you've given the opponents three additional possessions. (It would have gotten one possession anyway when you missed one of your fourth-and-1s.) Those three extra possessions, divided by the one-third chance to score, give the opponent an extra score.
I can say that after reading many of his articles, I am firmly on the "don't punt" bandwagon. Nearly all of the teams that have adopted this philosophy (that I have been able to find) have gone on to see winning records dramatically improve, simply due to getting an extra score, and taking an extra score away from your opponents, resulting in a 6-14 point swing. Imagine if the score on some of our games last year swung 6-14 points in our favor, just from going for it 4 times in a game?
The reason many coaches won't go for it is that it flies in the face of common football knowledge. Everyone knows if you are outside of field goal range, to punt on fourth down. I say, why waste a down? If teams gain on average 4 yards per play (every team in the NFL did last year, stats found here) then logic dictates we go for it on nearly every fourth down, particularly if it is inside of 4 yards. Keep the full playbook wide open.
It's inventive, and a brand new idea for the NFL. Something to change the game up. Something to improve our scoring chances, take chances away from the other team, and put some faith in our defense, which is supposed to be a good unit this year.
There is even a paper here from a professor of economics, who did some studying of NFL teams, and concluded that they should always go for it. (2005 Paper by David Romer) I don't know if I would go that far-I could see punting in a situation where we are on our own side of the 50, but the idea is still sound.
Romer studied every game from 1998 to 2004, and found this interesting information, paraphrased by TMQ
First, inside the opponent's 45, go for a first down on any fourth-and-7 or less, unless a field goal would decide the game. Second, inside the opponent's 33, go for a first down on fourth-and-10 or less, unless a field goal decides. In Romer's sample years there were 1,068 fourth downs in which the above formulas said go for the first down, yet NFL coaches kicked all but 109 times -- meaning they went for it only about 10 percent as often as they should have. Finally, Romer's numbers say that an NFL team should try for the first down on any fourth-and-4 or less, regardless of where the ball is on the field. Of course some fourth-down tries would go down in flames and even create easy scores for the other side. But over the course of a season of rarely punting, Romer maintains, the team that eschewed the punt would score more than it otherwise would, while its opponents would score less.
Again, I would punt to protect a lead, and almost always from inside my own 20, but this logic seems sound to me. San Diego State (admittedly not a powerhouse) is also on the "don't punt" brigade (click here to read).
Jason Garrett, or any NFL team at this point, will most likely not go for this idea, due to how often the media would crucify them for not succeeding, and how Jerry Jones would probably feel about it, but I am now of the opinion that this idea is part of a valid offense game plan.
So, to conclude my first FanPost, I ask you, the members of BTB, what do you think of this "No Punting" Theory?