Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bill Belichick vs. 31 Other Coaches*

It's certain that you have seen by now the Bill Belichick decision to go for it on 4th down last Sunday. It's almost a given that you have heard how terrible, foolish, etc. it was for him to not trust his defense. The real question for me, "Is did Belichick improve his chance of winning the game?" I know this will be hard for many of you to believe, but the answer is YES! By going for it in that situation, Belichick increased his chance of winning from 70% to 79%.


Well, it's not me, but statistics from hundreds of NFL games using expected outcomes of any given situation. If you haven't seen the website that analyzes this type of situation for many games, it is called Advanced NFL Stats. Here is the link to the analysis that shows Belichick was right. AND, there was fallout from the initial analysis claiming that it was faulty, so here is the link to the rebuttal column that was posted later.

So, why the dustup for Belichick over this? That is pretty simple. It just proves that the majority of coaches (31 out of 32) in the NFL are optimizing a different variable than chance of winning. It is my opinion that coaches are minimizing the "media exposure/fan outcry" variable rather maximizing the chance at winning. Belichick may not have known the exact numbers produced by the Advanced NFL Stats, but he knew for certain that making the 1st down seals the game.

The real question is how do fans allow themselves to fall victim to supporting strategies that work against the team's chance of success? For one, the coaches have put up a smoke screen that allows them to shift the blame/risk from himself to the players/defense. Really, I think it is simply that the coaches (and fans) don't know the optimum strategies, or the coaches refuse to take the heat for a winning strategy (by statistical analysis) that fails in a given instance. You will find VERY similar arguments in baseball when discussing the "manufacture" of runs. In that case, bunting, stealing bases, and other small ball, work against the team that implements those strategies. However, that idea is accepted as sound strategy by almost everyone in the game.

So, here's to Belichick. It takes guts to make the right decision, and he continues to lead in that category. One other thing, what do you think the media would have said in these two situations?
  1. Pats make the 1st down and win the game against the Colts.
  2. Pats punt and Manning drives the Colts 65 yards for the win.
Let us know what you think the buzz would have been with those outcomes.


*This article is cross-posted at 4th and 10.

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