Why going for it on 4th & 2 was the right choice

You may or may not agree with me on this, and that’s fine. You should also know that my loathing for Bill Belichick knows no bounds. I despise the man, and his humorless approach towards the game.

I can’t stand Belichick, and in my case it’s twice over, for the aforementioned reasons any New Yorker disdains him *and* because he was a shitty coach for the Browns.

That said, I respect the hell out of him – and I thought his call Sunday night on 4th & 2 against the Indianapolis Colts was gutsy as hell, and I loved it. The only thing I’d
criticize is the decision to pass in that situation.

In a short-yardage situation, you’re much better off running the ball. I’d have run on all four downs, thus forcing more time off the clock – but I’d have especially run on 4th and 2. A Faulk run in that situation would likely have converted the down – the conversion rates on 4th & short are pretty good – studies* show that a 4th & 2 situation will result in a first down around 60% of the time.

So why doesn’t that happen more often? As Prof. David Romer (who wrote one of the classics on the subject) both wrote, the culprit is job security. You already see that on this list and in the media at large, with people ripping the decision, even though what they’re doing is paying fealty to a conventional wisdom based on game strategy that’s at least 70 years out of date.**

It’s as if you’d manage a baseball game based on strategy from the dead-ball era, or coach basketball based on what George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers would do against you.

Obviously, we’d heavily criticize Phil Jackson or Tony LaRussa if they did that – so why do we make that allowance in football?

My guess is that the statistical revolution that’s overhauled baseball and overhauling basketball right now hasn’t hit football – yet. And since football is *the* most hidebound, traditional and authoritarian of the three major sports in America, it’ll have the hardest go. It’ll still win out – you can’t fight progress – but it’ll take longer.

My supposition is that it’ll either be a team that comes out of nowhere – say the Cardinals or Texans – to contend on a regular basis, or an established dynasty looking to extend their domination that implements this kind of statistical analysis.

In other words…a team like the Patriots.

Imagine this: say the Pats had converted on 4th & 2. The commentary today would be all about how it was a risky, yet genius move by a man who’s a chess-master of the gridiron. All the commentary last night did was reveal how ignorant the commentators are. 🙂

*http://www.advancednflstats.com/2009/09/4th-down-study-part-3.html and
http://fifthdown.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/17/a-new-study-on-fourth-downs-go-for-it/

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