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Reviewing the analytics behind Mike Tomlin’s 4th down decision vs. the Raiders

Mike Tomlin elected to punt the football rather than go for it on 4th and 1 with the game hanging in the balance. Was it the right call?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Was it the right call, or was it the wrong call?

This question can be asked in almost any situation in the game of football. Should you have thrown when you ran the ball? Should you have blitzed when you didn’t?

It isn’t about trying to do what’s best, it is literally second-guessing every decision made. And anyone who has coached a team sport at the High School level, or above, knows some of these decisions are gut-driven, and also decisions which don’t allow you to always ponder the analytics of that decision.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, and head coach Mike Tomlin, found themselves in one of those moments Sunday when facing a 4th and 1 on their own 34-yard line with 8:35 remaining in the fourth quarter, trailing by 9 to the Las Vegas Raiders.

Tomlin elected to punt, or as many are saying, “living in his fears”, and while the defense was able to get the ball back to the offense, it took valuable time off the clock. Armchair quarterbacks were outraged with the decision, but was it the right call? What do the analytics say?

The folks at EdjSports broke it down, and ultimately called the decision a “surrender” by Tomlin.

“Tomlin made a decision that made many wonder whether he was even watching his game or just gave up on the game. With 8:35 remaining and trailing by nine points, Pittsburgh faced 4th and 1 from their own 34-yard line. Instead of going for it the Steelers punted, decreasing their pre-snap GWC (Game Winning Chance) by 5.6%. A conversion with only one yard would have increased their GWC to 14.9%, while a failed conversion attempt at the line of scrimmage would have dropped them to 4.7% GWC. The required success rate for Pittsburgh was only 22.5%, assuming a punt of 45 yards. An average team would be expected to convert a 4th and 1 well over 22.5% of the time, around 70%. So, the decision by Tomlin to punt was a very curious one.”

Hindsight is always 20/20, we all know this by now, but the decision certainly made many question the trust Tomlin has not only in running back Najee Harris, but also the inexperienced offensive line.

Tomlin had this to say about the decision after the game Sunday:

“I did, but I felt comfortable with our ability to stop them. I wanted to play the field position game and I think we punted it and stopped them.”

He isn’t wrong, but it will go down as a very curious, and difficult, decision made by the Steelers’ head coach. But what about you? Do you think Tomlin made the right call, or should the Steelers have gone for it? Let us know your decision by voting in the poll below, and feel free to explain your decision in the comments below!


If you were Mike Tomlin facing the 4th and 1 decision vs. the Raiders, what do you do?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    Go for it
    (548 votes)
  • 15%
    (104 votes)
652 votes total Vote Now