Mike Smith’s gamble heard around the NFC South isn’t getting the same attention as Bill Belichick’s fourth down call against the Colts two years ago.
That’s for a few reasons. It happened during a 1 p.m. game that wasn’t on everywhere nationally. Falcons-Saints is a rivalry that doesn’t get enough attention. Smith isn’t a lightning rod for discussion like Belichick.
Right after the game, I wrote that I had no problem with the decision. Smith was playing to win the game instead of trying not to lose. If the smashmouth Falcons can’t pick up a foot on the Saints, they don’t deserve to win.
Statistical analysis and Falcons players both support Smith’s call.
Brian Burke, a former Navy pilot who runs AdvancedNFLStats.com, crunched the numbers. If the Falcons punted to the Saints, they had a 42% chance of winning. If they converted the fourth down, they would have had a 57% chance of winning.
Teams going for fourth-and-one convert 74% of the time. Considering the distance was more like a foot, and the Falcons ran well all day on New Orleans, I believe Atlanta had a better chance than that to convert.
The numbers tend to oversimplify, but Burke says the Falcons increased their chances of winning by 5% by going for it. It wasn’t really “rolling the dice.” It just didn’t work.
“I thought the ball was inside of half a yard and I thought we could get it. I didn’t want to give the ball back to the Saints,” Smith said after the game.
His players liked the decision.
“As a player, you have to love the confidence that he has in the offense in that situation,” Matt Ryan said via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We just needed to execute better.”
“I liked it. That’s aggressive,” linebacker Sean Witherspoon said.
“All of the talking-head dummies and Monday morning quarterbacks will second-guess but I still think it was the right call,” tackle Tyson Clabo said via Mr. MMQB Peter King.
I agree with Clabo. Reasonable minds disagree. Florio doesn’t like the call, pointing out another stat: Teams are o-for-2 going for it on fourth down in similar situations over the last few years.
It may be a while before we see a third similar attempt, which is too bad. It’s fun to see a team play to win instead of worrying about how things are usually done.