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Monday, November 14, 2011
Numbers say Mike Smith made right call

By Pat Yasinskas

ATLANTA – I’ve never been a math person, but the folks at ESPN Stats & Information excel in that area. So let’s turn to them to break down the controversial choice by Falcons coach Mike Smith to go for it on fourth-and-inches in Sunday’s overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints.

ESPN Stats & Information has a probability tool that says that, although the Falcons didn’t get the first down, Smith made the best-percentage call. The probability tool uses 10 years of NFL play-by-play data to estimate the likelihood that either team will win at any point in the game, based on historical results in similar game situations. It takes into account things like time remaining, score, who has the ball and other factors.

Here’s what the probability tool had to say: Choice No. 1: Go for the first down

This choice, of course, leads to two different outcomes.
Since 2001, the average conversion percentage for NFL teams that go for it on fourth-and-1 is 66 percent. Using this number, we can find the expected win probability for Atlanta if it chooses this option. Choice No. 2: Punt

So by choosing to go for it on fourth down, the Falcons increased their win probability by 9 percentage points.