What is 4th and 1 in Football?
4th and 1 refers to the down and distance in a football game. It means that the offense used their first three downs to gain nine yards, and were therefore unsuccessful at gaining a first down up to this point.
Depending on the game situation and location of the ball on the field, the options a team has in this case are to punt, kick a field goal, or to go for it and attempt to pick up a first down. Going for it is risky, because if the offense is unable to gain the necessary one yard the ball will be turned over to the other team.
While many coaches may feel it is impractical to go for it on fourth down in certain situations, the numbers beg to differ. According to an Advanced Football Analytics Study, a team's expected points value of attempting to go for it on 4th and 1 are greater than zero, meaning it is more beneficial to attempt, anywhere within 65 yards of the endzone. The report continues that the conversation rates of 4th and 1 are so high historically in some parts of the field that it makes sense to go for it no matter where you are.
The problem with this is the human element. Even if the statistics indicate that your team has a higher chance of success, it is not a guarantee, and a coach failing to get a first down deep in his own half of the field will have fans calling for his head.
The situation is of paramount importance as well. If a team is only down two and 4th and 1 comes long in the red zone then it makes sense to take the lead with a field goal then risk not getting any points. Furthermore, a team up 20 points will not risk going for it near their own end zone because the risk outweighs the reward.