The phrase of the day is “four-down territory” it is defined as an area of the field that is just outside of the kicker’s field goal range (his ability to consistently hit a field goal), but a punt would have minimal benefit.
For example. it’s 4th down & 8 at the 35 yard line. That would would basically set up a 52 yard FG attempt(shown as red dot in the graphic). Let’s say the kicker is a bit dinged up, or the field conditions are bad. If you punt and the ball goes into the end zone for a touchback (on a punt the ball comes out to the 20 yard line). So in that case, the team gains a net of 15 yards, so in some cases they decide just to try their luck at converting the 4th down.
Other times they try what is called a “pooch” punt or kick where the punter, and at times a QB, just put a little leg into the ball trying to get it to die within the 5-10 yard line. (shown as the purple arc in the graphic). It’s risk vs. reward. The closer to the 20 yard-line the team is the less risk involved because the net difference in field position is reduced).
Four-down territory, should not be confused with what can be called a “four-down situation”. This is a situation where the team is usually losing the game and there isn’t much time left and most other times when faced with the same scenario/down and distance (4th down and x yards to go), they would punt or attempt a field goal, but based on the situation, they decided to go for it to convert the 4th down attempt to retain possession of the ball.
For example, if the team is down 7 with 3:03 to play and they have the ball 4th and 10 on their 25 yard line. If they don’t get a first down, then the game is all but over, so they will attempt to convert that 4th and 10. If this scenario were to happen in any other quarter, then they most likely would send out the punt team.
One can argue that it is always the situation that plays into a coach’s decision to go for it on 4th down, but in some cases the yard-line, field conditions/weather and or the ability of the kicker play into more than the clock and score of the game.