Jim Schwartz's (Accidental) Fourth Down Call

UPDATE: OK, this is what I get for trying to be timely. I got this up quickly only to find out that Jim Schwartz said in the postgame news conference that they were only trying to draw the Titans offside and Dominic Raiola was not supposed to snap the ball. So, none of this matters if we're trying to figure out what Schwartz was thinking. But heck, I know you were all wondering about this anyway, so I'll leave this up for discussion.

Let me admit, first of all, that I don't have a spreadsheet with numbers that are quite as exact as what Brian Burke will likely figure out, but I think I've got things pretty close here.

The first question is, what are the Lions' chances of winning if they tie the game and kick off to the Titans? Given the strength of offense across the league, and the Titans' offense in this game, I would have to say it isn't 50 percent. Maybe 40 percent? Let's say 45 percent to be conservative.

So if the Lions convert the fourth down, they've got the ball first-and-goal at the 6. From that position, your chances of a touchdown should be about 60 percent and a field goal about 30 percent. In that 30 percent of plays, they win 45 percent of the time, just like if they had kicked the field goal from the 7. So if they convert the fourth down, they win the game 73.5 percent of the time.

They're going to convert the fourth down 68 percent of the time, so if they go for it, .68 x .735 works out almost exactly to a 50 percent chance of winning (49.98 percent, but we're already rounding some of these numbers a little, so let's say 50 percent).

The field goal is good 96 percent of the time, and like we said, we're going to estimate the Lions have a 45 percent chance of winning if they tie, so 43.2 percent chance of winning if they kick the field goal.

That would suggest that going for it was the right move, and that's taking the conservative position that if the Titans -- playing well on offense -- got the ball back, they would only win against the Lions -- who were playing crappy on defense -- 45 percent of the time. The Lions are out there with a secondary that consists of Chris Houston plus some castoffs from other teams and special teams guys like John Wendling who are stretched on defense. The more you think the Lions defense was sucking, the more that going for the first down was the right call.


28 comments, Last at 26 Sep 2012, 8:26am

1 Re: Jim Schwartz's (Accidental) Fourth Down Call

Schwartz didn't seem that disturbed by what happened. I would imagine he'd have looked a bit more befuddled on the sideline if they actually messed up the play. But maybe I wasn't paying attention. And maybe this is one of the extremely rare instances in which those reaction shots networks constantly force on us would actually be of interest.

2 Re: Jim Schwartz's Fourth Down Call

Couple minor problems with this analysis. First, you factor in the 4% chance of a miss if the Lions elect to kick on 4th and 1, but you don't factor it into the 30% of possessions that will end in a field goal attempt after a successful 4th and one conversion. Also, and more importantly, you mention the chance that Tennessee will score to win the game after a tying field goal but ignore the possibility that they would score to win the game after a TD gave Detroit the lead. Obviously neither of these represent huge changes in probabilities, but when dealing with a 50% vs. 42% situation it doesn't take much to swing the odds. Especially if one assumes that playing with the backup QB reduces the odds of both a successful 4th down conversion and a TD following a conversion.

4 Re: Jim Schwartz's Fourth Down Call

Detroit getting a TD would have ended the game, it was in OT. Ten had first possession in OT, if they had scored a TD on that possession the game would have ended. If Detroit would have forced a safety, or scored on a turnover the game would have ended. But Ten only scored a FG which gave Detroit a possession. If Detroit scored a TD the game would have been over, if they would have scored a FG, the game becomes sudden death and first team to score wins. The new OT rules pretty much only prevent a game ending on the first field goal in OT. The first TD will still always win the game.

10 Re: Jim Schwartz's Fourth Down Call

"The new OT rules pretty much only prevent a game ending on the first field goal in OT. The first TD will still always win the game."

You meant "field goal on the first possession of OT," not "first field goal." The "first field goal" would be the only field goal and win the game if it were not on the first possesion of OT. As for "first TD," that should be "a TD," since a TD in OT wins the game always.

13 Re: Jim Schwartz's Fourth Down Call

I meant to type "The new OT rules pretty much only prevent a game ending on a first possession field goal in OT. The first TD will still always win the game." It was an error in not proofreading and my bad habit of words and phrases that belong several sentences in the future, which is what I tend to be thinking about when I'm typing, showing up in the wrong places. Try as I might, proofreading is the only cure for this, and it doesn't always work as I can still read what I intended to write, not what I actually wrote, especially on an internet message board, where I spend less time worrying about being precise than I do on an email to a customer say.

First TD is still correct, though perhaps extraneous. The first TD is still a TD. Using first was a way to indicate that it didn't matter who scored it, or how it was scored. So a, any, or first are all technically correct, a is likely the most expedient. Though as we know from Futurama, being technically correct is the best kind of correct. :)

Yes, it was important to point out my mistake, and I appreciate you catching the error I missed.

22 Re: Jim Schwartz's Fourth Down Call

He didn't say there was a 30% chance of attempting a field goal, he said there was a 30% chance of "getting" (ie, making) a field goal. The chance of missing it is part of the 10% that isn't accounted for by scoring either way.

5 Re: Jim Schwartz's (Accidental) Fourth Down Call

When I watched this play live, I thought the Lions were just going to try to draw the Titans offside. Maybe Raiola and Hill thought the Titans thought the same thing and decided to snap it because they didn't think the Titans would be ready. If so, they obviously were wrong.

9 Re: Jim Schwartz's (Accidental) Fourth Down Call

I haven't seen the post-game quotes from Hill, so I don't know for sure, but what you said is certainly possible. From watching the play live, however, it seemed to me that Hill was expecting the snap. But maybe he was just good at acting like he was expecting a snap as part of an attempt to draw the Titans offside.

7 Re: Jim Schwartz's (Accidental) Fourth Down Call

I'd like to see the actual success rates before going too far, but it seems to me that a 45% chance of converting the 4th down compared to a 43% chance of winning if they take the FG is within the uncertainty -- that is, too close to call.

11 Re: Jim Schwartz's (Accidental) Fourth Down Call

I flipped over from golf with the Lions trailing by two touchdowns and about 45 seconds or so to go. I turned back to golf, watched it for about ten minutes and went back to listen to Jim Swartz give a comment or two about the loss. Then I almost hit the floor when I saw the game tied and the Lions fumbling the snap or play at the ten.

I thought these types of losses were behind the Lions now. When you have been a lions fan for 50 years you kind of expect this kind of debacle. There must be an aura around this team that brings out the worst year in and year out. Swartz and the lions have way too much swagger for a team that is not even close to going to the SB. If I was coach and saw one celebration or high five after a good play I would bench the whole team if I had to. Keep the parties to a minumum until you prove that you can beat a team like San Fran at home. This is a defeat that will probalby haunt them come January. Sad, sad state of affairs in motor town......

19 Re: Jim Schwartz's (Accidental) Fourth Down Call

I've been a Lions fan for a much shorter time (since 1989), but this entire game felt like a microcosm of the Wayne Fontes Era (the Millen era consisted mostly of just being terrible and uncompetitive), where the Lions fooled you into being happy, only to rip your heart out in the end.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

12 Re: Jim Schwartz's (Accidental) Fourth Down Call

I agree with Aaron that his estimates are conservative, but it might be fun to work out what a more aggressive estimate would look like. Let's rely on the in-game data for our probabilities.

The Titans scored on 7 out of 11 of their drives = 63.6% of the time. So, assuming that the Titans' offense would follow suit on their ensuing drive, kicking the field goal gives the Lions an immediate 63.6% chance of losing the game--or, phrased differently, only a 36.4% chance of getting the ball back with a chance to score and win in sudden death. But, of course, that's no guarantee of winning. The Lions scored on 8/12 of their drives, so let's give them a 66.7% chance of scoring if they stop the Titans.

So, if the Lions attempted the field goal, their chances of making the kick, stopping the Titans, and scoring on their next drive are .96 * .364 * .667 = 23.3%. Of course, it's conceivable the Lions could win by kicking the field goal, stopping the Titans, failing to score, stopping the Titans again and then scoring, but that's only .96 * .364 * .667 * .364 * .667 = 5.7%. Of course, we could have a series of missed drives too, but the chances of that were pretty negligible given the proficiency of these two offenses in-game.

So in total, we give the Lions an approximate 29% chance of winning if they kick the field goal, versus Aaron's number of 50% for going for it. That's a humongous delta of 21% that you're throwing away to make the correct "political" move to go for the FG.

I also thought that the Titans blew a fourth down call too. They had 4th and 2 at the Detroit 8 and elected a FG. Going for it, making it, and getting the TD wins the game. Missing it pins the Lions back at the 8 with a great chance at forcing a punt and entering sudden death with first possession. The fact that it ended up working out for the Titans doesn't make it any less of a huge mistake.

Sorry JPP!

20 Re: Jim Schwartz's (Accidental) Fourth Down Call

Statistical analyses aside, you could be an old-school football guy and say that if your offense can't gain 1/5 of a yard, then you don't deserve to win.

Of course, anybody that watched the craziness that was the entire 2nd half would argue the Lions didn't deserve to win, anyway.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

21 Re: Jim Schwartz's (Accidental) Fourth Down Call

I would think that the calculation changes a little in a game that has already seen 85 points scored (and 46 in the fourth quarter). Whatever the reason, defenses weren't particularly successful late in this game, so if I were Schwartz I would want my offense to decide the game (by going for it) rather than my defense (by having to stop the Titans).

27 Re: Jim Schwartz's (Accidental) Fourth Down Call

I'm reposting this from the audibles thread (post 227 of http://footballoutsiders.com/audibles/2012/audibles-line-week-3 if you want full context). I got the same story from a different link and then wanted to add a few more comments I didn't see in the story. It's relevant here though.


For a source on that, and I don't think he's covering, all the reports I've seen say he was pretty inconsolable about it.

Most teams have two play calls there and they both usually use no play in them.

It will be the jargon that sets the formation for a normal play then then no play to indicate there won't be a snap but you line up thusly. However since offenses have learned that sometimes defenses will assume it's a no play they can end up back on their heals so depending on the situation that no play will be a no play fire or no play shot (there will be another word in the call). That basically indicates that if the QB sees something in the D, wide tackles, guys looking like they will be flat footed, they can then do the snap and run the play. Sometimes that play is the QB sneak where it's just the center and the QB that really know when they are going because the signal is a hand slap on the center. Sometimes the QB barks something and the full play goes.

In this case Hill did smack Raiola and if he were confused, and with the tension of that situation he snapped the ball and no one else expected it. Schwartz has claimed in past years that Hill gets full reign if he has to go in, they don't do anything different than with Stafford as far as what the QB is allowed to do, so folks thinking that a back QB wouldn't be able to do that and the line should have known likely doesn't fly here either.

So yeah I think Raiola screwed up, and I think I understand why, still sucks for the guy.