Brandon Staley has relied on analysis throughout the season to back up his decisions to go for the fourth down. The Chargers head coach followed the numbers again Sunday night, but this time he made a decision that has many NFL fans scratching their heads.
Staley opted to do it at 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 much as some hoped, as running back Austin Ekeler was tackled for a 2-yard loss to force a fumble on opportunities.
The Raiders only managed one field goal in the next series to advance 20-14.
Conventional wisdom would, of course, be that trying a fourth time deep within a team’s territory is a questionable decision, especially with so much time left.
But do the numbers support Staley’s decision? Of course they do.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Chargers’ projected winning percentage increased slightly when they decided to give it a try, while the decision to punt would have slightly reduced the team’s chances.
The Chargers’ decision to do it at 4 and 1 from their own 18-yard line was the optimal decision according to the NGS Decision Guide driven by @awscloud.
– Next Generation Statistics (@NextGenStats) January 10, 2022
The Chargers and Raiders were playing a game with strong playoff implications. The winner would go to the AFC playoffs while the loser would go home, although a tie would send them both to the postseason over the Steelers. Staley said before the game that his team would not kneel for the entire game to ensure a tie.
Los Angeles finally came back to force overtime, scoring a touchdown and kicking the extra point with no time remaining in regulation time to make the score 29-29. But Las Vegas won the game 35-32 on a Daniel Carlson field goal with no time left in overtime after the teams exchanged field goals early in the period.
The Raiders will travel to Cincinnati next weekend to face the Bengals in the wild card round. The Steelers will go to Kansas City to face the No. 2 seed Chiefs.
This article has been updated with the final score.