Overrated: Punting

Punting_Football_Wide Punting is Overrated

Don’t punt.  Ever.  Really.

Did you ever play Madden Football or NCAA Football with a kid on XBox or Playstation?  Do they ever roll a punter out there?  No.  Why?  They don’t want to give up the ball.  They never want to take their offense off the field.  They never want to give up.  So this post isn’t just about not punting in football, but it can be a life euphemism as well… don’t ever give up.  [read that with the best Jimmy Valvano voice possible or watch it]

So here’s the logic in several key points from a football standpoint.  When I read the book “Moneyball”, it really made me look at everything twice.  What other conventional wisdoms, really weren’t wise?  What about football?  Maybe going for two more frequent or on-sides kicks?  Hmmm…. wait…. what about punting?

Turns out, like most things, original thought was overrated.  Turns out it wasn’t only the kids who were going for it on 4th down.  Kevin Kelley, coach of the Pulaski (Ark) Academy, stopped punting for all intents and purposes during the 2007 season, which led them to Arkansas State 5A title in 2008.  Here’s their story.  Apparently Pulaski has a high powered offense but their decision to go for it is statistically justified.   From the article on Coach Kelley:  “If Pulaski has a fourth-and-8 at its own 5-yard line, Kelley said his explosive offense likely will convert a first down at least 50 percent of the time. If it fails to convert, statistical data from the college level shows that an opponent acquiring the ball inside the 10-yard line scores a touchdown 90 percent of the time. If Pulaski punts away (i.e., a 40-yard punt with a 10-yard return) the other team will start with the ball on the 38-yard line and score a touchdown 77 percent of the time. The difference is only 13 percent.”

Of 120 Division I FBS schools, 75 teams rated 50% or better on their 4th down conversion attempts in 2012.  The three schools who attempted to move the chains on 4th down the most?  Army, Georgia Tech and LA-Monroe all attempted it more than 3 times per game and were successful 51%, 64% and 69% of the time respectively.  Take it one step further and only two teams out of those 120 were below 25% success and one of those teams was Coach Pasqualoni’s UConn squad, which is more of a indictment on poor coaching than the strategy of going for it on 4th down.  Now I understand that most of these teams choose to go for it on 4th down because it is short yardage or other advantageous reasons, like field position, but what does that say about the times where it is 4th and 1 and the punter runs out there?

4th down graph

In researchng this blog post, I came across a 4th down study that goes further indepth into the numbers and as a result produces this chart for coaches to follow. In fact this article from Advanced NFL Stats is tremendous and goes way further in depth than most of you looking for an entertaining argument would like, but for those who are interested: Here it is.  Knowing how coaches need an article, a headset and an assistant to figure out whether to go for one or two, I figure this chart should be very handy on the sidelines.  Doesn’t it drive you crazy when a team scores on their first possession in the first quarter, lead 6-0 and the coach holds up a one finger… you know, just in case anyone was thinking he might want to go for two?

This leads me to my next question:  Why don’t more coaches do what Kevin Kelley did or even more like Georgia Tech?  Why don’t they go for it?  Simply put:  They are sheep.  Stupid stupid sheep.  They are being led to the slaughter but the coaches are afraid of getting to the slaughter too quickly so they decide to play it conservative.  Don’t challenge anything… just keep playing by the same rules, ideals and philosophies of yesteryear.  They are doing what the scouts did in Moneyball and the coach who rethinks this first will be a genius.  That is if the fans and press let him enough rope to be successful with it.

Think of some of the other advantages:  Extra roster spot that was used for the punter, no more punting practices, instead that valuable time can be used for regular game situations and you keep the other team on their heels.  Just like in Moneyball, if you give up outs, you give up runs.  When you give up the ball on 4th down in football, you give the other team the opportunity.  Want one more reason: When the team you root for stops an opponent on 3rd down, you are so happy to be getting the ball, right?  In fact, if the opposing team lines up to go for it on 4th down, you get nervous and upset… you want them to punt.  Which is just one more reason why you shouldn’t… your opponent wants you to.

Stop the madness.  Stop punting.




  1. Great post! I always wondered the stats behind punting percentages.

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