Belichick, Stats, and Authority

You may have heard that Bill Belichick, the head coach of the New England Patriots, made a controversial decision in Sunday’s night nationally televised game against the Colts. I’m not going to get into the details of the play here – there are tons of football blogs out there that can do a better job of discussing the context than I can. However, the reaction to the decision has some ties to baseball, and that’s what I want to talk about.

Belichick is a stats guy, sort of the NFL version of Billy Beane, only with championship rings to support his beliefs. He has built a dynasty in New England by eschewing traditional football truisms, and he has found great success with his methods. In general, he’s extremely well respected as a football guy, if not so much as a person to interact with.

So, I find the reaction to Belichick’s fourth down strategy interesting. Pretty much every member of the traditional media, including the announcers calling the game, immediately destroyed him for the call. There was no gray area. It was the wrong call because every other coach in America would have punted, and had punted, in that exact same situation. Belichick went out on a very thin limb, then watched it break when his team failed to convert and the Colts won the game on the final drive.

So, now, we get columns like this, decrying the statistical movement in sports as too rigid and not respectful enough of those with experience. The appeal to authority has been out in full force – Belichick was wrong because the majority say he was wrong, and the merits of his argument are generally ignored.

This is despite the fact that Belichick is part of the authority that should theoretically be appealed to. He’s been the head coach of three Super Bowl champions. He’s a football guy who appreciates numbers, not a numbers guy who appreciates football. Yet, for whatever reason, his credential cease to matter.

We see this in baseball all the time as well. Despite the fact that about half the teams in the sport are now run by people who could accurately be described as having a strong analytical background, the anti-statistical movement still paints people like us as a fringe movement on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, they’ve missed the fact that the inside is now a lot different, in large part due to the acceptance of the value of analytical methods of evaluation.

If the Patriots had made the two yards and won, would that have validated the entire statistical movement in sports? Of course not, because it was one play with an approximately 50-50 chance of success. Yet, when it doesn’t work, it becomes “proof” that the nerds have gone too far.

Let’s be better than that. Not every good move works out, and some bad moves end well. The end does not justify the means, however. Nobody can predict the future, so all we can evaluate is the ability for teams to give themselves a maximum probability of success. Sometimes, that means making choices that go against what everyone else is doing. Those choices aren’t wrong just because everyone else thinks they are.

Merit, not authority, should rule the discussion of the day. If the person in authority is right, he should be able to explain why using logic and reason. If he can’t, then perhaps he shouldn’t be considered an authority on the subject.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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JR
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JR
6 years 9 months ago

So, how does this relate to the Dodgers’ usage of Ronnie Belliard down the stretch and in the playoffs? Or to the Rockies’ use of Torrealba over Iannetta?

Your words:

“He’s not a defensive wizard. He doesn’t run well. He’s not as good of a hitter. The only thing Belliard can outdo Hudson in would be some kind of eating competition.

When October rolls around, Torre better have Hudson installed back at second base and Belliard on the bench where he belongs. Any other alignment will be a blow to the Dodgers chance of winning a World Series.”

marcello
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marcello
6 years 9 months ago

Can you really not figure out how they relate?

Kid Charlemagne
Member
Kid Charlemagne
6 years 9 months ago

It’s really as simple as this – the decision not working out does not mean that it was a bad decision, and conversely the fact that a bad decision works out doesn’t magically make it a good one.

MikeS
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MikeS
6 years 9 months ago

Yes, that’s the point. For instance, if the pitchers spot is coming to the plate with men on 1st and 3rd and one out in the ninth down a run and you have Pujols on the bench, the right call is obvious. If Pujols GIDP’s, it’s not LaRussa that failed to execute, even though the press may notice that he had some speedy singles hitter on the bench who’s hard to double up, but hits 220/250/330. Now if he asks Albert to squeeze and the run scores, that’s another story. He’s not nearly as brilliant as Tim McCarver will make him out to be.

It’s the coaches job to evaluate and prepare his players, put them in the optimal situation to succeed with their specific skillset and then make the call that is most likely to result in success. This will not work 100% of the time. Failure of the startegy is not necessarily the coaches fault.

Tom
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Nope, Wilbon told me on PTI that the call was indefensible because it didn’t work out. You can’t argue with math.

mattymatty
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Wilbon has also repeatedly stated that he’d take Ben Rothlisberger over any QB in football because “he’s a winner.”

wobatus
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wobatus
6 years 9 months ago

Some high school coach from Little Rock who has won a couple of state championships rarely has his team punt on fourth down. Apparently he has studied the stats and it turns out it rarely makes sense. He refused to criticize Belichick for going for the first down. He said something along the lines “Imagine if nobody had ever punted. And here all they needed was 2 yards and the game was won. And instead he has a guy drop back 15 yards and kick it down field, giving up possession to a hot quarterback and a good ofensive team. Everyone would have killed him.”

So, good point. Although I have to say, if there was a 50% chance of making it, certainly Manning and the Colt’s odds of scoring a touchdown are much higher starting from the Pats 28 then from say their own 30 with 2 minutes left. I don’t know what the actual odds are, but given the situation, I would be very surprised to learn that the odds favor going for the first down. Although the Giants D got shredded for a TD in about 2 minutes and 70 yards or so 2 weeks ago to lose, so punting wasn’t a guarantee.

BIP
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BIP
6 years 9 months ago

This seems like a good time to plug the Fangraphs of football:

http://www.advancednflstats.com

It’s got spectacular analysis of all kinds of interesting football situations.

Not David
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Not David
6 years 9 months ago

I think you just killed their site.

Bradley Woodrum
Member
Member
6 years 9 months ago

In the article about Belichik’s decision, there are also several really excellent observations and counter-arguments in the huge multitude of comments.

Xavier
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Xavier
6 years 9 months ago

“I don’t know what the actual odds are, but given the situation, ”

These are the odds, for a general scenario. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m going to use the end that make the decision seem the worst, for illustrative purposes; erring on the side of “convention.”

Their chances of getting the first down: ~60.
Colts chances of scoring in the event of a failed attempt: ~60
Win expectancy from going for it: ~76%
Chances of executing a successful punt: ~99.
Colts chances of scoring in the event of a successful punt: ~30
Win expectancy from punting: ~70.

It’s a wash at VERY, VERY best. Going for it seems to be the correct move, mathematically. Belicheck should be praised for this decision.

And excoriated for being a dick. Of course.

CH
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CH
6 years 9 months ago

Colts chances of scoring in the event of a failed attempt: ~60

Colts chances of scoring in the event of a successful punt: ~30

The casual fan associates the above numbers with “loss expectancy” and sees that Belichick doubled the “loss expectancy” by going for it and failing.

I’m just making an observation, not trying to refute your point in any way.

Not David
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Not David
6 years 9 months ago

Which is just further proof that the casual fan tends to be clueless and will parrot whatever the announcer-of-the-day / ESPN / local-blowhard-columnist happens to be saying.

Sam
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Sam
6 years 9 months ago

Colts chances of scoring in the event of a failed attempt: ~60

I think this is the input that most people who argue it is the wrong move will dispute. Peyton Manning, with a position at 28 in enemy territory, and with timeouts left, is perhaps likely to score 80 percent of the time. Most analysts probably (implicitly) think it is almost 100 percent.

And perhaps, in Belichick’s mind, Colt’s chances of scoring from a punt is probably about 50 percent. In which case, it is a no-brainer to him.

Xavier
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Xavier
6 years 9 months ago

Right; I should have added that that was a generic football team in a generic circumstance.

That being said, while Peyton is more likely than most to score from the 28, he’s the best 2 minute cornerback in the league. And they had just shredded New England in about 1:45.

I couldn’t tell you this for sure, but I think the real odds of Peyton scoring are closer to 75% (from the 29 or whatever) and 40%. Which actually makes the move look even better (70% to 60%). Hm.

Even if you bump up Peyton’s odds for scoring from the 28 to 75 and keep his odds from the 30 the same, it’s still a wash. There is absolutely no reason for the backlash.

But do you think Willy Simmons listened to my email. Nope. Bet he publishes some email from a 40 year old IT Manager who went splitsies on a vegas hotel room with 5 other guys who haven’t changed since freshman year.

Of high school.

Humbug.

Sky Kalkman
Member
6 years 9 months ago

In addition, if the 4th & 2 fails and Peyton leads a TD drive from the Pats 28, there’s STILL a chance the Pats win if they can come back and kick a field goal.

wobatus
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wobatus
6 years 9 months ago

OK. I don’t know the odds, like I said, I just assumed that the odds of the Colts scoring a touchdown is so much higher from 28 yards out than from 70 yards out that punting made sense. Not that it was lopsided or anything. But 2 yards when the defense knows you absolutely have to have it are tough yards. If the averages say it was a better move to go for it I can accept that. I am just surprised that is what the averages say. what percentage of teams going for a 2-point conversion, for example, makes it? I don’t follow football enough to really know this stuff that well.

In that thread that Dave links to in his article, there was the interesting point made that at one point conventional wisdom was that you need good fielding middle infielders, then early sabermetric types said no, you need more offense, and now the new wave saber guys are saying nope, the earlier conventional wisdom was right, fielding metrics now show how valuable a good ss is. That’s like the Woody Allen movie Sleeper when he runs a health food store, dies, and is revived years in the future, and the scientist reviving him tells him “Of course we now know that steak and banana splits are the healthiest foods.” Kinda like the Atkins Diet.

B
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B
6 years 9 months ago

Teams get 2 point conversions ~50% of the time.

Adam W.
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Adam W.
6 years 9 months ago

@Wobatus: I think the early saber guys were objecting to keeping someone around on the merits of his defense because defense couldn’t be measured back then, whereas offense could very easily be measured. Still, if you look at the leaderboards provided by this fine site, the best fielders are worth >15 runs. The best hitters are worth >40 runs, so I think that tells you something about the relative value of defense.

PS: Historically, 2-point conversion success % for the league is right around 51% or 52%.

wobatus
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wobatus
6 years 9 months ago

And of course, we don’t know that the guys the old-timers thought were the good defensive players really were that good. Maybe Phil Rizzuto was worse than Jeter at SS (the UZR god Jeter of 2009, of course).

Xavier
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Xavier
6 years 9 months ago

The stats here clearly don’t work. Franklin Gutierrez is supposedly good based on some numbers I don’t understand, but why come he didn’t win a Golden Glove?

Clearly Torii hunter is the best center fielder. Did you see that catch he made 3 years ago?

Hey, can we get an extra Golden Gloves award for Gary Matthews?

John C
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John C
6 years 9 months ago

Not to dwell too far into the specific scenario, but also remember the Colts would have had 4 downs to work with themselves, likely increasing their own chances of scoring a TD even with the extra punting yardage. Not that they had much trouble with 3 with drive earlier.

Tackling the Colts RB at the 1 instead of letting him score was perhaps the more “doh” decision, even though it was a snap judgment and it would be tough to blame the defender for really breaking nature and letting him walk in (in a moments decision).

That and blowing the timeouts, perhaps.

Nick
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Nick
6 years 9 months ago

“Not to dwell too far into the specific scenario, but also remember the Colts would have had 4 downs to work with themselves, likely increasing their own chances of scoring a TD even with the extra punting yardage. Not that they had much trouble with 3 with drive earlier.”

Never mind a TD, what are the chances Manning wouldn’t have at least gotten them into the Red Zone with 4 downs? Unless he throws a pick, it would’ve been next to impossible for the Pats defense to prevent that. So basically you’re giving them the ball at a spot where you know they would’ve gotten to anyway, and you’re at least allowing for the possibility of time left for a field goal comeback.

wobatus
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wobatus
6 years 9 months ago

I don’t think it would have been that easy to score a touchdown if Manning had started 70 yards away. The odds are lower than earlier in the game. He has to run quicker plays, a wasted down or 2 stopping the clock (not sure of the timeout situation), or need to throw a sideline pattern to get out of bounds, less time to run off-tackle, etc. Are interceptions more likely in that situation (I suppose teams playing prevent lay off since they don’t want to be burned deep, so not sure)?

Red Zone in 4 downs? I guess but there’s no certainty of that either.

Sam
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Sam
6 years 9 months ago

The other thing is, there is simply no evidence that Belichick used any kind of statistic to make hi decision. He simply thought it over, and said: “We get two yards, we win. Damn the number of downs we have, my offense is capable of getting two yards against this Colts defense. And if we do, we win, and I don’t have to think about stopping Peyton Manning today.”

So if he had a subjective probability of getting the fourth down, it probably was much higher than 60 percent.

Anonymous Coward
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Anonymous Coward
6 years 9 months ago

Sam, the Patriots do have a stat nerd on their payroll who does these sorts of calculations and analyses. It is unlikely that Belichick pulled out his calculator on the sideline, but he surely has a good grasp of the important variables and probabilities involved. It’s similar to how a poker player might approach a big hand — he’s not going to enumerate all the possible hands his opponent might have and the outcomes of all possible river cards, but he has a good idea of his opponent’s hand range and can decide whether to raise/call/fold accordingly.

Sam
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Sam
6 years 9 months ago

I am sure they do. Belichick did not build his career by not explointing every single advantage he can get over opponents. And he has a history of going for fourth downs in critical situations and being successful at them (I am doing this by memory). That has to be an informed bet.

I think he trusts his play calling and his offense in those situations. It just doesn’t have to be stat-based.

Adam D
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Adam D
6 years 9 months ago

I don’t think you can equate the percentages of successful 2-point conversions with needing 2 yards with 70 yards of playing surface to work with. It should be easier to get the 2 yards in the open field since, in theory, the defense has to worry about the long pass as well.

wobatus
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wobatus
6 years 9 months ago

I was just curious about conversions, but I understand the difference. Given the circumstances, though, it was pretty unlikely that the Colts felt a need to spread it out and were focused on stopping short yardage plays.

SMS_Mike
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

If memory serves, Belichick faced this exact same decision in the AFC Championship game on 21 Jan 07, also in Indy. He punted the ball away on 4th and 2 with 2:40 to play. Manning drove for the winning touchdown.

I’ll never prove it, and he’ll never admit it, but I wonder if that memory influenced Belichick’s decision Sunday night.

If memory continues to serve, lots of ‘smart NFL boys’, including the Sports Guy, moaned in 2007 Belichick should have gone for it.

All the hysteria this week over Belichick’s decision is hypocritical, in my opinion.

H
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H
6 years 9 months ago

Good call SMS_ Mike. The situation was similar. It was 4th and 4 from his own 46 with a little more than 2 minutes to go and NE holding a 3 point lead. Following a 54 yard punt into the end zone, Manning moved the Colts 80 yards on 7 plays in a little more than one minute without using even one timeout.

Joe Soko
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Joe Soko
6 years 9 months ago

I just wanted to point out that on MNF Ron Jaworski gave a somewhat lengthy response trying to justify the thought process but was pretty diplomatic regarding whether he agreed with the call. However, Gruden was very adament about the fact that he completely agreed with the call, though we know he is baised since he elected to punt twice to Manning in the game that Manning came back from down 21 to beat him.

Dan
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Dan
6 years 9 months ago

Gruden may or may not be right (I haven’t really examined the issue closely enough to say), but coaches almost always defend other coaches when sitting in the TV booth.

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 9 months ago

Dungy didn’t.

CH
Guest
CH
6 years 9 months ago

The bigger problem is that most people made up their minds about the decision well BEFORE they saw any probabilities or performed any kind of rational thought.

Merril Hoge said he liked the move because “Belichick displayed a championship mindset.” That’s not a great reason to do ANYTHING, in my opinion.

“Why did you try to jump over the Grand Canyon on your motorcycle like that?”

“Well, it seemed like something a champion would do.”

Let’s not pretend all the people who supported the move did so because of rational thought, and let’s not assume all the people who questioned the move DIDN’T give it any rational thought.

The author of the “unconventional wisdom” article claims that the guys from “FireJoeMorgan” don’t know more about baseball than Joe Morgan. Regardless of the statistics behind ANY move, the “argument from authority” is a faulty one. I didn’t love the FJM site, personally, but to excuse Morgan’s (or anyone’s) failure or refusal to think critically because “he played the game” is the real enemy here.

Merril Hoge doesn’t know what he’s talking about in this particular situation, regardless of how long he played.

Phillies Red
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Phillies Red
6 years 9 months ago

I don’t know about results, but doing something because of your “championship mindset” is awesome.

CH
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CH
6 years 9 months ago

You know what? You’ve convinced me. Disregard my entire post about rational thought. Championship mindset is the way to go. The NFL version of “The Secret.” Write down your desired outcome, and it’s sure to happen.

Benji
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Benji
6 years 9 months ago

It looks like Eric Hinske’s “championship mindset” is shared by Bill Belichick.

Big Oil
Member
Big Oil
6 years 9 months ago

Breaking OT: Greinke is 2009 AL Cy Young. From WaPo:

“Zack Greinke, it is safe to say, is not like most previous winners of the American League Cy Young Award. He follows his own statistics — but instead of tracking wins, earned run average and strikeouts, he keeps tabs on his “fielding independent pitching” (FIP). And instead of reveling in the glory of a career-defining award, he acknowledges the dark side of losing part of his cherished anonymity. “

lincolndude
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lincolndude
6 years 9 months ago

This is a perfect, perfect example of what happens all the time. Idiotic commentators and “analysts” judge a move based on its outcome.

If the Patriots had made it, most of these same people would be falling all over each other to marvel at Belichick’s balls of steel.

There’s just no concept in the TV broadcaster/mainstream sportswriter world of a correct decision that fails.

joser
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joser
6 years 9 months ago

Doing something is not the same as thinking about doing it (and in particular thinking about why you’re doing it or how you might do it differently); in many aspects of athletics, thinking gets in the way of doing. (“Don’t think: it can only hurt the ballclub.”) I suspect this is why so many successful MLB coaches are ex-catchers: they spent more of their playing time actually thinking about the game, compared to (say) a second baseman like Joe Morgan. (There also may be some selection bias — people who don’t like thinking don’t end up as major league catchers.) That in no way takes away from the 2nd baseman’s achievements, but conversely those achievements in no way necessarily qualify him to be a paid analyst. As I’ve said here previously, asking Joe Morgan to analyze the game is like asking a fish to design a submarine.

Unkle Rusty
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Unkle Rusty
6 years 9 months ago

Interesting. I took this whole Belichick thing as an object lesson on why Results Based Analysis is so much bunk. Of course it was a bad idea because the result of it was failure. Never mind that the thought process behind it, and the stats to back it up, were solid. In fact, I would venture to say visionary.

walkoffblast
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walkoffblast
6 years 9 months ago

The smart teams do not let public opinion run the show. I would much rather root for a team not afraid to try the unconventional on occasion. It might not always work but you should come out ahead in the long run. Public opinion will unfortunately skewer you when it fails and barely notice when it works. To an extent, this is why I felt like Girardi was getting a little bit too much criticism in the playoffs. He was attempting to do what people had been begging for for a long time, use some of the numbers available to help in game decision making. Did he always go about it in the best way possible? Doubtful, but even considering it seems to be a step in the right direction, even if there are some bumps along the way. From management down the yankee franchise seems to have improved a lot from the throw money at the problem teams of a few years ago. Could be scary for the rest of the league with their resources advantage.

Tom
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Tom
6 years 9 months ago

@lincolndude: “This is a perfect, perfect example of what happens all the time. Idiotic commentators and “analysts” judge a move based on its outcome.”

Just a question, but is there another way to judge a move other than the outcome?

CCW
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CCW
6 years 9 months ago

Sure, judge it based on the circumstances at the time the decision was made. That’s the point of Dave’s article.

joser
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joser
6 years 9 months ago

If you buy a lottery ticket and win a few bucks, the results-based conclusion is you should spend all your money on lottery tickets. Is that good judgement? If you bet the pot on a pair in your first hand of poker and you win, do you conclude that betting the pot on a pair is always the best poker strategy? If you hold at 15 in blackjack and the dealer busts, is it wise to always hold on 15 based on that one winning outcome?

There’s a ton of data generated by every football or baseball game, and tons of games in the books. You could look at all of that data, parse and compile it appropriately, and try to make meaningful decisions based on it, or you could just say “Well, this worked last time…”

B
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B
6 years 9 months ago

“Just a question, but is there another way to judge a move other than the outcome?”

Yeah, you judge it based on the probability and end result of all possible outcomes. It’s basic probability math – you learn this stuff in high school or middle or whatever. If you pay $1 to roll a die, and if it lands on a 6 you get $5, but nothing if it lands on 1-5, you lose ~16 cents, on average, each time you play this game. 5/6 * 0 + 1/6 *5 = expected value of 83.333333 cents, yet you’re paying $1, so you’re losing money. This isn’t difficult math, nor is it a difficult concept. If you play this game once and roll a 6, sure you walk away with $4, but that doesn’t make it a good decision.

Unkle Rusty
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Unkle Rusty
6 years 9 months ago

Tom, judge the process, not the results….oh, I wish I could find that pyramid Dave Cameron often quotes, I think it is from J.P. Ricciardi or someone. Something about “Bad process, good results, good luck. Good process, bad results, bad luck,” etc.

Not David
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Not David
6 years 9 months ago
Sky Kalkman
Member
6 years 9 months ago

Lots of good stuff to discuss about this whole story, even outside the probabilities.

Trent Dilfer was on the radio trashing Belichek with the argument that he was acting on pure emotion and if you take the logical approach to the situation, you clearly have to punt. Does that count as irony or just 180 from the truth?

Nate
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

ESPN is pretty mainstream, but the first article that popped up on my Google News feeder on Monday was this one:
http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/insider/news/story?id=4659228

The money quote: “The key factor that the cacophony of responses seems to be missing is that you can’t judge Belichick’s decision by the fact that it didn’t work.”

It’s a great analysis, very similar to what we read here at fangraphs (except, of course, it’s about football).

neuter_your_dogma
Guest
neuter_your_dogma
6 years 9 months ago

I had no problem with Belichick’s 4th down decision. But if he had decided early on that it was a 4-down situation, why did he choose a relatively risky pass play on 3rd down instead of running for another yard or two? It would have been easier to convert 4th and one than 4th and two.

MPC
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MPC
6 years 9 months ago

And why did Kevin Faulk not run a 3 yard route instead of a 2 yard route?

Anonymous Coward
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Anonymous Coward
6 years 9 months ago

MPC, don’t you think that the Colts are going to pay attention to the sticks as well? You can’t have everyone running fixed routes one yard beyond the marker all the time. (Indeed, Wes Welker was actually open farther downfield, but Brady either missed him or chose not to go to him.)

That being said, I would have preferred the Patriots to have Faulk in the backfield where he is a thread to take the direct snap and run up the middle, as the Patriots often do on two-point conversions.

Anonymous Coward
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Anonymous Coward
6 years 9 months ago

Ok, that first paragraph of my response came out wrong, so feel free to ignore it. (Welker was open farther downfield though.)

MPC
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MPC
6 years 9 months ago

You see my point though. Why run that short of a route?

Judy
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Judy
6 years 9 months ago

This is hysterical. Like, Football Outsiders accidentally invades Fangraphs.

TomG
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TomG
6 years 9 months ago

Does that make Dave Bill Barnwell?

And here I thought I could try to escape The Decision(TM) for one day…

Judy
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Judy
6 years 9 months ago

We could really use a blockbuster trade or something.

dorsal
Member
dorsal
6 years 9 months ago

Isn’t it great Judy? Baseball can rule the world!

Jason
Guest
Jason
6 years 9 months ago

Not to bring politics into this, but the very fierce, knee-jerk defense of the conventional wisdom seems to be the norm in American society these days. I think we’re frightened of life.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 9 months ago

Tommy Craggs already talked about this on deadspin.

I’m a Patriots fan, and I actaually agreed with what Belicheck did. I thought the play call was terrible, and the spot sucked, too, but he had just laid witness to Manning pick the defense apart (and he proceeded to do it again). The Patriots would’ve lost that game, in my opinion, if they punted.

It’s also a reason why managers still go “by the book” so often. Belicheck made a calculated decision, it didn’t work, and now HIS intelligence is under question. If Belicheck can’t escape doubters, how much leeway do you think Ron Washington would get with the media? Going for broke and failing looks bad, and no matter how often you try to tell people that the long run result of doing it this way is better than the old way, people WILL remember the failures. How many times has Belicheck gone for it on 4th down in a lower pressure situation and succeeded easily? Probably hundreds of times. Yet all anyone will remember now is that one misstep.

A misstep that will pretty much not matter one bit if the Patriots win on Sunday and basically lock themselves into a playoff spot.

Shaun
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

I think punting would have been the safe choice, as punting and probably making Manning drive 70-60 yards would have gave the Patriots a very good chance to win. But that doesn’t mean it was the right choice. Taking into account multiple variables, it seems going for it was probably the choice that gave the Pats the better chance to win.

In other words, going for it and failing was more of a possibility than a failing on a punt (a botched snap, bad punt, etc.). But even so, based on the data I’ve seen, going for it still gave the Pats the better chance to win largely because the chances of them converting was something like 60 percent.

Another topic of conversation regarding this play: Making a safe decision versus making a better decision that’s not necessarily as safe. For instance, it’s safe to bring in a closer in the 9th Inning but it’s not always the right decision.

Drew
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Drew
6 years 9 months ago

A better way to put it, the safest decision is the one with the highest probability. In this situation punting was the “risky” decision.

Judy
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Judy
6 years 9 months ago

Punting doesn’t actually “feel” even the tiniest bit safe to me in that situation, I don’t really get why it “feels” safer to others, if that makes any sense. If you took the exact same circumstances and flipped them around, so that the game’s in Foxboro, the Colts are the ones with the lead, etc., everything’s the same only opposite. Manning’s got the ball with a chance to end the Pats comeback if he can convert the 4th and 2, are most Pats fans hoping the Colts go for it or hoping they punt it back to the Pats? Why am I, as a Pats fan, hoping they punt while most of the world seems to want them to go for it?

Shaun
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Drew, you’re right. You could absolutely view it that way. My point is that going for it and failing was more of a possibility than a botched punt, snap, etc.; and the Colts driving 60-70 yards for a TD.

But I would argue that going for it was the right decision because it was the play the increased the probability of a Pats win, largely because the Pats still had something like a 60 percent chance of converting based on the data I’ve seen.

wobatus
Guest
wobatus
6 years 9 months ago

I would assume that the Colts odds of scoring a touchdown in 2 minutes if they had to go 70 yards is pretty low though. They would need to burn downs to stop the clock, they really couldn’t waste time doing any running, so passing would be keyed on, the kind of routes you can run are sometimes limited due to time issues (need to get out of bounds). An interception is possible. I don’t know the actual historical odds are in that situation, and it is the Colts and Manning, but nevertheless i think people are inflating just how likely a td is in that situation, because we remember the comebacks but forget the majority of times when a team can’t score a td in that type of situation. I do recall many times when a QB is desperately trying for the td and gets intercepted. And it must be demoralizing for the D to have to come out on their own 28 instead of the Colts 30, say. Not that i want to get too much into the psycholoogical ramifications of the decision.

Not to say Belichick deserves much criticism, and for all I know the odds are in favor of going for the 1st down. It probably is a fairly close call either way.

Church of the Perpetually Outraged
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Church of the Perpetually Outraged
6 years 9 months ago

“I would assume that the Colts odds of scoring a touchdown in 2 minutes if they had to go 70 yards is pretty low though.”

While it may seem that way, looking at all the drives the Colts have scored, this year, they already have 10 very similar touchdowns around 70 yds and 2minutes. It gets even worse in that game itself. Here’s the yardage and time of possession for each TD for the Colts:

90yd 3:28
80yd 3:02
79yd 2:04
79yd 1:49

The last two drives were two of the previous three drives the Pats D faced. The other was a miscommunication between Wayne and Manning and resulted in an INT. But as others have mentioned, no one brings up these thoughts (that the Colts had driven, multiple times in a short period of time) against this D when choosing to judge Belicheck.

Brody
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Brody
6 years 9 months ago

If there was ever an activity that proves there are situations in life when the best decisions have a small chance of working, it is baseball. Pinch hit a 330 hitter for a 110 hitter. Obviously the right move, but just as obviously, it probably will not work.

Omar
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Omar
6 years 9 months ago

The Patriots convert 80% of the time on that play, and they were not stopping Manning, right call.

Scott Lemieux
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6 years 9 months ago

Right. If you’re resorting to an appeal to authority you can’t then turn around and call a guy with 5 Super Bowl rings foolish without any evidence.

Greg Rybarczyk
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Greg Rybarczyk
6 years 9 months ago

It’s hard to separate out anger at Belichick for the 4th down call when you’re already angry at him for:

– wasting a timeout before running the 1st down play, when they were already coming off a commercial break after the kickoff
– wasting the 1st down play by running his RB right into a wall of defenders when the Colts were dead expecting it
– passing on third down (unsuccessfully)
– wasting another time out, the Pats last one.

Pats fans were already shouting at their TV’s before Belichick made the call, …
– passing so short as to bring the chains into play, when the same rate of catching success could almost certainly have been obtained 5 yards down the field (proof? how about the rest of the game up to that point?), ensuring that catch = first down.

Sure, once he had butchered his way into that position, going for it was the right call…

Shaun
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6 years 9 months ago

Church of the Perpetually Outraged, wouldn’t you need to look at all the times the Colts started from their own 30 (or wherever) and see how many times they drove for a touchdown? How do we know 10 touchdowns in similar situations is good without knowing their rate at converting starting from their own 30 into touchdowns?

The likelihood of the Patriots failing to convert on 4th Down was probably higher than the Colts driving 70 yards. But again, I think going for it was the right move because all things considered that’s what gave the Pats the best chance to win, even though it may have been more risky in that there was a 40 percent chance they don’t convert.

wobatus
Guest
wobatus
6 years 9 months ago

Shaun, I was going to say that pointing merely to that game, under different circumstances, isn’t really telling us the odds. Scoring earlier in the game in 2 minutes is different then scoring from 70 yards out when everyone knows 2 minutes is all you have and you must score a touchdown.

Nevertheless, the odds may be better than I realize.

Football seems to be a game that emotion and momentum plays a larger roll in than baseball. Perhaps I am wrong, but I gotta imagine that felt like a pretty big slap in the face to the defense to go for it, and, having missed the 1st down, essentially they are out there on their 28 knowing their coach didn’t trust them to stop them over 70.

Now, of course, you can tell them it isn’t that I didn’t trust you guys, but the odds are better if I go for it. And they are pros. But it is demoralizing, I’d imagine.

Joe
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6 years 9 months ago

Bill Belichick is a moron – but not for the reason you might think. http://bit.ly/uIT0i

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6 years 5 months ago

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