Slate: Onside Kicks in the New Overtime Format

I've got an article in Slate today that takes a look at how the new overtime rules might affect the likelihood of onside kicks. My thanks to Josh Levin who had the idea for the article and who jazzed up the prose quite a bit.

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9 Responses to “Slate: Onside Kicks in the New Overtime Format”

  1. Phil Birnbaum says:

    Nice article! Second on your thanks to Josh ... I had the same experience with him last summer. He took my crappy prose and made it sound like I knew how to write.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article as always, though I think you may be overestimating the surprise factor an onside kick in overtime will have. Between the new rules and additional publicity the rules are getting, I'm sure many coaches are aware of the some of the new strategies - for example, I imagine (I hope) that every coach knows an onside kick recovery to start overtime basically reverts overtime back to the old rules. That being said, I wouldn't be surprised is EVERY special teams coach warns his receiving unit to be aware of the onside kick, in addition to throwing 1 or 2 more "hands" people out there. Ultimately, this will defeinitely reduce the success rate below 60%.

    And even if the success rate IS 60% to soon as one team does it - successful or not - every team will be aware of it.

  3. Mike says:

    Loved this article. I think there is a possible dominant strategy suggested by your analysis:

    A team scoring a field goal on the opening possession should always *line up* for an onside kick.

    Doing so forces the receiving team to commit to a blocking or recovery oriented formation and personnel package (or costs the team a timeout which can be valuable in an overtime game when fatigue will be a factor). If the receiving team commits to a recovery, their expected field position from a traditional kick return will be worse. If the returning team ignores the onside kick threat, the probability of recovery should be high, and as explained well, the cost of not recovering a kick is lower.

    It still requires the coach to have the guts to go for an onside kick, or to set the play as an auto-read if he's worried about lacking courage at the crucial moment (A factor I always consider as a san diego fan).

    Anyone wanna try running the numbers on this one?

  4. Brett says:

    I am very surprised that the break even point is 10% higher with the new OT rule. Under the old rule, failing to recover your onside kick would have meant almost certain death because the other team would only need 15-20 yards to get in range for a game-winning FG. Now that the FG is no longer a game winner, I would expect the break even point to be lower. If possible, could you post your break-even calculations so we can see how you arrived at these numbers?

  5. Anonymous says:

    I was hoping for someone to do an analysis on the decision to defer if you win the new OT coin toss. It seems that if you have good kickoff coverage and defense that deferring would be the obvious choice.

    As the comment above me stated, it makes no sense that there would be a higher break even point for a surprise onside kick under the new rules. An onside kick would be the exact same thing as the previous OT if you get it, and it would hurt less if you didn't recover it because a field goal won't lead to a loss.

    There's got to be some bad math there because it makes no sense from a game theory standpoint that I can see.

  6. Brian Burke says:

    It makes no sense to you because this has nothing to do with game theory.

    The reason that an onside kick is not as valuable under the new rules is that being the first team on defense isn't as bad as it used to be. The deep kick option is more valuable now.

    By the way, unless the winds are hurricane-force, teams should not defer. This was the topic of one of the articles linked to in the article.

    If I have time later today, I'll post all the calculations.

  7. David says:

    Was hoping and expecting you would tackle this. Good article. Thanks.

    I agree with the anonymous poster above. I think with the newness of the rule, every special teams unit is likely thinking about the possibility of an onsides kick much more than they would in the second quarter of your average NFL game. Even though it might still be unexpected because of the guts required from the coach to make the call, I don't think it would be as much of a surprise, so I would think chances of recovery would be lower than 60%.

  8. Jeff Clarke says:

    On the pregame show, Dungy made the argument that the new rules are too complicated and he doesn't think coaches should be forced to digest them.

    Seriously, people that are paid $5 million a year and have a large staff (many of whom are paid hundreds of thousands a year) solely to analyze football strategy shouldn't have to analyze any football strategy other than "just do what we've always done...."

    The more I hear ex-coaches talk as analysts the less I'm impressed with them.

  9. the Statist says:

    If you win the onside kick, you can win with a field goal.

    Not much has changed other than if your opponent scores a FG on it's first possession, you get a chance as well. If the kicking team loses the onside, you still get another chance if they score a field goal.

    There really isn't anything too complicated with the new rules, NFL coaches just plain suck compared to their supposed knowledge of the game.

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