It is amazing that this has not been more of an issue and a topic of intense and widespread discussion. Teams at every level of football continue to punt on 4th down when the numbers show that in most situations, coaches should run a play instead of punting on 4th down. Punting should be a rare event, a unique novelty, talked about but seldom seen. It will be interesting to look back at this conservative approach to the offensive game, even in programs running wide-open, offenses. If high-scoring, yard-gobbling teams commonly punt, one can only wonder about the wasted opportunities. How much better could teams have been with logical and open-minded coaching?
Football coaches have been trained to punt since they learned the game. As players and as assistant coaches, punting was called almost automatically on 4th down with some rare exceptions. This way of playing is ingrained in coaches minds and nobody questions or argues when the punting team is sent to the field to use their remaining play of the series and kick the ball back to the other team. Giving that team a first down and a chance to score. (That is if the other team is stopped before returning the punt for a touchdown, or a yardage gain which essentially cancels out the reason for punting in the first place.) It is much safer for coaches to punt, and the risk-reward payout leans toward punting, thereby eliminating many scoring opportunities and applying the brakes to offensive production. They could play that fourth down and increase their chances of scoring and winning the game, and giving the fans a more exciting, better coached game. This could have a positive mental impact on their team and cold build confidence and morale. It could also make a statement to opposing teams and help win the psychological battle always present in any athletic event. However,the ridicule coaches risk facing if they fail or fall short of earning a first down can be damaging to their reputations and job safety, and possibly their head coaching careers. If they were able to see what would happen if they changed their mindset and played aggressive football, the call would be almost automatic. “Go for it!”
Hire me as part of any coaching staff. I can guarantee any team will gain more yards, score more points and probably win more games if they hire me as their 4th Down Assistant Coach. On any 4th down situation, I make the call. Every single time I wave off the punting team and give the team and the fans what they want, an opportunity to gain yards, score and win games! If it makes no sense to punt, why do coaches continue to almost unanimously choose punting over getting another chance to earn a first down, gain yards, and/or score? Coaches and players are entrenched in the game and often in the position and small portion of the game for which they are responsible. Can they get a view of the entire game from their super-focused situation? How many players or even coaches have detailed and extensive knowledge of the entire game? Not many. There is so much to learn about each specific facet of the game, unless the opportunity presents itself or someone is forced into it, they probably don’t have the time, energy or most important of all, the passion to care about other positions, duties and responsibilities beyond the one in which they are immersed.
Game changer Looking at it one way, not punting opens up one more down and therefore one more chance for a team to earn a first down. A team could also score while they earn that first down. However, using all four downs to score does much more than allow one more opportunity to convert. Once players (and players collectively playing as a team) know they have four downs, they have a new way of looking at each down. Conversely, defenses also aware that a team will strike at them with all four opportunities, need to adjust and react to this new offensive approach. In this era of punt-mania, the teams choosing to eliminate punting will face defenses with no experience defending this 4-srtike attack and will inevitably make mistakes. This opens up scoring chances and games as these defenses lose confidence and the offense builds even more momentum.
Eliminating punting changes the individual characteristics of each of four downs. First down becomes a new type of down never seen in organized football. This is a play which is guaranteed to be followed by three punt-free plays. (Unless there is a score or a turnover, running out of time, etc…) Sure, this happens when teams have 1st and goal, or 1st and 10 inside 30 yards of their target end zone, but not when a team is in their own territory with a huge field full of opportunity spread out in front of them. Even in the rare situation where teams will play all four downs without punting, the entire situation is different since these teams normally punt and have no experience and have not developed the new mind-set and philosophy and all the positive attributes that come with this new approach. This is all new territory…. Second downs are called and played with far less pressure and allow wide-open plays, similar to traditional first downs. Third down doesn’t have the coin-toss type of drama, forcing fans to cross their fingers and pray for a first down and avoid yet another series ending with the punting team jogging on to the field to punt the ball, and give up another opportunity for the offense to play (players have worked hard year round to prepare for very limited opportunities and they end up giving many away, one for sure each time the punting team takes the field.)
Failing to earn first downs can be tough on morale. Choosing to never punt should increase the number of first downs earned and thereby lessen this loss of morale experienced by failed 3rd downs. The no-punt offense can boost confidence and excitement when first downs are earned as a result of the increased number of downs, which also make more big plays possible. This positive momentum is also affected simply by experiencing the new dynamics of this approach, which can confuse, exhaust and frustrate defenses which are accustomed to the traditional three-downs and out (punt) system. We can all visualize a punting team jogging onto the field, heads hanging a bit, as they are about to attempt to recoup 30 or 40 yards of field position after the offense just failed to score. They have little chance to score with this play and this is another opportunity squandered. Why run plays that don’t give a team a chance to score? The impact on a team’s fan base will be significant. Those coaches who are the first to successfully execute a punt-less approach will not only see a rise in offensive production, scores and wins, but will also attract attention from all levels and formats of the media. Fans will respond with enthusiasm and teams will experience increased season tickets sales. College programs will see a rise in donations and a variety of support for the football program, the athletic program and the school.
“The average punt in high school nets you 30 yards, but we convert around half our fourth downs, so it doesn’t make sense to give up the ball,” Kelley says. “Besides, if your offense knows it has four downs instead of three, it totally changes the game. I don’t believe in punting and really can’t ever see doing it again.” Kevin Kelley, head coach of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark. Read More: Just Go For It! A coach’s case for kicking conventional wisdom to the curb
The punt seems to contradict football’s essence, as coaches voluntarily relinquish the ball even though they have at least one more chance to move it forward. “If everyone agrees out of fear or ignorance to sort of play ultraconservative, nobody really has an advantage,” Burke said. “There’s no development, no evolution. Coaches have strategies that are generations behind where the sport really is. It’s going to take someone to stick their neck out.” Read more at NY Times-Punting Less Can Be Rewarding but Coaches Aren’t Risking Jobs on It
New Yorker Magazine piece makes a case against punting on 4th down: It is not news that we often act against our own interest. Human nature yanks us in so many ways as to make rational decision-making almost impossible. Parents give their teen-agers cars and cell phones. Much of the middle class votes Republican. And N.F.L. head coaches continue to punt the ball on fourth down. A paper by David Romer (PDF), a professor of political economy at the University of California at Berkeley, has become “the gospel for the antipunting faction.” Romer’s determination, after studying punt data from 1998 to 2004, was that teams should never punt when facing fourth down with less than four yards to go for the first, regardless of where they are on the field. Other analysis has suggested that teams should never punt from inside their opponent’s forty-yard line. As a corollary, they should always go for a touchdown, rather than a field goal, from inside the five-yard line.
The archetype for non-punting football has become a high-school team in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Pulaski Academy Bruins do not return punts (fumbles and penalties outweigh big returns, they say), they perform onside kicks after almost every score, and they never, ever punt. Last season, they went undefeated and won the state title. Read more- THE CASE AGAINST PUNTING
Here is an example of a coach who is out of punters but keeps punting anyway: Raiders – Chargers game(9/11/12) gave one team a unique opportunity to carry out the no-punt strategy. With the Raiders’ long-snapper hurt, the Raiders coach had a much less risk-averse reason to try always going for it on fourth down. Especially after the first punt was blown and the punter tackled with the ball, who could blame the coach for going for it on fourth every time? Alas, he proceeded to attempt more punts, and three in a row were blocked or otherwise blown. (Freakonomics.com)
“In this post I’ll explain, as clearly and simply as possible, why the evidence points to a more aggressive attack on 4th down.” The 4th Down Study – Part 1
This article has stats and even a calculator to help make decisions based n statistical data: Are NFL Teams Making a Mistake by Punting on 4th Down? When Economists Talk, Pulaski Academy Listens
- Don’t punt on the opponent’s side of the field.
- Really consider going for it on 4th down after crossing your own 40.
- Field goals only make sense if there are more than 5 yards to go and you are between the 10 and 30 yard lines.
- If you’re in opponent territory and these two criteria aren’t true, you should be going for it. Fourth Down Decisions: Never Punt With Tebow