Looking at all of Ron Rivera's 4th down decisions since 2017

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Given the Ron Rivera debates from the last few days, I decided to take a step back and look at every tough decision he's had to make over the last year or so. This data tells us nothing about him as a head coach other than what he's done on 4th downs in situations where there's more options than just a punt or field goal. I understand people have gripes about Rivera that aren't specifically 4th down related, however, it is not uncommon to see people cite Rivera's 2013 risk taking as a reference point to say that he's changed and is unwilling to take risks on 4th down. For the most part, this is just raw data and is not intended to continue the same arguments that have gone on all week. Instead, I'm more interested in seeing how everyone feels about specific 4th down examples rather than the usual generic complaints of "He's a coward on 4th down now!"

Explanation of the Chart

  • I apologize for the size, SBN hates https and TinyPic is rough. This is more readable.
  • The first 6 columns are straight forward. No. of 4th down attempts, week/opponent, distance to 1st down/touchdown, field location (if it's on Carolina's side of the field it's highlighted in blue), score at the time of the decision, and then the decision Rivera made.
  • The last 3 columns are where I deviate from just raw numbers and formulate some opinions; the "verdict' column is how I imagine the average fan will view it (most of them are "debatable") and then the "opinion" column is my opinion of the decision along with comments of why rated it the way I did.

Rules for determining what qualifies as a "4th down decision"

  • I tried to use my best judgement to account for timing of the game and situation, first and foremost
  • Anything on Carolina's side of the field had to be 4th and 1 or less, anything more I viewed as a bit unfair to expect coaches to gamble regularly on, and it seems a lot of people in the fanbase specifically point to Cam's ~85% conversion on 4th and 1 (100% since 2014?) as a baseline.
  • Anything in field goal range was deemed a "decision" if less than two yards to gain. This obviously doesn't apply to key situations such as a blowout game where field goals are worthless, at that point you HAVE to go for the touchdown.
  • I did not include 4th down attempts where Rivera had no choice but to go for it. For example, he doesn't deserve credit for going for a 4th and 2 on the game winning drive against Tampa Bay in Week 17 since a field goal would result in a loss in that situation.
  • I did not include 4th down attempts that were essentially wasted downs/strategic, such as the last play of the game against Atlanta where Cam held the ball and then chucked it to the end zone just to end the game rather than give the Falcons a chance to block a field goal attempt.


Full image here.


Based on looking at the outcomes and decisions made, I noticed three things:

  • Ron really does NOT like to go for 4th down on his side of the field. Any fans who are looking for a coach who rolls the dice while in his own territory, he's definitely not the coach for you. This kind of makes me want to investigate some of the current top coaches and see how they typically handled 4th and short on their own side.
  • A lot of times when he punts on 4th and 1 from his own side of the field, it's easy to see why he continues to do so: his defense consistently forces the three and out in these situations. This is NOT an endorsement of punting on 4th and 1, just something I noticed while writing this, statistically.
  • His "sweet spot" for risk taking exists mostly from the 50 yard line to the 25-ish yard line, which tells me he generally wants the three points when inside easier field goal range. I believe this would be a little different if we had more opportunities right at the goal-line, as I seem to remember more goal-line attempts in previous years.

Obviously my opinion fell in line with a lot of Rivera's decisions, but I'm curious to see how the rest of the fanbase feels about specific 4th down instances. Did the 4th down decisions look like what you expected? Which ones do you disagree with? Are there any 4th downs not mentioned that you feel should've been included?

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