A Not-So-Sophistical Defense for Going for It

First of all, congratulations to the Colts for an amazing second-half. They played better and they won the game. And they don't deserve the criticism that "Belichick handed them the win."

  1. How often are coaches criticized for "coaching not to lose"? For being too conservative? Last night was an aggressive call, no doubt. But it was a call to win the game when you had your hands on it. Let's face it, this isn't like the Patriot SB teams that win with defense. When this team beats you, the ball is in Brady's hands.
  2. Those who have read Halberstam's excellent Education of a Coach will remember that it has a dedicated discussion of going for it on 4th down. In short, academic statistical analysis supports the idea that coaches should go for it on 4th down every time they have 4th and short. They should go for it on 4th down every time they are across their own 40. Statistically, the possible reward of keeping the football is worth any risk. Essentially, going for it on 4th down isn't a matter of overcoming difficulty on the field as much as overcoming the psychological and cultural perception of going for it on 4th down. Yeah, its a rhetorical thing.
  3. The Patriots hadn't put the running back in motion to create an empty backfield all night. Remember that the play in theory worked--Faulk was open and caught the ball beyond the first down marker. However, in practice, he juggled it and lost forward progress. These things happen. But saving the running back quick out (matched up on an inside linebacker, I believe) for when you really need it is the kind of things that the hoodie does. Once again, the human element and the statistical/theoretical element might be in conflict here--but that doesn't mean that going for it wasn't the right decision.
  4. As far as Belichick having to apologize to his defense, I think this needs to be revised: the defense has to apologize to the offense. The offense spotted the Colts a 24-7 lead. In the second half of that game, the defense played the roll of butter, Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne the roll of hot knife.
  5. Finally, I think Belichick had visions back to the 2006 Playoff game. Remember that the Pats blew a 21-6 halftime lead in that game. Remember, too, that Belichick called the game conservatively in the fourth quarter--I do think that ghost showed up in the 4th quarter last night.

Was I surprised to see the call last night? Not really. Not as someone who has watched Patriot games for the past decade. The Patriots have always played to win the game. Last night, they just came up a foot short when they really needed it. And, oh, by the way, did anyone notice how the defense failed to even make Peyton Manning blink on that final drive? That's why you go for it on 4th down. You play (call) to win the game.

1 comment:

Stevie-D said...

Fortunately for the Patriots, they can afford to make questionable decisions and operate at a lower level of efficiency in the regular season. New England is blessed to be in the AFC East.

As an avid Bills fan, I watch the Patriots win the division year in and year out (with the exception of last year) with ease. Having the cushion of a bad division allows for such risk/reward decisions. Yes, the game may have hurt playoff seeding, but it would have never shaped the outcome of the divisional standings.

P.S. Is it just me, or is watching a Patriots/Bills game like watching a four hour montage of Tom Brady. Even when he's on the bench, the commentators love to chat it up about him. Thank god the Bills had T.O. this year to steal back some of the air time.

P.S.S I'll see you in class Thursday at 9:30!