« REPLAY: Person, Jones answer your questions about the Panthers | Main | Charles Johnson says he'll play vs. Saints »

December 03, 2013

New fourth down robot can keep track of Riverboat Ron

Robot Ron just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera has been dubbed Riverboat Ron for his recent penchant for going for it on fourth downs, and now, there's a robot that can say whether or not it was a good call.

The New York Times, in association with AdvancedNFLStats.com, has developed a Fourth Down Bot. The bot analyzes over 10 years of NFL game data to determine if a coach made the right call to punt, kick the field goal or go for it. In general, "it finds NFL coaches far too conservative."

Well, not Rivera. Not anymore.

The Panthers are 9-for-11 on fourth downs, and one of those misses includes a garbage-time fourth-down attempt to salt the 36-0 win away against the Giants in Week 3. 

The bot backs up Rivera and the Panthers on a lot of its calls, but there are a few exceptions that stand out. The bot would have punted on fourth-and-10 against Miami when Rivera went for it and converted via a Steve Smith catch. Due in large part to Rivera going for it rather than punting, the Panthers would win the game 20-16.

Another decision the bot disagreed with was Rivera choosing to take the field goal in the final two minutes at Buffalo in Week 2. The bot would have gone for it, and in hindsight, Rivera would have, too. He's pointed to that game as the moment in which he changed his philosophy on fourth downs.

Click here to take a look at every fourth-down decision the Panthers have faced this year and whether Rivera made the right call according to the data. This bot may also come in handy Sunday night in Carolina's showdown at the Superdome against New Orleans.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on December 3, 2013 at 04:18 PM | Permalink


he went from never go for it to always go for it. and his luck is making him look like a better decision maker than he actually is.

it's going to cost us in a major way at some point, but it's fun watching it happen.

but when you have an insanely accurate kicker, and 3 points will add a possession to your lead just as much as 7 will, probability tells you to take the 3. he doesn't get that. just like he didn't in buffalo by kicking the field goal that did NOTHING for us.

ice up watch: steve smith officially top 20 all time receiving yards. top 15 is 701 yards away (early next season) top 10 another 1000 after that. would love to see him have a monster game sunday. he's due for one.

Posted by: charlottean | Dec 3, 2013 7:12:24 PM

It may cost us at some point, but Fox cost us a chance at a Super Bowl title for going for 2 numerous times in the Super Bowl. Too early in the game for that. Keep rolling the dice Ron, just remember that in the playoffs, those points become a premium, and kicking a field goal may not be the wrong decision.

Posted by: DaveT | Dec 3, 2013 7:24:52 PM

In the CO, after the Miami game, you published that the Panthers had a 12% chance of winning if Rivera punted, and a 14% chance of winning if he chooses to go for the first down. Which is it? Or, are you going to have it both ways?

Posted by: Ben | Dec 3, 2013 8:48:37 PM

As long as he's on the other side of the 50, 4th and 1 with this team should ALWAYS be a go-for-it decision. With Tolbert, Stewart, and Newton as options behind Kalil, and our defense to fall back on if we fail, it's a no-brainer.

Posted by: Authority on Everything | Dec 3, 2013 8:54:41 PM

It's about time an NFL coach used the 4 downs allowed to run the offense. It has always amazed me how coaches throw away 25% of their chances. There is certainly a time to punt, but I totally agreed with the 4th and 10 against Miami. The logic has always been to punt and let your defense keep them from getting a 1st down. Well, the odds of making it on 4th are often much better than "keeping them from getting a 1st down." I'm mostly talking about when there's 2-2/12 minutes left in the game. It's called playing to win. Who cares if you risk giving the other team field position if they're already ahead in the game. There have been many studies published on the subject, and they have all been largely ignored. The most frustrating is punting on 4th and inches, from almost anywhere on the field...statistically it isn't very risky at all.

Posted by: Frankie | Dec 3, 2013 11:22:19 PM

"his luck is making him look like a better decision maker than he actually is."

I know your not fond of Rivera charlottean, so your opinions on him are going to be skewed.

Actually, it was a coach realizing the only way to win football games in the NFL is to score touchdowns. Not kick field goals and not punt the ball. He believes in the offense now.

This belief is what is encouraging them to be successful on fourth down. Not luck. Just confidence.

Posted by: D.W.G. | Dec 4, 2013 6:05:35 AM

When the team would likely LOSE (and sometimes they will absolutely lose) if you DON'T make the first down then you really have no choice but to go for it. Its the tough 4th down decisions that should be made based on other factors. (Field position, wind direction, how much time is left,etc..)

Posted by: Tom | Dec 4, 2013 9:46:02 AM


it's different in different situations. he used to NOT go for it when he should of. now he just goes for it every time. neither are right.

different situations call for it and others don't. it's mathematically incorrect for you to kick a field goal when up 3 and less than 2 minutes to go like he did against buffalo. by the same note, it's mathematically incorrect to go for it up 4 early in the game when you have an automatic field goal kicker in automatic range. the risk outweighs the reward. it's just math.

it's not my opinion of him as a coach. it's him being on the wrong side of math. it's no different than playing blackjack and this dude is hitting on 17 and he's getting 2's and 3's and 4's with regularity. he's on the wrong side of math.

now, he SHOULD go for it more than other teams because our offense has been GREAT in short yardage. we have the BEST running QB, one of if not the best short yardage backs in tolbert, 2 elite backs in williams and stewart, and some really solid blocking up front specifically talking about kalil in those situations.

but that doesn't change the situations where he's taking unnecessary risk and being bailed out by his players.

i also don't get why he is challenging calls up 21 points with a few minutes left in the game. seems kind of ridiculous. leaving his starters out there too long also. 14 point lead? sure. 21 point lead? no ron, go sit down.

the guy seems like a great motivator/leader/people person that all the players love playing for and respect him greatly. he got rave reviews as the D-coordinator for chicago. bears fans adore that dude. but he makes horrible decisions as the head coach of our team. he just does. we're winning on the backs of a STACKED team that we built for the past several years and NAILED our recent draft picks.

and No dave....... fox did what was appropriate in that super bowl game. we were down 21-16. in the 4th quarter. you ALWAYS go for 2 points there. going for one does nothing for you at all. there's no 4 point play then he went for it when we were up 22-21, again going for 1 does NOTHING for you. 2 point leads vs. 1 point leads are the same. 3 point leads are not. if we had gone for 1 both of those times, we still lose the game by 1. rivera makes more mistakes on these type of calls in 1 game than fox does in a season.

that all said, the numbers are way more on our side with him going for it than not. and that's because of our personnel. but if he knew what he was doing, we would be that much better off and we wouldn't have lost all the games we did last year or at the beginning of the year this year that came down to one bonehead decision or 2.

Posted by: charlottean | Dec 4, 2013 10:11:03 AM

I always go for it on 4th down in Madden; Genius available for hire.

Posted by: gimbel | Dec 4, 2013 11:23:14 AM

@Charlottean: I diagree with your assessment about Rivera going for it too much. They were all calculated and logical decisions- except for maybe that 4th and 10 in Miami. The rest of his decisions were based on his assessment of how well his team is playing and what they're capable of. I find it really funny that people think he's such a big gambler now because almost all of his decisions to go on 4th down were not that risky. In fact, there's an article that came out on the NFL website this year that talked about how overblown it is that people lable "fourth down tries" as risky. In fact they are very statistically sound and work out most of the time. The more insightful coaches in college and NFL have latched onto this (Belichik, Kelly, Fisher) and go on many fourth downs very regularly. More than anything, the whole "not going for it on fourth down" is a culture-based thing and not very logical.

Posted by: PantherD | Dec 4, 2013 11:28:49 AM

Ron Rivera is a great coach - time for everyone to start recognizing that simple fact. Going for it on fourth down shows confidence - in the offense to get it and the defense to hold them if we don't get it. Both sides love it - and confidence and chemistry are the two items this team was lacking before Thanksgivving 2012. Rivera has built this team into a very confident team that has good chemistry. Every team has talent and most teams have good leaders. Nobody plays long in the NFL without hard work - so the only items that remain are confidence, chemistry and experience. The Panthers now have those three and although i don't think they will win the Super Bowl this year I do think they will be a contender this year and since the team is young likely for the next five years.

Posted by: Dom | Dec 4, 2013 11:55:03 AM

@charlottean...go back to New York or Pittsburgh. You obviously aren't really from here. With your attitude and how self absorbed you are, there is no way you're originally from the South. wah wah wah, whine whine whine, bah hubbug....enough...

Posted by: go back | Dec 4, 2013 1:18:23 PM

@charlottean...other than 12 year olds...who USES random capitalization of ENTIRE words in their sentences? I BET you would UNDERLINE and italicize them as well IF the features would allow. WOW I feel so COOL typing like THIS? lol...clown...

Posted by: are you 12? | Dec 4, 2013 1:21:25 PM

Charlottean I think I disagreed wholeheartedly with just about every opinion you have about Rivera.

He's betting on his offense to win games rather than constantly relying on his defense.. This has a huge effect on player's perception on their team, their morale, and greatly affects their confidence when then can convert the 4th downs. Example: It's very hard to make money when you don't have money. This team needed to learn how to win. There is no better way to instill confidence and satisfaction than to keep your offense on the field for another 4 downs. In order to make a splash you have to take a dive. This is a big reason why head coaches like Belichek have an impressive winning percentage. It's all about taking well calculated risks. If you don't wager, you can't win. Will Rivera fail to convert or lose a bad challenge at some point? Sure, but so far, more often than not, his team would agree that he's putting them in the best position to win.

Posted by: Shaun NJ | Dec 4, 2013 2:54:17 PM

If you have a freakishly athletic quarterback or a bowling ball for a RB, these short yardage situations should be gimmes. These are calculated moves rather than out right gambles and that is the reason for the high success rate.

Posted by: Jeff Otah | Dec 4, 2013 5:04:11 PM

so we can say Ron's nickname should be Robot Ron since he basically doing what a computer would have done...

Posted by: mds435 | Dec 4, 2013 5:16:51 PM

Rivera DOESN'T go for it "everytime" now when it's fourth and short. He took the 3 against Tampa to go up 3 TD's.

Posted by: Soulsay | Dec 4, 2013 5:38:59 PM

i can't help the fact that probability is factual and i like facts and you guys don't have the brain capacity for that.

ask a real coach like belichick or fox or carroll or coughlin about the topic. it's not my opinion. it's math. argue against that if you want.

and yeah i capitalize words. i bet you speak in monotone, huh?

there is NOTHING calculated about not going for it ever, being criticized about it, and then going for it every single time after that. there's no calculation to that. https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Baa7noGCMAApK5U.jpg

i'm not at all arguing AGAINST going for it on 4th down. that's where you aren't listening. this is the same guy that punted/kicked the field goal.....EVERY SINGLE TIME up until after the buffalo game where everybody in the world with a brain blasted him for kicking a meaningless field goal. i was the guy that was complaining all last year about his lack of going for it on 4th and 1 AND the lack of judgement on 3rd and 1 situations where a hurry up QB sneak (tom brady style) gets it done every time.

go back? i was born in presby, not hardly. you think people up north are more self absorbed than people from the south? you might want to drive around a little. world's bigger than the suburb you claim is in charlotte.

this is the same coach that lost 7 games for us last year and 2 more this year. the talent is overcoming the coaching.

i'm the guy that's been saying we had a stacked team last year and this year, while everyone cried about being in "cap hell" (9-3 with 20 million in cap ROOM). The only issue this franchise has had the last few years has been critical game time decision making. it has improved this year, but he's still mismanaging time outs, still doesn't understand 4th down situations and still challenging at the wrong times and not when he should.

and we're winning in spite of it. there is no "critical analysis" taking place in that dude's head. don't even try to make that argument.

Posted by: charlottean | Dec 4, 2013 11:07:25 PM

Charlottean, just stop. Stop being that douche nozzle. Yes there is critical analysis going on in Rivera's head..

How can you prove that there isn't critical analysis going on in Rivera's head Charlottean?

Did you ask for his breakdown or methodology on the sidelines directly after the decision?

Fact is, Rivera is the typical "smarter than you look" coach. Get over it and support your team.

Posted by: Shaun NJ | Dec 5, 2013 11:01:24 AM

hahahaha@ support your team. like any of you guys were doing that when you jumped back on the bandwagon.

again.....i'm the one that was on here preseason AND LAST YEAR saying how stacked this team was and how coaching was the problem.

the players haven't changed all of a sudden so...............? it wasn't rivera's fault? or it was and now it isn't? or the players are just winning in spite of him? or he's caught some lucky breaks?

which is it?

because it clearly isn't that he understands how probability works now. most coaches have a cheat sheet chart (if they don't know it by memory) or someone in the booth with the up to the second digital version that tells them what is the mathematically correct decision to make. sometimes you go against the math to catch the other team napping but rivera? no he goes against the math almost every single time.

and run back his 3 year track record. he's been right about 4 out of 40 times. every other win has been a blowout. it's not coincidental.

tell me some more about how horrible hurney was. and how horrible our cap situation is. more unicorns and rainbows too.

Posted by: charlottean | Dec 5, 2013 12:22:28 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.