Never Punting

From an article of the same title by Jason Scheib on Football Outsiders:

When a football team fails to convert on third down, it usually punts. And when it punts, it is turning the ball over to the other team. So why isn't a punt considered a turnover, just like an interception or fumble?

I started with this simple idea and began exploring it as far and in as many different directions as it would take me. Over time, it has grown into a theory that redefines a turnover and uses this new definition to see what a team can do to improve their net turnovers and win more games. This theory presents two significant implications:

  • A team would win more games if they never punted, and
  • A team that never punts would not just be employing a different strategy but would approach the game in a fundamentally different way, which would further add to their success.

This is not about taking more risks and punting less often. That could cost you games depending on when you decided to punt and when you decided not to. The key is to never punt. Never punting takes away the risk because it allows the averages to work in your favor. It also opens you up to different play calling opportunities, primarily on third down. The two go together and are dependent on each other in order to make this work...

Everybody knows that in football you have four downs to gain 10 yards or you lose control of the ball. But everybody approaches football as if you only have three downs to gain 10 yards or — most of the time — you punt. There may be exceptions to that when a team gets close to the end zone, but in general that is the primary approach. Think about that. Convention says that you are better off punting. And maybe that's true if you approach the game as if you only have three downs. The difference is mindset.

That's the difference between saying you should be more aggressive and punt less often, depending on the situation, and saying that you should not punt at all. The first statement is based upon still approaching the game with a three down mindset. The second statement is based on approaching the game with a four down mindset.

So what exactly is four down mindset? It means you look at EVERY first-and-10 as if you have four tries for a first down instead of three. After all, the rules of the game say you have four tries.

How does this affect strategy? Well, primarily it affects what you do on third down. On third down, instead of having the mindset that you need to convert or the punting unit comes in, you have the mindset that all you need to do is get closer to the first down marker so as to put you in a better position to convert on fourth down.

The article contains a ton of statistics and analysis and makes an interesting argument.