Taking Points Off The Board

Reader 'slushhead' asks:

What do you think about "taking points off the board?" Specifically, should Washington have declined the penalty on the third quarter field goal?

Leading 10-0, WAS kicked a successful FG with 10:29 to go in the 3rd quarter. An offside penalty on DAL gave WAS the choice between keeping the 3 points or accepting the penalty, which would give them a 1st and 10 on the DAL 12.

Answer: You absolutely take the penalty and the 1st down. You don't need to go to the WP model at that point of the game--It's still a contest of net point maximization early in the 3rd qtr.

A 1st down at the DAL 12 is worth +4.6 Expected Points. A made FG is only worth +2.4 EP. (It's not 3 EP because you need to account for the subsequent kickoff.)

Considering the fact that WAS came away from the drive empty handed would be pure outcome bias.

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12 Responses to “Taking Points Off The Board”

  1. Jeff Clarke says:

    Just posted this on the other board but since this is the more appropriate place...I'm copying and pasting it...

    A couple of points on the Redskins game...

    I was really dreading the "they took points off the board" theme that would have inevitably occured if the Skins lost.

    I find it extremely unlikely that the media would have given Shanahan credit if they got the TD and scored there.

    b. They would have been enormously idiotic if they punted instead of taking the fg with 2:00 left. Ultimately, the fact that Shanahan made the "gutsy" call was the reason that the Skins won. Its actually fairly easy for teams to drive the length of the field with 2:00 and all timeouts. I'm nearly certain the Cowboys would have gotten a fg if they punted.

  2. Jonathan says:

    OK, I'll bite.

    The difference between a 3 point lead and a 6 point lead, at that point in the game, is somewhat overstated. A punt would put the Cowboys somewhere around the 12 yard line on average, forcing them to drive at least 55 yards and make a FG for .50 WP (so more like .35 net WP), or drive 88 yards for 0.99 WP. The made field goal forces Dallas to go 72 yards on average for the 0.99 WP. I'm not sure what the numbers are, but I *think* a made field goal only give Washington a small advantage over where they'd be in the event of a punt. A missed field goal means that Dallas can go just 30 yards to get into FG range, or 63 yards to get the touchdown.

    "Taking points off the board" is an awful football cliche. It comes from the same people who (correctly) consider it a win for the defense if they hold a red zone possession to only 3 points.

  3. Jeff Clarke says:

    I think there might be a bug in the system. I'm trying to use the wp calculator to figure out the odds on whether they should have kicked the fg there or not. It shows the wp for a team on their own 30 down 6 as 26%. It shows the probability down 3 as 21%. Is this right?

    Actually after I posted, I thought about it some more and Jonathan makes a very good point. Down 3 a team will often settle for a field goal and then lose in overtime. If they are down 6, they'll obviously be more aggressive. I think I was wrong about saying the fg was the obvious right answer there. I realize that it might not have been.

  4. Tarr says:

    How do you like "taking points off the board" now?

    Hooray for outcome bias that aligns with expected value!

  5. Brian Burke says:

    Only when it's for my home team!

  6. Adam Davis says:

    I have an analysis request for you. Have you ever done anything specifically about blitzing? This may be difficult, because the play-by-play data that represents your core resource does nothing to annotate blitzes. But I would love to see an analysis of the risk/reward of blitzing. I know you've done analysis of general high-risk approaches, but is there any way to breakdown the logic (or lack thereof) of blitzing in a given situation?

    I'm asking because TMQ routinely ridicules teams for overly-aggressive blitzing. But this "feels" counter-intuitive to me, because TMQ also ridicules teams for overly-conservative punting tendencies (just as you do). I know that they are not exactly the same issue. But it seems that if it is usually mathematically sound to go for it on 4th down, it may also be mathematically sound to blitz?

  7. Brian Burke says:

    That would be a fun study, but as you mention, the data would be hard to come by.

  8. Jeff Clarke says:

    "Hooray for outcome bias that aligns with expected value!"

    If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it....

    Did anybody on ESPN or anywhere else note that this "controversial" decision led directly to a Ravens win?

    Accept the penalty and end up with -3 points before losing by 1 and every sportswriter in the country writes that you gambled and lost.

    Accept the penalty and end up with +4 points before winning by 1 and not a single one notes you made the right move.

    I'm starting to really understand why coaches are so conservative. I might never go for it if I was one of them.

    Cynical but true...

  9. Nate says:

    Hey Brian,

    I've got a question that might be up your alley. Sometimes the quarterback realizes his team isn't going to get the snap off before the play clock expires and quickly calls a timeout. I've always wondered whether there are situations in which taking the five yard penalty would be better than burning the timeout. Any ideas?

    The WP calculator is almost powerful enough to answer this, but it doesn't take the number of timeouts remaining into account.

    - Nate

  10. Jeff Clarke says:

    I'd really like to see a detailed timeout study too. I sort of get annoyed when announcers say that a team "wasted" timeouts by calling them early in the half. Sometimes there is a really key third down early. If the QB sees a less than ideal defense for the play call, I feel like he should call a timeout. Of course, he can audible but sometimes there are other issues with that (crowd noise, play clock, it would be obvious to an intelligent defense that they are in pass mode therefore an audible would likely be switching to run mode or vice versa). It seems to me like it isn't a "waste" at all if using a timeout before a key play significantly increases its odds of success.

    I feel like the announcers automatically equate all early timeouts with wasted timeouts. Somehow this just feels like another example of overconservatism. This is just a hypothesis though. I don't have any data to support it. I'm not even sure how you'd set up a timeout model but it would be cool to see something that outlined their worth and exactly where the bar should be set on the call/don't call decision.

  11. James says:

    I agree with Jeff, I'd like to see something done about timeouts, particularly the delay of game penalty Nate mentioned.

  12. Anonymous says:

    FYI, a timeout study based on win probability was published a few years ago by William Krasker on the footballcommentary.com site.


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