Wednesday, March 01, 2006

NFL coaches are too conservative

How many times have you seen this: It is the first quarter. The offense has the ball. It is fourth down and goal to go on the opponent's one yard line. And the coach decides to kick a field goal.

The announcers throw out the obligatory line, "It's always best to put some points on the board this early in the game." Or is it?

According to an article over at, there is a study by David Romer of the University of California at Berkeley which casts new light on this topic.

From the article:
"In a series of case studies, Romer found coaches to be overly conservative, opting for field goals in situations where, on average, choosing to go for a first down or a touchdown would up the odds of winning by 3 percent.

In particular, Romer found that when faced with fourth-and-goal on the 2-yard line early in the game, going for a touchdown is the much wiser choice. While the field goal is a near certainty, getting a touchdown in that situation has about a 43 percent chance of success, he calculates. And failing to score a TD at least leaves the opponent deep in its own territory.

But in nine case studies of this situation, the teams booted against the odds.

After doing a whole bunch of complex math, and considering things like momentum and field position in more than 700 real NFL game situations, Romer concludes that whenever the chance of a touchdown is statistically 18 percent, that's the better choice.

The study used data only from the first quarter of games, when the contests were still close and the outcome uncertain.

That is what I keep telling those silly coaches. Now I have some science to back me up.

No comments: