100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 68: 4th Quarter Play-Calling
A little while ago at RotoWorld, I posted an analysis of play-calling in the fourth quarter and its effect on fantasy production:
When a team has a late lead, they should indeed be more conservative with their play-calling. The degree of such a conservative philosophy should depend on the score, and unless you’re up by multiple touchdowns, the correct move isn’t a run-the-ball-on-first-and-second-down-and-then-attempt-a-short-pass-on-third-down-short-of-the-first-down strategy that we see so often. For the most part, unless time is ticking away near the end of the game, offenses with very small leads should run very close to their normal offense, with the focus still primarily on point-maximization.
But outside of a few exceptions, they don’t. And it has fantasy football ramifications.
Fourth-Quarter Play-Calling and Stats
I knew we’d see some dramatic differences in fourth-quarter play-calling based on the score, but what I found is pretty shocking. Here’s a look at the difference in passing attempts and YPA for offenses that are either leading by 14 or trailing by 14 in the fourth quarter.
Note that, although there’s a difference in efficiency, it’s not that extreme. This is par for the course with quarterbacks; the difference between the best and worst in terms of efficiency isn’t monumental. Meanwhile, the difference in passing attempts can be substantial, especially on the level of an individual game or quarter.
Overall, offenses down by 14 in the fourth quarter rack up around nine more passing attempts than their winning counterparts. That leads to an average of 73 fourth-quarter passing yards for the quarterback of a team down by two touchdowns or more in the final frame, compared to just 21 passing yards for quarterbacks on the team with the lead. That’s a substantial difference—around 3-3.5 fantasy points, depending on your scoring system.
And that’s just from yards alone. Here’s a peek at touchdowns/interceptions in the fourth quarter of 14-point games.
Teams that are trailing by 14 or more points throw way more interceptions, but they also toss a lot more touchdowns, too, and the scores more than make up for the picks. In leagues that award four points for passing touchdowns and deduct two points for interceptions, quarterbacks on teams that are trailing by 14 points score an average of 1.30 fantasy points in the fourth quarter from their TD/INT totals. Quarterbacks on winning teams total just 0.66 fantasy points.
If we add it together, we’re looking at an additional four fantasy points for quarterback who are trailing big in the fourth quarter. That’s just from the passing stats, too; if you have a mobile quarterback, he’s more likely to rack up rushing yards on scrambles.
Having said all that, these results are somewhat surprising, but not a total shock since a 14-point lead is a big one that should dramatically alter play-calling. But what about in close games that are within one touchdown? Offenses with a small lead aren’t just messing around by keeping the ball on the ground, right?
Even though it’s a smaller gap, teams down by less than a touchdown are throwing the ball more than twice as often as teams up by seven or less in the fourth quarter! With basically no difference in YPA, that equates to twice as many fourth-quarter passing yards, too.