Eagles coach Doug Pederson said it was his decision to go for a fourth-and-8 from the New York Giants’ 43-yard line in Sunday’s 27-24 win, and it was made after consultation with an assistant coach who offers the data about converting a given play.
“My number that we went off of… was 33 percent [conversion rate],” Pederson said. “And it’s a basically a half percentage point actually in our favor, and it comes down to basically a 50/50. Where we were on the field comes down to my decision, so it was my decision ultimately.”
Owner Jeffrey Lurie said earlier this month that the Eagles analyze fourth-down decisions during the offseason and decisions in games in almost all cases are made based on math, not instincts. He leaves it up to the coach’s “instinctual predilections” if it’s near 50/50, but he believes coaches should be “a lot more aggressive than the public would normally anticipate.”
Pederson consults during the game with Ryan Paganetti, a coaching assistant working with linebackers who has previously been an analyst on the staff. The Dartmouth alum is in the coaching booth and has “enough data because you can go back 10 years and gather a bunch of information,” Pederson said. During the summer, Pederson mentioned Paganetti and Alec Halabay, the vice president of football operations and strategy as assisting him with the data.
“Really we talk every day during the week leading up to the game,” Pederson said. “And then during the game, the communication between [Paganetti] and I is that we even talk on 2nd down: ‘Be prepared for’, ‘Maybe expect ‘this’’, those questions, those scenarios are beginning to talk, those conversations are talking actually on 2nd down. When we get into those situations, those areas of the field where it might be a go-for-it situation or it might be a, ‘Hey, let’s get the points here, let’s do ‘this’’, whatever it might be, we have those conversations early actually in the series.”
The Eagles did not convert the fourth-and-8, causing an uproar among many fans who wanted Pederson to punt. Pederson said he considered the way the defense was playing at the time, too. They had shut the Giants out, and a goalline stand prevented the missed fourth down from leading to any points.
“That factors into a lot of those decisions on fourth down,” Pederson.
The New York Times’ “4th down bot,” which looked at 10 years of data analysis in 2014 to determine when a coach should go for a fourth down, recommends punting in the situation the Eagles were in on Sunday. But it’s a close call — they suggest going for fourth-and-8 between an opponent’s 41 and 37. So there was only a two-yard difference.
Pederson noted that there was less attention devoted to the two other fourth downs he called – both fourth-and-1 plays on the first two touchdown drives. Carson Wentz converted both on quarterback sneaks. Those seemed more popular decisions at the time than the fourth-and-8, but Pederson put them all in the same category.
“67 percent on fourth down in a game is pretty good,” Pederson said.