A Second Helping of John Fox’s lame fourth-down decision-making

TJ and I each made clear our disapproval for John Fox's meek choice yesterday to attempt a 19-yard field goal with 11:33 remaining in the second quarter of a 7-7 game.

Unsurprisingly, the decision caught the critical attention of Advanced NFL Stats writer Keith Goldner:

On another note, I cannot express enough disdain for John Fox’s decision to kick a field goal on 4th-and-Goal from the 1 in a 7-7 game, early in the second quarter. The numbers say to go for it unless you can’t convert at least 32% of the time. Peyton Manning can convert that well over 32%. The CBS commentator, though, went on a long rant about him making the correct decision to “take the points, because points usually win football games.” When is Chip Kelly coming to the NFL?

Well over? How about double? This season, on third or fourth down with one or two yards to gain, Peyton is 13/17 for 119 yards, three touchdowns, and a 134.6 rating. The Broncos have converted on 24 of 37 attempts - whether running or passing - from those same downs and distances, or 64.9%. 

Admittedly, that's a small sample space, so expanding back to Peyton's last three seasons (adding 2009 and 2010 with Indy), he's 45/63 for 323 yards, nine scores, and zero picks, with a 122.6 rating. His Broncos and Colts have converted 86 of 131 tries, which is good for a 65.6% success rate.

Meanwhile, the Broncos defense is playing at its most dominant level in years, if not decades. On a hypothetical failed conversion, there's a very strong likelihood that a turnover on downs by Denver would have led in turn to a Broncos defensive touchdown, safety, takeaway, or three-and-out, with subsequently great field position for Manning & Co.

The other factor to consider is that Matt Prater is no sure thing from inside 30 yards - he's 34/37 over his career, which is a 91.9% success rate, and he's missed two extra points (out of 136) as a Bronco.

At that juncture of the game, the Chargers had netted 30 yards and one first down on 15 plays.

In opting to kick, Fox not only eschewed a roughly two-thirds chance for a touchdown, but he did so at the cost of field position, expected points, and momentum. There was also the possibility of a poor snap, bobbled hold, or a blocked or missed kick, which is never mentioned when those who present the case for kicking, and call it "taking the points."

Later on, at fourth-and-one from the San Diego 12-yard line, 10:47 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the score 24-16, Fox made the same conservative choice.

The Broncos ended up winning by a single score in a game they dominated throughout, and they needed a late onside recovery to help seal it.

We can go on and on about how a win is a win, and that the decisions Fox made resulted in a Denver victory.

At the same time, we can reasonably suggest that had Fox gone for it on either or both of those fourth-and-one plays (not to mention the lame punt from that same down and distance at the Denver 42 in the first quarter), there's a good chance the scoreboard would have reflected the blowout we saw on the field.

Instead, the outcome hinged largely on the result of an onside kick, and what would the conversation be like today, had the Chargers recovered and then tied the game?

The Wisdom of Solomon

Sadly, the thinking Fox displayed on Sunday is still part of the corpus of thinking across the league and broadcast booth.  Here's all of what Solomon Wilcots had to say about that matter:

If you're John Fox, you say, "Take the points here." This is an all-important game, and he understands that - that you don't win it in the first quarter; you don't win it in the second quarter. You win it over the course of four quarters, and points is usually the most important statistic in a football game.

So, to be clear, points are most important in football, but maximizing them isn't the best way of winning?

Doug is IAOFM’s resident newsman and spelling czar. Follow him on Twitter @IAOFM

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