Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Run the freaking ball, part 253

1:59 to go in the first half, trailing by one, second-and-goal from the four-yard line. As a football team, you have two goals in this situation:

  • Score, and
  • Leave as little time as possible for the other team to score.

To achieve both these goals, you run the ball. Three runs and a touchdown is likely; even with the other team expecting a run, you will often gain four yards in three tries. Even if you just run twice and then settle for a field goal, you lead by two and leave only 45 seconds for the other team.

But wait, what's this? The Eagles are lining up in a spread formation, empty backfield. You can't run from that formation! Hold on, it's gotta be a QB draw with Vick...a little predictable, sure, but at least it's a run, right?
Nope, Vick drops back to pass and the ball is intercepted. The Bears score a TD of their own, and go into halftime with an eight-point lead. That's a 10-to-15-point swing in what turned out to be a 31-26 loss.

There is no logical explanation for this decision - it is beyond boneheaded. This is not a situation of 'you say toh-MAY-toh, I say toh-MAH-toh' preferences, it's indefensible buffoonery. And yet, these types of decisions happen every week, and not just in Philadelphia. I truly cannot comprehend how such a bottom-line business, where winning is the ultimate barometer, can consistently produce such inefficient decision-making.

If you want to be tricky and pass there, because you think you can fool the other team, then line up in a run formation and play-action pass. Do not come out with an empty backfield - that's not fooling anyone! It's a careless risk with almost no upside, since three runs are likely to accomplish the goal anyway, with more time off the clock and little chance of a turnover.

Yes, the defense sucked hard, and yes Vick looked shaky, but Andy Reid owns this decision and the chance it cost his team to win.

Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, Boy Wonder called blitz after blitz with man coverage behind it, on a field that was little more than painted sand. Eagles defenders slipped and fell repeatedly, leading to big plays for the offensively-challenged Bears. Chicago played zone, rushing just four linemen most of the night, and didn't give up big chunks of yardage as a result. Did the Eagles ever adjust to the field conditions? No, they just kept blitzing and playing man, falling down, missing tackles, and giving up points.

There has to be a reason that NFL coaches routinely make such bad decisions and fail to adjust to obvious problems. It just doesn't make sense.

I read an interesting article on risk-aversion, thinking I might find an explanation there. But in fact, the results are the opposite of what I expected. Stock traders were used as test subjects in this case, and the study found that under stress, traders tended to be risk-averse when ahead on a trade. But when they were losing, stress make them more likely them to take foolish risks.

Foolish optimism is even more prevalent in the sleep-deprived, and NFL coaches fall into that category. So that helps explain why they might think it's a good idea to pass at the goalline, or continue to call high-risk blitzes that are failing. But it goes directly against the hyper-conservative fourth-down calls that I've been preaching against for years.

In any business as competitive as the NFL, where there are only 30 head coaching jobs available, and success is easily measured...the most efficient decision-makers should rise to the top. But that hasn't been the case.


At 12:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yam'on Sweet Tea. Is there any chance the Eagles came out with the empty backfield because they had planned to run the greatest play ever invented, the NAKED BOOTLEG?

If you don't think so, it is not possible for you to know less about football.......

At 2:55 PM, Blogger Sweet Tea said...

I'd accept that, it's much lower risk than a pass, and still runs the clock.

Think the Ravens wish they would have run the ball on Monday, with three minutes left and the lead?


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