Brandon Staley has leaned on analytics throughout the season to support his decisions to go for it on fourth down. The Chargers’ head coach again followed the numbers Sunday night, but this time made a decision that has plenty of NFL fans scratching their heads.
Staley opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Chargers’ 18 with his team trailing by three points and 9:41 remaining in the third quarter. The decision backfired, though perhaps not as badly as some expected, as running back Austin Ekeler was tackled for a 2-yard loss to force a turnover on downs.
The Raiders only managed a field goal on the following drive to move ahead 20-14.
The conventional wisdom would, of course, be that going for it on fourth down that deep in a team’s territory is a questionable call, especially with so much time remaining.
But do the numbers back up Staley’s decision? Of course they do.
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According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Chargers’ projected winning percentage went up slightly with them deciding to go for it, while a decision to punt would have slightly reduced the team’s chances.
The Chargers decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 from their own 18-yard line was the optimal call according to the NGS Decision Guide powered by @awscloud.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 10, 2022
The Chargers and Raiders are playing in a game with heavy playoff implications. The winner goes to the AFC playoffs while the loser goes home, although a tie would send both to the postseason over the Steelers. Staley said leading up to the game that his team would not kneel down for the entire game to ensure a tie.
If the Chargers come back to win (they trailed 29-14 late in the fourth quarter), they would head to Buffalo to take on the Bills. A win by the Raiders would send Las Vegas to Cincinnati to face the Bengals. Should the teams tie, the Chargers would play the Bills and the Raiders would face the No. 2-seed Chiefs.