To Fake or Not To Fake: Fourth Down Decisions

Does it make more sense to run a fake field goal or punt, rather than straight up going for it? Our Chief Analyst let's you know.
Our Chief Analyst, Keith Goldner, takes a look at the success rates of fake field goals and punts versus straight up going for it on fourth down attempts.

After we wrote about 
Mike Tomlin's fake field goal decision in Week 9, it got me thinking about the general success rate of fakes versus typical fourth down attempts. Before moving forward, it should be noted that it is difficult to pull fake field goal and fake punts out of play-by-play data because they are not explicitly specified as such. So, you may be getting an aborted or bad snap or the field goal/punt formation may not have been recorded. We attempted to clean the data up as much as possible, which resulted in 213 fourth down fakes since 2000.

Similarly, we looked at the roughly 5500 fourth down normal go-for-it attempts. Granted, a lot of these will take place at the end of the game when teams are down by significant margins or must go for it in order to stay in the game, but that should not greatly affect their conversion rates. It may give us a sample bias, though, because those teams that are losing are typically worse offensively.

Fake attempts are exceedingly rare and given that there are only 200 or so attempts, we must be cautious of sample size issues. The most frequent fake attempts are on 4th-and-1 or 4th-and-2 which have happened about 30 times a piece. Compare that to over 2000 regular go-for-it attempts on 4th-and-1 and over 600 regular attempts on 4th-and-2.

To assess the value of a fake attempt I looked at success rates based on distance-to-go and then used logistic regression to smooth the data. The results:

Read the rest of Keith's analysis on Drive-By Football!