Friday, September 10, 2010

Weenie Coach Alert, More Red Dead

It drives me crazy to watch coaches mismanage games, and Brad Childress is one of the top offenders (Marvin Lewis and Andy Reid are right up there, too.)

Trailing by five points, with 5:40 remaining in the game, the Vikings face fourth-and-eleven from the Saints 44 yard line. Conventional wisdom, based on years of practice, is to punt the ball. But why? Conventional wisdom is absolutely wrong here, and I first-guessed this during the game, screaming at the tv to go for it.

There's about a 25% chance to convert 4th-and-11, so 75% of the time, the Saints will take over between their own 34 and 44 (depending on how many yards, if any, are gained on fourth down.) By punting, you give the Saints the ball 100% of the time between their 1 and their 20. (There's a small chance they could return the punt for a TD, or block it for a TD, but I'm ignoring this because it's basically offset by the small chance you could throw a INT for a TD if you went for it.) So the tradeoff here is: 25% chance of extending your possession, vs. 30 yds of field position.

The Vikings punted, of course. The Saints got the ball on their own 12, ran for three first downs, and the game was over without the Vikings ever taking another snap. So in the case where your defense gives up three first downs, you're basically throwing away your 25% chance to extend the drive for nothing.

But what if the Saints get only two first downs? Well, if you went for it and failed, then they'd have a chance at a field goal and extending the lead to eight. But so what? You could still tie with a TD. And even if you punted to preserve the 30 yards, you'd be getting the ball back with about a minute left and no timeouts. You will score much less than 25% of the time in this situation...Is that worth throwing away your 25% chance to make it on fourth down in Saints territory? Hell no.

Now, if you stop the Saints with zero or one first down, then you get the full benefit of those 30 yards. But still...are you going to score often enough to offset the 25% chance you gave away by punting? Is your increased scoring potential, combined with your chances of holding the Saints to one first down or less, greater than 25%? I don't have enough data to do the math, but I seriously doubt it. And even if it did, what happens when, like Thursday, your defense doesn't do the job?

The bottom line, forgetting all the math that coaches can't do in the time it takes to make a quick decision anyway, is this: When trailing in the fourth quarter, you should never punt on fourth down in the other team's territory. Sure, if you're down by one with 11 minutes to go and you have fourth-and-25 from the 49, you can make an exception. But this general rule is pretty easy to remember, and should only be broken in strange circumstances.

What happens is that Weenie Coaches, like Childress, who want to stay in the NFL (who wouldn't?), will do anything to avoid responsibility for losing. It's much better to lose, and blame it on the players ("I punted because I had faith in my defense to stop them"), than risk accepting personal blame for the loss...even if that risk provides a greater chance to win. Bill Belichik's fourth-and-two call is a running joke in the NFL now, in spite of it being statistically correct! If he'd simply punted and lost, the media and fans would blame the defense, not the coach, since the coach obeyed conventional wisdom.

I'm going to call out Weenie Coaches whenever I can, because the game of football will be a better one if we can chip away at the conventional "wisdom". Brad Childress is only the first of 2010.

Meanwhile, I checked out the Zero Punctuation review of Red Dead Redemption, and found that it's strikingly similar to my own (though considerably more humorous.)


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