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The Seahawks on 4th Down: To punt or go for it

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

"Being GMC Professional Grade means being bold and decisive. At the quarter mark of the season, it's time to put a stake in the ground. What bold decision would you like to see from your team?"

All of Davis' talk about 3rd Downs got me thinking about Seattle's decision making on 4th Downs.

Statistically speaking, the odds of converting a fourth down conversion of manageable distance (two yards or less) are actually in your favor. Perusing Pro Football Reference, we can see that of all fourth down conversion attempts of that yardage in the past four seasons, a good 60% have succeeded.

If we eliminate blowout games (point margin of 14+) and eliminate situations where most people would not recommend going for it (inside your own 35), we jump slightly to 61.3% conversion rate. When we further focus in on field position between your opponents' 38-yard line and your 40, the liberal "too long for a field goal but also kind of a short punt" area, we see a very nice 68% conversion rate of 4th and 1 or 4th and 2. Yet, fourth down attempts are relatively rare. They're seen as too risky, and coaches are often traditionalists, not statistics adherents. Failures on fourth-down tries are disproportionately embarrassing to the praise of a success, and a coach's reputation can honestly be affected by one or two unsuccessful attempts. Even if the stats tell you to go for it, many coaches choose the safer narrative.

I don't feel strongly about this -- I know some do, and there's a school of though that says teams should never punt once past midfield -- but I'm starting to wonder if and when Seattle is going to go for it on fourth down in one of these situations. Thus far this year, Seattle's only punted rather than going for it with field position that puts them out of field goal range, and for a coach whose nickname at USC was "Big Balls Pete," Carroll has played it pretty safe thus far. He plays the field position game. He tries to back teams up to their goalline.

Seattle's around-midfield-out-of-field-goal-range 4th down situations:


4-2-GB 44 (8:44 1st Quarter) J.Ryan punts 32 yards to GB 12, Center-C.Gresham, fair catch by R.Cobb. PENALTY on GB-M.Daniels, Running Into the Kicker, 5 yards, enforced at GB 44 - No Play.

Seattle encountered a fourth down on their first drive, and were well into Packers territory (I mean, six yards anyway). The "book" would probably tell you the odds say to go for it here, but Carroll elects to punt. Randall Cobb fair-catches it at the 12 yard line -- a 32 yard field position change -- but Green Bay's flub up front gives Seattle a fresh set of downs. You still have to wonder if this was playing it a bit too safe. Against Aaron Rodgers and an at-that-point still unknown Green Bay offense, I suppose Carroll wanted to get off on the right foot, defensively.

4-4-SEA 47 (12:13 3rd Quarter) J.Ryan punts 39 yards to GB 14, Center-C.Gresham, fair catch by R.Cobb.

This may have been the right call. The Seahawks' first drive of the second half, they held a 17-10 lead. Going for it in your own half of the field with a one-score lead is probably a little too aggressive.

4-8-GB 37 (5:02 3rd Quarter) J.Ryan punts 27 yards to GB 10, Center-C.Gresham, fair catch by R.Cobb.

I would guess the 8 yards to go on this play was the determining factor for punting. Seattle only nets 27 yards on the punt, though, so there are some that would say the risk wasn't all that great in just going for it.


4-21-SD 46 (11:04 1st Quarter) J.Ryan punts 46 yards to end zone, Center-C.Gresham, Touchback.

Russell Wilson takes a sack, losing 13 yards after the Seahawks snapped the ball from the 33-yard line, and this moved Seattle out of field goal range. Even Big Balls Pete won't go for it on 4th and 21. Seattle barely had the ball in this game, so that was the only applicable 4th down in San Diego territory.

4-2-SEA 36 (8:07) J.Ryan punts 64 yards to end zone, Center-C.Gresham, Touchback.

Many believed the Seahawks needed to go for it here, despite not being past midfield. Seattle was down 27-21, the defense had been on the field for ages, and Seattle ran the risk of going down two scores or running out of time. They elected to punt, and by the time they got the ball back, were at their own 11 yard line with 3:04 remaining. You make the call: should Seattle have gone for it here?


4-6-DEN 41 (9:39 2nd Quarter) J.Ryan punts 34 yards to DEN 7, Center-C.Gresham, fair catch by I.Burse.

Punting from the opponent's 41 yard line, even with six yards to go, will raise some eyebrows. It was probably the right call, in retrospect, as the Broncos could only get back out to their own 30 yard line before punting. The offense would get the ball back quickly.

4-1-50 (10:16 3rd Quarter) J.Ryan punts 43 yards to DEN 7, Center-C.Gresham, downed by SEA-J.Johnson.

Seahawks were leading 17-3 at this point. Pinning Denver at their own 7 isn't necessarily a bad deal. If Jon Ryan sails this into the endzone though, we're having a slightly different conversation possibly.

Go for it or no?

So, bottom line -- what do you think? Is Seattle playing it too safe in these instances? Should Pete Carroll break out his trademark Big Balls? Talk about it below.

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