Cards on the table, I'm a huge Eagles fan. As an NFL stats nerd, I could not have been more excited for Chip Kelly to make the transition to the big leagues. While I did not expect him to immediately institute his Oregon trademarks, I did expect to see him going for it more often on fourth down, especially in situations where the numbers called for it -- and generally, making decisions to maximize the Eagles win probability.
It's four weeks into the season, and too many times I've asked my TV, "What are you doing, Chip?" Today against the Broncos, there were a couple of questionable decisions. Down 14-3, the Eagles were moving the ball very well to start the game. Vick and company strung together a 15-play drive that ended up with a 4th-and-4 from the Broncos 7-yard line. Using our Markov model, we can look at the progression of the drive:
It gets worse though. Nearing end of the first half, down eight, Chip faced a 4th-and-6 in no-man's land at the Broncos 37. Rather than going for it, Chip took a delay of game penalty (when he had two timeouts) and punted -- which resulted in a touchback, a net gain of 22 yards. Here, the numbers are clear, as they always are in no-man's land. The expected value going for it is +0.77 EP and teams convert on 4th-and-6 at 45%. A punt results in -0.04 EP and a field goal results in +0.14 EP (although since the game was in Denver, the probability of making the 54-yard field goal would be higher than 45%). In addition, punting the ball back to Peyton Manning with over two minutes remaining is just asking for it, regardless of where he starts the drive.
At the start of the 4th quarter, after the majority of all hope was out the window, the Eagles had a 4th-and-21 from the Denver 28, down 49-13. To be clear, win probability at this point is well below 1% so no decision is really a brutal decision. But, what good does a field goal do down 36? Keep it a five-score game? If you want any of that sub-1% chocolatey goodness, you need to go for it, even on 4th-and-21 (which converts about 10% of the time).
Be smart, Chip, and do your thing. I'm still excited every time the Eagles take the field, just help us make the best decisions because everyone in the NFC East needs all the help they can get right now.
Keith Goldner is the Chief Analyst at numberFire.com - The leading fantasy sports analytics platform - and creator of Drive-By Football. Follow him on twitter @drivebyfootball or check out numberFire on Facebook.