Ken Whisenhunt and fourth downs

I chronicled all of Mike Munchak’s fourth down decisions last year, but never posted anything here about it after the season ended since Munchak won’t be making any more fourth down calls for the Titans. What will matter for the 2014 Titans is what Ken Whisenhunt does on fourth downs.

As an offensive coordinator last year, my presumption is he didn’t make any of the decisions on what the Chargers did on fourth downs in 2013. That sends me back to his Arizona days. The story of his fourth downs in Arizona was pretty simple: he was moderately aggressive his first two seasons, increasingly conservative his final four seasons to the point where what he did on fourth downs could be summarized as “take the offense off the field.” From the Grand List o’ 2012 fourth downs, here’s a complete listing of every time the 2012 Arizona Cardinals went for it on fourth down other than when trailing in the fourth quarter and everybody* goes for it:

1. Week 6, up 1 with 1:40 to go in the second quarter, fourth-and-2 from their own 33 (fake punt);
2. Week 8, down 14 with 7:47 to go in the third quarter, fourth-and-2 from the Vikings 18;
3. Week 10, down 17 with :04 to go in the second quarter, fourth-and-8 from their own 47;
4. Week 10, down 24 with 4:26 to go in the third quarter, fourth-and-2 from the 49ers 39;
5. Week 13, tied with 10:11 to go in the first quarter, fourth-and-1 from the Jets 17; and
6. Week 13, tied with 1:11 to go in the second quarter, fourth-and-7 from their own 25 (fake punt).
7. Week 16, down 11 with 9:42 to go in the second quarter, fourth-and-10 from the Bears 32 (fake field goal)

By my count, that’s one obvious Hail Mary (#3), two situations where kicking does you no good (##2, 4), two kick fakes in interesting situations (##1, 6, 7), and one act of conventional aggressiveness (#5). I didn’t do the same complete analysis for prior seasons, but this P-F-R query of when the Cardinals actually did go for it on fourth downs seems to tell a pretty similar story.

I considered Munchak to be on the whole pretty conventionally conservative, but he showed a pleasant willingness to go for it on fourth-and-1 on the opposing side of the field, by and large a time when any general model supports that kind of thing. Whisenhunt did not show even that sort of aggressiveness, calling plenty of kicking plays even in short yardage in plus territory. It’s certainly possible that an improved offensive line could change Whisenhunt’s apparent fourth down philosophy, as could any reliability issues involving Maikon Bonani, Travis Coons, or Other, but I’m expecting to see plenty of the kicking and punting units on Titans fourth downs in 2014, even in situations where I might prefer not to see them. Also, if other teams cotton on to those punt fakes in his own territory in two minute situations at the end of the first half and get a stop when he tries it, I just hope it happens when I’m watching the game at home and can yell and scream to my heart’s content and not at a game where I feel the need to act like a reasonable person.

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