Steelers vs. Saints

The situation: Steelers leading 28-24, 4:11 remaining in the game, 4th and 5 at PIT 42 – Steelers fake the punt

For additional perspective on the Steelers’ fake punt decision, we examined the historical NFL conversion rate (dating back to 2000). On average, teams could be expected to convert this 4th and 5, 50.2% of the time. In this specific situation, the Steelers have 72.7% GWC if they punt, 91.1% GWC if they convert a first down with exactly a 5 yard gain, and drop to 52.1% GWC if they turn the ball over on the 42 yard line. With these basic and conservative assumptions, the Steelers stand to gain 18.4% GWC (91.1-72.7) when they convert, and give up 20.6% GWC (72.7-52.1) when they fail. Therefore the Steelers need to convert 20.6/(20.6 + 18.4) = 52.8% to justify this fake punt. While this number is a bit higher than the historical average, keep in mind that there was a surprise element to the decision and the Steelers could typically expect to get overage yardage on a successful first down beyond just a 5 yard gain. Combining this information with the custom simulation (that shows the rush is preferred when the Steelers rushing EPI rank is boosted from 6.5 to 8.5) it appears that Tomlin made a very reasonable decision.