Sports | October 14, 2020 11:44 am

NFL Teams Going for It on 4th Down at Record-Setting Pace in 2020

Teams have gone for it on fourth down 188 times this season with 108 conversions

NFL Teams Going for It on 4th Down at Record-Setting Pace in 2020
An official holds the down marker during an NFL preseason football game.
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Ahead by five points at the two-minute warning and facing fourth-and-1 from the Seattle 6-yard line, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer opted to run the ball to get try to get a first down to seal a win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday instead of kicking a short field goal that would have put the Vikings up by two scores.

The fourth-down conversion attempt failed and Minnesota paid the price, falling to 1-4 on the season while the Seahawks moved to 5-0. To make the loss even more painful, Russell Wilson converted two fourth downs on the game-winning drive for Seattle.

Even though it didn’t work, Zimmer said he stood by his decision to go for it on fourth down and that he’d do it again if given the opportunity.

“You’ve got to make decisions quick,” Zimmer said. “You don’t have time to ask analytics guys what to do. In that situation, I’m always going for the win. I don’t care. We’ve done that many times and we’ll continue to do it. We had a half a yard to go and we’d been running the ball really well. I felt like their defense was tired and we had hit two other fourth downs earlier in the ballgame. So I’ll do it again the next time it comes up. If we’ve got a chance to win the game, you’ve got to go for it.”

Zimmer is not alone in his willingness to go for it in 2020, as teams have gone for it on fourth down 188 times this season with 108 conversions, the most through five weeks since at least 1991, according to The Associated Press. The 57.4 percent conversion rate is second-highest in that span to the 58.7 percent teams hit in 2012.

Analytics show teams should go for it on fourth down at a much higher rate than they do and actually determined Minnesota’s chances of winning against Seattle increased by 2.1 percentage points by attempting the conversion instead of kicking the field goal.

Thankfully, analytics are not always correct.

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