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Most Punts Are Bad - An Emotional And Logical Appeal To Rarely (If Ever) Punt

Punting is often seen as a positive in football. For Texas Tech, and most other football teams, it's actually bad.

Mark Lyons/Getty Images

Punts are terrible plays. There is no redeeming quality to any punt that has ever been punted. If you're the team punting, you failed at producing points. Now you must kick the ball anywhere from 40-60 yards down the field with sufficient hangtime. If you are receiving a punt, you awkwardly attempt to block people that are attempting to run by you and catch a ball plummeting swiftly back down to Earth without committing a penalty or turning it over.

Punting is often not the best choice for your offense. Football Outsiders argued that a punt should be considered a turnover in 2006, saying that it's the exact same as a fumble or a pick, you just lose less yards. In a 2005 paper, David Romer suggests that the reason why NFL coaches pick against statistics in 4th and less than 4 is the concern over their job security. Romer's paper discusses both the decision to kick field goals and punts instead of going for broke on 4th down, but he has this to say specifically about punting (page 4):

Section III uses the results of this dynamic-programming analysis to examine teams’ decisions on fourth down over the entire field. To estimate the value of kicking at various points on the field, I use the outcomes of actual field-goal attempts and punts. Decisions to go for it on fourth down (that is, not to kick) are sufficiently rare, however, that they cannot be used to estimate the value of trying for a first down or touchdown. I therefore use the outcomes of third down plays instead. I then compare the values of kicking and going for it to determine which decision is better on average as a function of where the team is on the field and the number of yards it needs for a first down or touchdown. Finally, I compare the results of this analysis with teams’ actual choices. I find that over the entire field, teams’ choices are far more conservative than the ones that would maximize their chances of winning.

Essentially, Romer's findings indicate that 10 years ago, NFL coaches were being far too conservative in their approach to 4th down decisions. It's the NFL, that's to be expected. Let's look at Kevin Kelley, the high school coach who has punted a grand total of three times in four years. He's 91-17 over his 13 seasons with Pulaski Academy, and he's made his mark used advanced statistics analysis that's resulted in a playstyle that completely bucks what we would consider traditional football. Kelley never punts, and he always onside kicks.

"What an idiot", think those of you that have never heard of this man. "It only works because it's a gimmick, it's a trick that's easily defended". In Kelley's case, the trick becomes normal. The trick becomes traditional. And when you practice the trick as normal, you create a stylistic and statistical advantage over opponents by being at least 4 times as prepared as they are for any given play. Kelley's teams are as good as they are through hard work and discipline, not pulling the wool over people's eyes, even when they're up 29-0 before the other teams gets a chance to run a single damn offensive play.

Okay, okay. The above stories and statistics are from high school and the NFL. This will never be effective at the collegiate level. Well, if you think that, you should look at SBNation dot com's Jon Bois's charts and statistics from every punt in College Football's Week 1. All punts used in his statistics were not from blow out games like *pick an SEC team* vs *the school that one kid in your high school went to before deciding she or he hated it and transferred after a year*. These are punts in winnable games. According to Bois's stats, teams punted from the other team's territory more than from inside their own ten yard line. Given, there are special circumstances, but according to stats, there is no reason why more teams are not going for 4th downs, especially in short yardage scenarios.

How does this logic apply to Texas Tech? Let's take a look at the punting statistics from the Kliff Kingsbury tenure.

# of Punts Total Yards Average Yards per Punt
2013 64 2741 42.83
2014 54 2303 42.6
2015 49 2235 45.6

Now let's look Texas Tech's offensive rankings during those years and make some correlations. According to the NCAA's stats-based rankings of offenses, In 2013, Texas Tech's offense ranked 8th. In 2014, Texas Tech's offense dropped a small amount, to 10th. In 2015, the year we punted the least, we were 2nd in the nation in offense.

Of course, we shouldn't scrap the punt entirely. When we're backed up on our own 2 yard line and it's 4th and 10, we should very obviously punt. I'm not advocating for stupidity in preference of a purely statistical based system. However, we should continue the trend that Texas Tech is on currently, because there is at least a slight correlation with less punting and more points. So far Kliff Kingsbury has demonstrated a willingness to go for it from just about anywhere on the field, and with dynamic quarterback Patrick Mahomes, he's making the right call on 4th down more often than not.

Ultimately, if you actually enjoy punting, I would hope that you were rooting for the defense that just stopped the offense. In any other scenario it's utterly ridiculous to celebrate a punt. If you're the offense with the ball, you failed at your task. If you're the offense getting the ball, you're getting the ball further away from the end zone than you would if your defense stopped the offense on 4th down. If you're the defense about to take the field, your coach doesn't trust you to hold the sometimes 60 freaking yards you already have without a little help.

Please, don't give me the field position argument. Every single time the issue of punting comes up, everyone always says "WELL LOOK AT NICK SABAN AND MARK DANTONIO THEY PLAY THE FIELD POSITION GAME AND THEY WIN GAMES". To that I have three things to say:

  1. The vast majority of coaches playing the field position games are not half of the football minds of the top tier coaches.
  2. Nick Saban and 98% of top tier coaches employ a more balanced offense and take more chances than you'd think. Anyone saying that Saban is a "caveman coach" or wins by ramming the ball down people's throats is maybe 30-40% correct. (See the onside kick in the 2015 national championship, the fake punt against Texas in the 2009 national championship, and the fake punt in the opening game of the 2011 season against Penn State.)
  3. Go back to the Jon Bois article to see how much field position you actually gain.
Punting, at it's core, is illogical a significant portion of the time. Emotionally, it's defeating, and the majority of people who enjoy it probably enjoyed this.

Punts are not holistically bad. There are some good ones. I just fail to see why they're celebrated as smart when the vast majority of them are offensive ineptitude unconvincingly masked as intelligent football decisions.