On the strength of the great and useful detailed football discussions on BN in the last few weeks, I'd like to ask the more pigskin-savvy members of this site about the most controversial call on gameday. Namely: to punt or not to punt?
The decision to go for it on 4th down is usually classified as a question of confidence. Confident, cocky coaches like Carroll do it all the time; timid, tepid coaches like Dorrel don't. But emotion and arrogance shouldn't have everything to do with it. The new wave of offensively aggressive coaches are going for it on 4th down more and more frequently as a matter of sober strategy. The decision is central to the most crucial football rift of the day: the value of possession versus field position.
I think an objective formula should be possible. The odds of making it or getting stuffed should be the easiest to figure out given the quality of the offense. To grossly simplify: Let's say that an offense facing 4th and 2 on the opposing team's 40 can be expected to score an average of 3.5 points on that drive. Punting will therefore cost 3.5 points. Is that worth 30 yards to the other team, whose drive value will be reduced from X to X?
As you can tell, I've pulled these numbers from a hairy place, but a real formula along these lines shouldn't be too hard to devise. Yet I haven't been able to find one anywhere I've looked. Does anybody here know of one, or is any number-cruncher willing to take a crack?
The hardest variable to figure out will be field position, which remains the vaguest value in football today.