NFL Teams Attempt Over 50 Fourth Downs for 2nd Time This Century

With Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season in the books, we certainly saw some different things again. Underdogs won nine games and produced a winning record (9-7) for the first time in Week 1 since 1983. It was also a big week for costly fumbles as fans of Dalvin Cook, Antonio Gibson, Damien Harris, Nick Chubb, Josh Allen, Carson Wentz, and Lamar Jackson can attest to. Daniel Jones fans, if they exist, are simply used to this while Chris Godwin had a good luck charm on his side to alleviate his screw-up. Deebo Samuel was just fortunate to be playing the Lions.

But something else that really stood out in going over the games was just how many fourth downs some teams were trying. The Falcons, Packers, and Titans all had three attempts on fourth down as they were trying to make huge comebacks after horrible performances. Buffalo was another team that had three attempts after getting stuck in no man’s land a few times.

In total, 11 teams tried at least three fourth downs, the most in any single NFL week since at least 2001. Overall, there were 52 fourth-down attempts in Week 1, the second-most in any week since at least 2001. Back in Week 14 of the 2009 season, there were 53 fourth down attempts, the only other week over 50 since 2001.

This chart looks at how many fourth downs were attempted around the league, in chronological order, for all 172 weeks since 2002 when all 32 teams were in action.

Given the deep conservative roots in football, and the fact that there were fewer teams/games before this period, it is probably safe to say that these are the only two weeks in NFL history where over 50 fourth downs were attempted.

How did the offenses fare on fourth down this week? They were 25-of-52 for a not-so-special conversion rate of 48.1%.

Will we see more of this? Teams like the Falcons, Titans, and Packers probably won’t play as terribly on offense again to make that necessary, but we also saw teams like the Browns and Broncos use some aggressive fourth downs to their advantage on Sunday.

It’s just another thing to keep track of this season.