THE FIFTH DOWN; Right Move, Wrong Play

Falcons Coach Mike Smith was criticized for his adventuresome fourth-down decision in overtime against the Saints. After initially deciding to punt from his 29 on fourth-and-inches, he had Michael Turner run up the middle. He was stuffed, and the Saints won soon after with a field goal.

Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats said Smith had played the percentages correctly based on Win Probability: ”The go-for-it option is worth, on net, a 0.47 W.P. That’s better than the 0.42 W.P. of the punt option, at least according to league-average percentages. I’m certain the fact that Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints offense is not league-average helped sway Mike Smith’s mental calculus.”

Andy Benoit, a Fifth Down contributor and analyst, said the bigger problem was the play call: ”Why did Smith — or the offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey — elect to call a slow-developing handoff instead of a quarterback sneak? A handoff in a situation like this, when the defensive linemen and linebackers have no choice but to instantly fire into the gaps, puts the offensive players in reaction mode. When the ball finally starts traveling forward, it’s four yards behind the line. On a sneak, the ball starts traveling forward four inches behind the line. The difference between the two situations is significant.” (NYT)

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