Teams have been going for it, and converting, on fourth down at an unprecedented rate this season in the NFL.
There have been few games where fourth-down decisions had as big an impact as last Sunday night in Seattle, when the Seahawks used two fourth-down conversions after stopping Minnesota on fourth-and-1 to beat the Vikings 27-26.
In all, teams have gone for it on fourth down 188 times this season with 108 conversions, the most through five weeks since at least 1991. The 57.4% conversion rate is second highest in that span to the 58.7% in 2012.
The increase is a sign of greater influence from analytics, which show teams should go for it on fourth down at a much higher rate than they do.
The numbers pointed in favor of the Vikings’ decision to bypass a short field goal that would have put them up by eight points in favor of trying to convert and run out the clock. According to EdjSports, the decision increased Minnesota’s chances of winning by 2.1 percentage points.
The move backfired, especially when Russell Wilson converted two fourth downs on the game-winning drive for the Seahawks. Seattle became the second team in the past four seasons to convert two fourth downs on a game-winning drive that overcame a deficit in the final five minutes of a game, joining the Bengals, who did it against Atlanta in 2018.
While going for it when behind late in the fourth quarter is typical, some of the other decisions haven’t been. Tampa Bay became the second team to go for it from inside its own 20 in the first half of a game.
In all, teams have gone for it 56 times on fourth down in the first half this season, converting 35 of them for a 62.5% clip.