Sports Columnist

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

Go for it.

It’s time for college and NFL coaches to rethink fourth down. Why punt when you have a 70 percent chance of completing a pass? Pro Football Talk pointed out that, in 2018, NFL teams are going for it and making it more often.

Last year, NFL teams averaged 1.89 fourth-down attempts per game and made it 46.4 percent of the time. This season, it’s up to 2.0 times per game and 62.5 percent.

Guess which team was most aggressive and most successful on fourth down last year? The Philadelphia Eagles. Maybe you remember them beating the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The New Orleans Saints, who look like the best team in the NFL right now, are 11-for-12 on fourth down, best in the league.

Drew Brees has completed 76.4 percent of his passes. He’s completed more than 80 percent of his passes shorter than 10 yards. If the Saints have fourth-and-three, no matter where they are on the field, why would they punt?

Nothing is more of a factor in NFL games than turnovers. The team that turns it over less has better than an 80 percent chance of winning.

When you punt, you’re turning the ball over voluntarily. Back in ancient times, when a good quarterback completed 50 percent of his passes, it made a lot more sense to turn the ball over on fourth-and-five.

There are six quarterbacks in the NFL who have completed more than 69 percent of their passes this season. There’s at least a two-out-of-three chance that an NFL pass will be completed, no matter who’s playing quarterback.

What do you suppose the league percentage is for passes shorter than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage? I’m too tired to look it up, but I’d be willing to bet it’s 80 percent.

Why punt on fourth-and-three?

Did you see Monday night’s game? The Los Angeles Rams beat the Kansas City Chiefs 54-51. There were seven punts in the game. With 105 points being scored, how long before you get the idea that turning the game over to your defense might not be a good idea?

Kevin Kelley is the head coach of Pulaski Academy in Arkansas. He never punts. The last time I checked, his record was 77-17 with two state championships.

Did you happen to catch the Oklahoma-West Virginia game Friday night? Oklahoma won 59-56 and the score wasn’t inflated by overtime as so many college games are. It was in regulation. Oklahoma punted once, West Virginia twice. Why would you ever voluntarily hand the ball to either one of the offenses in that game? And imagine an offense like Oklahoma’s or the Saints’ if they approached every possession with the attitude that they have four downs to make 10 yards instead of three.

How would you like to be the defensive coordinator preparing for that?

Defenses at the highest level in football appear to be becoming more helpless every year. Take your four downs and see if they can prevent you from getting two-and-a-half yards a play. Go for it.

  • Lots of people are second-guessing Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford for his choice of Matt Murray over Marc-Andre Fleury in June of 2017. At the time, it seemed like a no-brainer and most, if not every, GM would have made the same choice. To trade a young goalie, who had just won his second Stanley Cup, would have been bold bordering on insane. It’s up to Murray to make it look like the right move and, so far, he hasn’t come close. His lower-body injury that didn’t prevent him from being the backup Wednesday night, but got him placed on the injured reserve list Thursday is a little mysterious. No more so than his goals-against average, which is above 4.00. It’s a long way back from where he is now to where he was when he was skating around the ice carrying the Stanley Cup 17 months ago.
  • The Match on pay-per-view with Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods was the beginning of gambling being a big part of sports television. Think of all the ways that the NFL can produce revenue with a betting network. Maybe you’ll be able to bet on whether a team will punt or go for it on fourth down.
  • Ohio State and Michigan have played each other in football every year since 1918. What a concept. They played each other in a blizzard in Columbus back in 1950 and combined for 45 punts. The wind might have been a factor. Michigan won 9-3.
  • Thanksgiving wasn’t a good day for the NFL. All NFC teams. Two indoor games. A lot of boring football.
  • Detroit Lions fans, and maybe everybody in the greater Detroit area, should be embarrassed by the Lions playing in an indoor stadium. Weak.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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