Just Win, Maybe!

I just did a post as part of a Slate-Deadspin roundtable on the past weekend in the NFL. In it, I assess the state of strategy in the league by looking at Sunday's fake punts, surprise onside kicks, and 4th down decisions. The NFL isn't really a Just win, baby! kind of league. It's more like a Just try not to lose too fast, baby! kind of league.


You can read the post at either site: Slate or Deadspin. And don't miss the other entries from the roundtable project.

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6 Responses to “Just Win, Maybe!”

  1. bigmouth says:

    Brian, someone on Slate raised an interesting question. Teams tend to go for it on 4th down when they think the odds are favorable. Doesn't that create a selection bias in favor of going for it on 4th down?

  2. Brian Burke says:

    True. That's one reason why I use 3rd down situations instead of 4th downs for the input data. Specifically, I look at 3rd down conversion rates when teams are in do-or-die 3rd downs--ie not in situations in which they would do for it on 4th down should the 3rd down fail.

  3. Mike B says:

    Pet peeve about comments sections: I hate it when the comments are sorted most recent to oldest (see the Slate article). Why do websites do that?

    "Those who decry statistics are often the first to cite a statistic with a sample size of exactly one." Worth repeating.

  4. bigmouth says:

    Brian: Thanks, that makes sense.

    Mike B: Presumably, so you don't have to scroll to the bottom to see and read new comments.

  5. Buzz says:

    Actually I think the worst 4th down decision of the week goes to none other than the Colts Jim Caldwell. You just may not have noticed it because the chiefs were so incompetent that they lined up in the neutral zone to give the colts a 2nd chance to actually go for it.

    However the 1st punt attempt was with the Colts trailing 28-24 with 2:37 left on the KC 47 at 4th and 11. The Chiefs were also moving the ball at will on the tired out Colts def if the "superior" colts defense somehow came into play with caldwell's decision. Somehow with it at 4th and 6 he decides to go for it. Anyway to me that was the biggest try not to lose too fast call of the week.

  6. Jeff Clarke says:

    Great article but I sort of disagree with the "if its worthy of a trick play, why not a regular play" part. I'm a big fan of fake punts. You have several major advantages with a fake. The biggest one is that the defense has the wrong personnel in the wrong positions moving in the wrong direction. If you look at a diagram of where the players are and who can effectively be a part of the play, you see that a fake punt is an 8-5 in favor of the offense. Thats much better than 11-11. The element of surprise increases the advantage even more.

    If you run fakes fairly often, eventually opponents will adjust. Most people think of those adjustments as a reason not to overplay the fake card. Game theory actually says you should welcome them. Return units have a choice between staying close to the line of scrimmage to protect against a fake and running back to block for the returner. If you run regular fakes, you force them to respect the fake which severwly hurts their routine blocking the vast majority of the time that you actually kick the ball.

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