Chiefs coach Andy Reid may have set the tone for the Chiefs’ entire season with a call in the first quarter of Thursday night’s win over the Texans that showed he’s getting even more aggressive about using his elite offense.
The Chiefs faced a fourth-and-1 at their own 34-yard line, and Reid made the decision to go for it. Keeping the offense on the field worked, as the Chiefs picked up the first down and then marched down the field and scored a touchdown on that drive. In hindsight, Reid obviously made the right call, but it shouldn’t be overlooked how unusual a call it was: Reid did something that no coach in the NFL did all last season.
In the entire 2019 NFL season, no team ever went for it on fourth down from inside its own 40-yard line in the first quarter of any game. What Reid did by keeping his offense on the field in the first quarter was far outside the norm.
But it was indisputably the right call. Statistical analysts have been pointing out for years that teams should go for it on fourth down more and punt less. Fourth-and-1, in particular, is a situation when it’s almost always better to go for it than to punt. Smart coaches are figuring this out. Eagles coach Doug Pederson got more aggressive on fourth downs during the 2017 season, and the Eagles ended up winning the Super Bowl. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said at the start of last season that he had studied the math and become convinced that he should go for it on fourth down more often, and the Ravens had the best record in the NFL in the regular season. And now Reid is showing that he understands the benefits of going for it more on fourth down: He went for it twice early in the Super Bowl, and then made that gutsy call on Thursday night.
It shouldn’t require guts to make the right call. But it does, because coaches are second-guessed when they go for it on fourth down and it doesn’t work out. The truth is, we ought to be second-guessing the coaches who punt instead of going for it. Going for it on fourth down is smart, and it’s helping smart coaches win.