Question: When should coach take points off?

Great topic and article from the Washington Post this afternoon:

Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote that had Washington lost, the game “would have been blamed on a decision by the Redskins to take three of their own points off the board in the third quarter.”

Some might say it was a bad decision, because the Redskins came away empty handed and they nearly lost by a single point. But that would be hindsight, and Shanahan’s decision should be judged based on the facts on hand at the time.A concept known as “expected points,” computed using several seasons’ worth of NFL drives, can measure the point value of various down-and-distance situations on the field. For example, a first and goal on the one is worth about 6 expected points, because it’s a near certainty the offense will score a touchdown in that situation. (With a first and goal from the 1, teams score touchdowns just more than 86 percent of the time, and come away with field goals another 9 percent of the time.)

A first down at an opponent’s 40 is worth about 3 expected points to an offense because, on average, they will end up with a field goal on the drive.

A few more examples:

*First and 10 from a team’s own 15-yard line is zero expected points. In other words, it’s the neutral point where each team is equally likely to score next.

*First and 10 at midfield is worth about 2 expected points, but if the offense is stuffed for no gain or throws an incomplete pass, second and 10 at midfield is worth 1.5 expected points.

*On third and 10 at midfield, it becomes 0.8 expected points.

Toward the end of close games, it often makes sense to keep the points on the board to tie or take the lead. Game situation in terms of score and time remaining can be critically important in the end game, but this wasn’t the case on Sunday night.

By accepting the penalty and taking the points off the board, the Redskins had a first and 10 at the Dallas 12. This is worth 4.6 expected points, clearly more than a field goal, so Shanahan made the right call.

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