My college roommate and I have long held, without rigorous empirical evidence, that NFL coaches punt way too often. This week’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback makes that case and even backs it with some non-trivial evidence derived from a 2005 David Romer paper. This is by no means an airtight argument, but it’s sound enough — i.e., certainly worthy of more than 3 percent credence — that really someone or other ought to think outside the box and give it a try.
Let me also say that Easterbrook doesn’t even throw on to the pile one of the considerations in favor of a much more aggressive fourth down strategy — it would make defending third down situations harder. One major structural advantage the offense has is, of course, that the defense doesn’t know what play the offense is going to run. In certain circumstances, though, you can get a pretty good guess. Third down situations, in particular, get fairly predictable. If you need short yardage, you’re goign to run; if you need long yardage, you’re going to pass. If, however, you plan on going for it on fourth down and the other team knows you’re going to go for it then everything gets much harder to predict.