I’ve heard a lot made about Mike Smith’s poor game management decisions over the past week in light of the Falcons disappointing 30-28 loss to the New York Jets last Monday.
I personally believe it’s overblown, although I’ve found that few agree with me as people have already made up their minds that Smitty is poor at managing the Falcons on gameday even when there is compelling evidence staring them in the face that says otherwise.
Sure, you can criticize Smitty for not taking the points at the end of the first half against the Jets, deciding to go for the touchdown. But Smitty’s decision is more than defensible, and arguably the right call. At least if you believe in things like Advanced NFL Stats’ Win Probability metric. Using their calculator, the numbers suggest that as long as the Falcons believed there was a 33-percent chance of converting on 4th-and-1 from the Jets’ 1-yard line, they were right to roll the dice and go for it. The numbers suggested that the average NFL team should convert 68-percent of the time, more than double the allowable percentage and the Falcons had already converted on 50-percent of their 1-yard-to-go situations up that point in the game. Throw in the factor that the Falcons had been plagued by red zone inefficiency this season where they were unable to convert touchdowns, it made perfect sense why Smitty would elect to be aggressive in that scenario rather than settle for three points (again). Complaining about Smitty being overly aggressive is really a matter of philosophy, not science. Really no different than the belief that an offensive tackle that stands 6’3″ versus 6’5″ is incapable of being successful in the NFL.
And I would find it troubling if someone had unkind words to say about Smitty’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the Jets’ 18-yard line in the fourth quarter down six points with about four minutes to go in the game. Again using ANS’ 4th down calculator, had the Falcons failed on that attempt, they would have still increased their chances of winning than settling for three points. Which makes perfect sense when you consider a turnover on downs would have given the Jets the ball at the 18 instead of the likely scenario that would have given them the ball at the 20 after a field goal and touchback on the kickoff. Regardless the same scenario comes about where in order for the Falcons to get another chance to take the lead (or tie it post-field goal), the Falcons need a defensive stop. A touchdown is much better than a field goal, and the Falcons aren’t going to have a better chance to score a touchdown than they had deep in Jets’ territory at that point. Let’s say they kick the field goal, kick off to the Jets and get a three-and-out and force a 40-yard punt, you’re taking over around your own 30-yard line likely with the two-minute warning nearing. According to ANS, the chances you make a field goal and tying the game on a drive starting at your own 30 are about 11-percent, while you wind up with a 49-percent chance of scoring a touchdown if you convert on fourth down at their 17-yard line.