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January 28, 2019

Analysis of all 24 of Doug Pederson's 4th down 'go for it' calls in 2018

Eagles NFL
012819DougPederson Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports

BBD.

In 2016, the Philadelphia Eagles went for it on fourth down 27 times, more than any other team in the NFL. When they didn't convert, Doug Pederson was absolutely hammered with harsh criticism for his decisions. 

During the 2017 season, Pederson didn't let that criticism bother him in the slightest as he went for it on fourth down 29 times (if you include the playoffs), once again more than any other team in the NFL. PhillyVoice determined last February that the Eagles gained 74 points as a result of Pederson going for it on fourth down, and it only cost them three points when they went for it and didn't get it. Partly as a result of Pederson's aggressiveness, the Eagles went 13-3 during the regular season, and then won the Super Bowl.

We're all on board with Pederson's aggressive approach by now, right? I mean... right? Anyway, in 2018, Pederson went for it on fourth down 24 times, which did not lead the league for the first time in his Eagles tenure. Instead, the Eagles were tied for third in fourth down attempts, behind only the Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys. Let's go ahead and look at how Pederson's fourth down decision-making went this year.

1) Eagles vs. Buccaneers, 4th and 1 from the Buccaneers' 17: Nick Foles up the middle for 2 yards

Instead of taking the easy three points on a 35-yard field goal attempt, Pederson ran a QB sneak, picked up the first down, and the Eagles would score a TD two plays later.

Points added tally: 4

Points lost tally: 0

2) Eagles vs. Buccaneers, 4th and 4 from the Buccaneers' 49: Foles pass to Zach Ertz for 3 yards, turnover on downs

There was 12:45 left in the third quarter of the game when Pederson opted to go for it here, with the Eagles down 20-7. Foles completed a pass to Ertz on a jerk route, and the first down was there to be had by Ertz, but he was tackled short of the sticks. Starting with good field position, the Buccaneers scored a TD on their ensuing drive with good field position.

Points added tally: 4

Points lost tally: 7

3) Eagles vs. Buccaneers, 4th and 1 from the Buccaneers' 6: Foles up the middle for 2 yards

Facing a 20-point deficit late in the third quarter, this call was a no-brainer. The Eagles scored a TD two plays later.

Points added tally: 8

Points lost tally: 7

4) Eagles vs. Buccaneers, 4th and 10 from the Buccaneers' 35: Foles incomplete pass to Corey Clement, turnover on downs

Down 13 with just under 9 minutes left in the 4th quarter, Pederson opted to go for it, needing two touchdowns to take the lead, but the attempt failed. Certainly, he could have attempted a 53-yard field goal, which is no sure thing either. 

Note: For any FG attempt over 50 yards that did not happen as a result of going for it, we won't add that to the "points lost tally." For any field goal attempt under 50, we will.

The Bucs went three-and-out on their ensuing possession.

Points added tally: 8

Points lost tally: 7

5) Eagles vs. Buccaneers, 4th and Goal from the Buccaneers' 2: Foles pass complete to Nelson Agholor, touchdown

Down 13, the Eagles' cut their deficit to 6. No-brainer decision.

Points added tally: 12

Points lost tally: 7

6) Eagles vs. Vikings, 4th and 1 from the Vikings' 20: Carson Wentz pass to Alshon Jeffery for 6 yards

With 12:49 left in the third quarter down 14, Pederson went for it instead of taking the easy three. Two plays later, the Eagles scored a TD, and then Pederson put on his big boy analytics pants, went for two, and got it.

Points added tally: 17

Points lost tally: 7

7) Eagles vs. Panthers, 4th and 1 from the Panthers' 45: Wentz up the middle for 1 yard

Wentz is perfect on QB sneaks over his three year career so far, making this a no-brainer call in plus-50 territory. A lot of other coaches would punt.

There will be a second fourth down call later in this drive.

Points added tally: 17

Points lost tally: 7

8) Eagles vs. Panthers, 4th and 5 from the Panthers' 39: Wentz to Jeffery for 14 yards

I love the aggressiveness here. While a 4th and 5 is harder than a 4th and 1 (#analysis), it's idiotic to punt from your opponent's 39 in the first quarter, and a 57-yard field goal isn't exactly a high percentage play either.

The Eagles' drive would eventually stall, and Jake Elliott would miss a 36-yard field goal attempt.

Points added tally: 17

Points lost tally: 7

9) Eagles vs. Panthers, 4th and 1 from the Panthers' 3: Wentz up the middle for 1 yard

With a 10-0 lead, Pederson looked to step on the Panthers' throats, so he went for it here, got it, and the Eagles scored a TD two plays later, going up 17-0. Obviously, that lead did not hold up.

Points added tally: 21

Points lost tally: 7

10) Eagles vs. Panthers, 4th and 2 from the Panthers' 14: Wentz sacked, fumble recovered by Panthers

This was the Eagles' final drive. This play happened with 0:31 left in regulation and the Eagles down 4. Extremely obvious go for it situation. They didn't get it, the Panthers had one kneeldown, and that was the game.

Points added tally: 21

Points lost tally: 7

11) Eagles vs. Cowboys, 4th and 1 from the Cowboys' 20: Josh Adams up the middle for -3, turnover on downs

This call occurred early in the second quarter with the Eagles down 3-0. While the decision to go for it was fine, the pay call was not. On the 2018 season, in seven carries on 3rd or 4th down and 1 or 2, Adams had -8 yards, and no first downs.

To note, we'll add three points to Eagles' "points lost tally" for missing out on a likely made field goal had they kicked it here, but we won't add three for the Cowboys' field goal on their ensuing drive, since they would have started from around their own 25 on an Eagles' made field goal anyway.

Points added tally: 21

Points lost tally: 10

12) Eagles vs. Cowboys, 4th and 7 from the Cowboys' 35: Wentz to Ertz for 6, turnover on downs

Down by seven with 1:17 to play, the Birds fell one yard shy of keeping their drive alive, but this was an obvious go for it scenario.

Points added tally: 21

Points lost tally: 10

13) Eagles vs. Saints, 4th and 5 from the Eagles' 41: Wentz incomplete to Ertz, turnover on downs

They were down 31-7 in the third quarter, and couldn't stop the Saints' offense anyway, so what the hell?

On a short field, the Saints scored a TD on their ensuing possession to go up 38-7.

Points added tally: 21

Points lost tally: 17

14) Eagles vs. Saints, 4th and 1 from the Eagles' 34: Wentz incomplete to Jeffery, turnover on downs

This time, the Eagles were down 45-7, so again, what the hell?

On a short field, the Saints mercifully kicked a field goal.

Points added tally: 21

Points lost tally: 20

15) Eagles vs. Giants, 4th and 1 from the Giants' 42: Wentz to Agholor for 12 yards

This was a huge call and conversion with the score tied at 22 and only 2:39 left in regulation. The Eagles picked up the first down, bled clock from there, and kicked a game-winning 43-yard field goal with 22 seconds left.

Points added tally: 24

Points lost tally: 20

16) Eagles vs. Redskins, 4th and Goal from the 1: Adams up the middle for -2, turnover on downs

Barring some strategic cases based on the score and the amount of time remaining, if you're not going for a TD on 4th and Goal from the 1, you shouldn't be making those kinds of decision as a head coach. Even if you don't get it, there's a great chance you're going to hold a backed-up team anyway, getting the ball back with good field position, so just go for it.

In this case, Pederson was right to go for it, but again, a called run with Adams is just a bad play call. As it turned out, the Redskins quickly went 3-and-out, and the Eagles scored a TD on their next possession. I'm tempted to the give the Eagles a +7 here in the "points added tally," but won't.

Points added tally: 24

Points lost tally: 20

17) Eagles vs. Cowboys, 4th and 3 from the Cowboys' 48: Wentz to Darren Sproles for 25 yards

Ballsy. The Eagles were down by three late in the third quarter, and they picked up a huge conversion here. This drive ended with an Eagles field goal. Had the Eagles not picked up this first down, Pederson would have been lit up by angry sports talk radio callers all week. I mean, more so than usual after a loss to the Cowboys.

Points added tally: 27

Points lost tally: 20

18) Eagles vs. Rams, 4th and 1 from the Rams' 49: Adams up the middle for no gain, turnover on downs

Seriously? Again, the decision to go for it here was fine down 1 in the second quarter, but how could Adams still be getting carries in these huge spots?

On a short field, the Rams kicked a field goal.

Points added tally: 27

Points lost tally: 23

19) Eagles vs. Texans, 4th and 2 from the Texans' 37 yard line: Foles to Sproles for 37 yards and a TD

Bang. We'll give Doug the full seven points on the "points added tally" since this would have otherwise ben a 55-yard field goal attempt.

Points added tally: 34

Points lost tally: 23

20) Eagles vs. Texans, 4th and 3 from the Texans' 8: Foles to Dallas Goedert for 6 yards

Down by two points in the second quarter, I would bet that almost every other head coach in the NFL would be happy taking the lead with a field goal. Not Doug. He went for it, picked up the first down down, and eight plays later (yes, that is indeed correct) the Eagles scored a TD.

21) Eagles vs. Texans, 4th and Goal from the Texans' 1: Foles to Ertz for a 1-yard TD

This play capped off the drive after the 4th and 3 conversion above. A two-point conversion attempt failed, so we'll only add 6 points here.

Points added tally: 40

Points lost tally: 23

22) Eagles vs. Texans, 4th and 1 from the Eagles' 43: Foles up the middle for 1

Ballsy call on your own side of the field. Pederson picked up the first down, but Foles was picked off on the next play.

Points added tally: 40

Points lost tally: 23

23) Eagles vs. Redskins, 4th and 1 from the Redskins' 15: Foles up the middle for 2 yards

The Eagles would score a TD three plays later.

Points added tally: 47

Points lost tally: 23

24) Eagles vs. Bears, 4th and Goal from the Bears' 2: Foles to Golden Tate for a TD

The Eagles needed a TD down 5 with 0:56 to go, so this was an easy decision, and the Birds took the late lead.

Points added tally: 54

Points lost tally: 23

Conclusion

While the Eagles could not replicate the nearly impossible feat of adding 74 points vs. 3 points lost on fourth down "go for it" decisions in 2017, they proved once again in 2018 that good things happen more often than bad things when you're aggressive on fourth down. Also, it's, you know, fun!

It boggles my mind how some teams around the league aren't catching up to Pederson and the Eagles' analytics team on fourth down decision-making.


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