EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Whenever an NFL team faces a fourth-down decision, an automated Twitter account receives its moment in the spotlight.
The Fourth-Down Decision Bot, created and managed by The Athletic's Ben Baldwin, weighs in on the difficult choices that an NFL coach must make each game. The bot provides a recommendation on whether the team in question should go for it, punt or kick a field goal — and it offers both the projected success rate of each decision and how it impacts a team's winning percentage.
During the Broncos' 27-13 win over the Giants in Week 1, the Bot stayed quite busy.
The Broncos went for it three times on fourth down, and the gambles paid off. Denver went three-for-three and turned those fourth-down conversions into 17 total points as the drives played out.
The second attempt was the most daring of them all, as Head Coach Vic Fangio decided the Broncos would attempt to convert a fourth-and-2 from the Giants' 49-yard line.
"That was just my gut," Fangio said after the game. "When I brought it up, I didn't have a lot of backing by anybody. It was kind of cricket-like. … But I said we're doing it. I just felt like we I had confidence in the offense, number one. And obviously, number two … I knew if we got the first down we could go get some points — didn't know if it would be three or seven. I thought it was important."
The Bot agreed with Fangio, and it offered that going for it in that situation would increase the Broncos' win percentage by 1.4 percent. According to the algorithm, the Broncos had a 55 percent chance to convert. With the conversion, their chances of winning would jump to 56 percent. And if they failed to convert, their chances would drop to 41 percent.
The gamble, of course, paid off. Teddy Bridgewater showed great patience in the pocket and hit Courtland Sutton for a 14-yard gain. He then found Jeudy for 17 yards and Tim Patrick for another 16 yards. Bridgewater then found Patrick for the score that gave the Broncos the lead — and, in turn, the win.
The Broncos' other two fourth-down decisions — one in the first quarter that led to a field goal and one on a fourth-and-1 in the red zone in the third quarter — were considered toss-ups by the bot. The difference between kicking the field goal and going for it were negligible, but Fangio chose the aggressive approach.
And while those decisions added to the Broncos' point total, it also bolstered the unit's confidence.
"Yeah, we really appreciate Coach showing that confidence in us," Bridgewater said. "You talk about coaches believing in players, players wanting coaches to believe in them. That was the ultimate sign of belief right there. I think we had one fourth down where we were [near] our side of the 50 and coach decided to go for it. I'm over on the sideline like, 'Yeah, let's do it.' Because I have nothing but confidence in those guys that take the field for us. It was good to just see Coach trust us, and we delivered."
The Broncos weren't perfect on third down, but their 46.7 percent success rate was far better than the 36.7 percent clip they converted third downs at in 2020. That success rate ranked 26th in the league, and it led Fangio to stray from attempting many fourth downs. With improved short-yardage play, it's possible the more aggressive Fangio could be here to stay.
"I believe that we can do it," Fangio said. "I don't think it's far-fetched, like maybe it has been in the past. So when I feel good about it, or my gut's telling me to do it, I'm going to do it."
MILLER STARS IN RETURN
For months, Von Miller's teammates have said the three-time All-Pro pass rusher looks like the same player he was several years ago, when he was terrorizing offensive tackles en route to double-digit sack seasons.
On Sunday, as Miller made his first game appearance in more than 600 days, he finally demonstrated the play that we'd heard so much about.
Miller started the game with a 6-yard tackle for loss that forced the Giants out of field-goal range, added a first-quarter sack to force a three-and-out and closed his game with a fourth-quarter takedown.
"It felt great, not just the game, but the whole process leading up to the game — riding on the plane with the guys, preparing this week with the guys and the bus ride over," Miller said. "Just being in the locker room and being involved, being back a part of the team is super dope. It's good to get sacks, but it's good to get wins as well and I got both today, so it's a good day."
Miller was one of three Broncos to receive a game ball after the win, joining Bridgewater and General Manager George Paton.
OKWUEGBUNAM BOUNCES BACK
Second-year tight end Albert Okwuegbunam's game could've ended on a negative note.
With just over four minutes to play in the first half, with the Broncos trailing 7-3, Okwuegbunam caught a second-down pass and turned up field. After he gained the first down, Giants cornerback Logan Ryan ripped the ball from his hands and recovered the fumble. While a review showed that the Broncos should have kept the ball — Ryan's knee appeared to be out of bounds by the time he gained possession — the play ended a red-zone opportunity and left the Broncos trailing as the first half wound down.
Bridgewater, though, made it a priority to keep Okwuegbunam involved.
"He came up to me after the play and said, 'You know, don't let that hang on your head, you're good. You're gonna get the ball again,'" Okwuegbunam said.
That didn't take long to happen. On the first drive of the third quarter, Bridgewater juked a Giants rusher and delivered the ball to Okwuegbunam, who found his way into the end zone.
"On that play, I wasn't even involved in the pass game," Okwuegbunam said. "I was just kind of like a run option and my job was to just cut off the D-end. I watched him down and looked and saw Teddy still had the ball. He was scrambling. So, I opened up, gave him an outlet, he threw it to me and then I made a guy miss, saw the pylon right in front of me, dove for it and got six."
Okwuegbunam may have caught the touchdown, but Noah Fant was also highly productive. Fant caught six passes for 62 yards in the win.