If you make the right decision, failure in execution doesn't mean it wasn't right.
I think they actually made the first down...
Originally intended as a UV bit, but then it got long.
As you've probably heard, Bill Belichick went for a first down on fourth and two from his 29 with about two minutes left and his team leading by six points. The Patriots didn't get it, the Colts made the short march for the game-winning score, and commentators duly exploded at how awful the decision was. Tony Dungy evidently kept saying Belichick "should have gone with the percentages."
He did. Of course he did, he's Bill Belichick:
With 2:00 left and the Colts with only one timeout, a successful conversion wins the game for all practical purposes. A 4th and 2 conversion would be successful 60% of the time. Historically, in a situation with 2:00 left and needing a TD to either win or tie, teams get the TD 53% of the time from that field position. The total WP for the 4th down conversion attempt would be:
(0.60 * 1) + (0.40 * (1-0.53)) = 0.79 WP
A punt from the 28 typically nets 38 yards, starting the Colts at their own 34. Teams historically get the TD 30% of the time in that situation. So the punt gives the Pats about a 0.70 WP.
This is obvious in retrospect, right? Bill Belichick is one of the greatest coaches in the history of the NFL. There is a slight chance he knows what he's doing. And even if you are one of the folk who really believes emotion and momentum overwhelm probability in football, not even broaching the idea that Belichick might be on to something is simultaneously stupid and arrogant—neat trick. If you are a caveman when it comes to football and see Belichick go for it there, your first thought should be "hmmm… maybe I don't know something." This, obviously, has not happened. Caveman status is self-perpetuating.
Really, no matter how you play with the numbers, it will come out about the same. Try it. There is almost no way–without suppressing the numbers–to make the percentages even out. The Patriots’ best PERCENTAGE chance was to go for it on fourth down. Of course, football is not really a percentage game for most of us, is it? No, it’s a game about emotion and passion and momentum.
This is where Posnanski needs to play a lot of poker. Emotion and passion and momentum are great for football players. For coaches they are ways to go on tilt and make dumb decisions that are safe but go against the percentages. Belichick is ruthless and in a position where media criticism means nothing as far as his job goes. Most other NFL coaches would take the safe route and decrease their chances of winning because they perceive that it would increase their chances of keeping their job.
But, you know, at least Posnanski brought it up. Many thousands didn't, and just did some blah blah about how it was dumb, thereby implying they were smarter than Bill Belichick. This is why he is the traditional journalist who's bridged the internet divide more successfully than any other. Clark Wonk:
In other words, ”traditional sports punditry” is denoted not by what kind of resume you have, how old you are, whether you sit in the press box, or even whether your thoughts are packaged in 800 words of ink, 1600 words of pixels, or two minutes of streaming video. No, “traditional sports punditry” denotes merely that you’re not staying current within your own field: “What the hell is Belichick doing?” as opposed to “Whoa, talk about trusting the percentages–what the hell is Belichick doing?” …
To be aware of what Posnanski calls the “PERCENTAGE”s, ones that indicate that probability was in Belichick’s favor over the course of a thousand tries, does not rule out disagreeing with the coach in this single instance. But to not be aware of these percentages is to fail in the most basic journalistic sense. To write about a decision, much less try to criticize it, without displaying any understanding of its self-evident context is to fall down on the job in the ”why” department, even if you do get the who, the what, the when, and the where.
Humans would be well-advised to nail the “why,” by the way. Computers can now do those other four pretty well.
Seriously. Does anyone remember SHOCKDOME XXXVI*? The Patriots get the ball back in a tie game with about two minutes left. Tom Brady is the Patriot's first-year starting quarterback. John Madden, embodiment of conventional wisdom-type substance, is publicly begging Belichick to run the clock out and head to overtime instead of putting the game on the kid's shoulders. Belichick says screw that noise, I've seen Tom Brady play football, let's go, and two minutes later Adam Vinateri is kicking a game-winning field goal and no one remembers the ballsy decision that won the damn game. The reason Belichick is so untouchable that he can defy conventional wisdom is because he defied conventional wisdom.
And yet no one mentions this.
*(AKA Super Bowl XXXVI. An aging Pat Summerall awkwardly blurted out "this game has turned into Shockdome 36" at some point in the second quarter when the Patriots weren't getting stomped like everyone expected they would, and I died laughing.)
If you make the right decision, failure in execution doesn't mean it wasn't right.
I think they actually made the first down...
he did get it
Since it's 79% chance of having his decision right, it doesn't mean that it will happen one time. There are 21% chance of "making" it a wrong decision. Over the long run, if you play this scenario over and over again, the Pats would convert 4th down more times than not. He made the right decision to go for it considering that Peyton Manning was red hot in 4th quarter and scored 2 long TD drive(70 and 79 yards) in under 2 minutes. You would have to think that the Colts would have scored if the Pats had opt to punt.
Dammit, Pat's back on the sauce again.
Had the Pats gotten the first down, the decision would have been seen as brilliant. I saw the real error being that there were no time outs, thus eliminating the potential to challenge the spot.
The Pats' D was exhausted and Manning was in a zone.
I wasn't shocked by the decision, just disappointed by the outcome.
See my post above. There were no timeouts because he wasted his last timeout deciding whether to go for it on fourth down. That's where the real screwup happened.
because of his brain as well as his bold choices. I liked the call personally. And as a lifetime Boston sports fan I hated the outcome. But if he did it again I wouldn't be screaming bloody murder, I would still be fine with it. Its a regular season game that didn't make or break the season. So going for the win was better than playing not to lose. Its nice to see a guy with some balls out there that actually has brains to go with em. So he came up short. How many times has this guy come out ahead? Too many to count.
Agree with the statistical analysis that going for it on fourth down was the right move. I think Belichick can be legitimately criticized, however, for the two decisions he made before that call: (1) the third down play, and (2) the decision to call the timeout.
First, if you're going for it on fourth down, the third down play call (a lob to Welker on the outside) makes no sense. Why not run it, if you're going to give it another shot on the next play anyway? Odds are you will gain at least a yard, giving you the QB sneak option on fourth down.
Second, why call the timeout? It wound up costing the Patriots their last challenge.
The easy answer to both questions is that Belichick wasn't planning on going for it on fourth down until he was confronted with the situation, and called the timeout to think about it. But such a lack of foresight is pretty disappointing from one who is supposed to be a master strategist. Shouldn't he have been aware of the possibility that the third down play wouldn't work, and have had an idea of whether he was going to go for it or punt in that event?
The timeout is a fair criticism. An added point, that I'm borrowing from Steve Young, is that calling the time-out also allows the defense time to rest up and scheme a good short-yardage plan. So, not only couldn't they challenge the spot, but they let the defense prepare.
As far as the 3rd down call goes, I'm torn. Changing your play call to assume failure of the 3rd down pass seems un-Belichick and is not the move that I would try. Then again, I'm not a football coach and never have been one.
I don't think it occurred to ANYBODY (including Belichick) that when it was 3rd and 2 it might be 2-down territory. He had 40 seconds to get a play and personnel in to try to get the 1st down--something every staff in America would have done. The decision to go for it was made after the 3rd down pass.
Well, did you think it was 2-down territory right there?
He had 40 seconds to get a play call in with the right personnel. You've had 2 days.
And the play calls were fine. 2 chances of a short pass gaining 2 yards with Brady and those skill players seems like a pretty good bet.
"Historically" teams in that situation don't have Peyton Manning at QB. I've heard arguements on both sides of this, but don't see how one should rely on "historical stats" when they have what's going on currently in front of them. Talking this from the BS report podcast, but Peyton was off the whole game. Their previous drive was helped by at 30 yard PI call that was bull. He didn't have Clark in, meaning that creepy kid's advice from the spring commercial would do him no good.
It's not like he would have been punting to Stafford. Regardless of if Manning was having an off game, you have believe that one of the best QBs of all time is going to come through there. I agree w/ the criticism of the 3rd down play call and using the 2 TOs, but going for it there was the right call.
It actually worked and there was a terrible call on the spot. He caught the ball and yes did juggle it but clearly had caught it on the 30 yard line when the DB pushed him back.
The other thing nobody talks about is why Mike Hart didn't play? Why is Ray Rice an every down back in the NFL and Mike is on and off the practice squad? The speed difference can't be that big?
That makes no sense. Ray Rice is a successful NFL back because he is a better football player than Mike Hart. You might as well ask why Barry Sanders, LaDainian Tomlinson, or Marshall Faulk were more successful pro runningbacks than Mike Hart -- the answer will always be the same.
Teams like the Colts aren't in the habit of leaving their best players on the bench.
good players go unplayed (or play poorly) on good teams all the time based on opportunity, timing, the team that surrounds them...any number of reasons.
matt cassel didn't start a game in college, nor until his fourth season in the nfl - but he was effective once he got an opportunity. i wouldn't say that was an error in usc's or new england's judgement, only that the timing was not in his favor until that moment.
note that i'm not arguing the relative merits of mike hart and ray rice, only pointing out that it's a far more complex equation than "he's good, he's not."
He caught the ball and yes did juggle it but clearly had caught it on the 30 yard line when the DB pushed him back.
I've seen the replay a whole bunch of times by now, and there are only two things that can be seen clearly in it:
The knee injury he had last year certainly hasn't helped, but I never pictured him being an every down back anyways. I think he could make an effective 3rd down back w/ his excellent pass blocking and good hands.
It is hard to believe he is from Ohio.
"If you are a caveman when it comes to football and see Belichick go for it there, your first thought should be "hmmm… maybe I don't know something." This, obviously, has not happened. Caveman status is self-perpetuating."
And to Tedy Bruschi, if your defense is so insulted, shouldn't you be MORE insulted that you let Manning march down the field twice in the fourth quarter already? If you think you are good enough to stop them from 60 yards, okay, stop them from thirty yards. This is what happens when football commentators respond from emotion instead of from fact.
the only thing more uncomfortable than Tedy Bruschi screaming at the ESPN camera, in studio, was Chris Berman who went on telling him afterwards about how they could use the showers together b/c that's what everyone at espn does. Anyway, I was worried that Bruschi was going to have another stroke, or a heart attack or something. Someone at ESPN needs to calm him down.
Rodney Harrison, another exPAT, also went ballistic. I am sure that Belichick finds their antics amusing. He realizes he didn't hire these guys for their wisdom.
You can't arbitrarily just accept 60% chance of making 4th and 2. How big is this sample size, what's the confidence interval, etc. An average alone is not necessarily statistically significant. Moreover, (and this is from a comment I read elsewhere), a more telling stat is 2 pt conversion success, not the entire population of all 4th and 2 chances ever. This percentage is, in fact, lower. You can't always simply things like this down to a decision tree like you did, you need to question the validity of the stats you are using to make your argument. There are a million factors in play here and most aren't taken into account here. Also you can't just assume that Belichek is risk-neutral, which you also do.
Why is the 2-point conversion "more telling" in this case? There are a lot of reasons a 2-pt conversion would be a lower percentage conversion than a 4th-and-2 from the 28 yard line (think amount of field to be covered by the defense).
It's certainly not the same as a 2-point conversion, but I would argue that it is closer to a 2-point conversion than your average 4th and 2.
I am willing to bet that a very small percentage of 4th down plays occur when a team does not have the ultimate goal of scoring a touchdown. Most come when the team is down and needs to score or comes at a position on the field where the risk of not making it does not outweigh the field position benefit of punting. In both these circumstances, a defense is forced to play it just like a 3rd and 2. Know that the offense is likely to attempt a short yardage gainer play, but have to defend against the touchdown. The safeties still can't get beat deep and the cb's can't abandon deep coverage to cheat on the five yard routes.
In this situation, as Brian says below, if NE gets 3 yards or 60, the game is over. Indy can sell out to defend the plays that from the offensive perspective are most likely to achieve at least 2+ yards. From a realistic standpoint, they are defending the run and passes within 15 or so yards of the line of scrimmage. Yes, they can't ignore Moss streaking down the field, but they also don't have to pay as much attention, sinceif they get beat initially and have to scramble that's a much tougher pass and probably not worth the gamble for Brady. On both sides of the ball, they treated the play as a two point conversion, and that is the more relevant statistical measure.
The only thing that really is a big advantage for the fourth and 2 call as compared to the two point conversion is that when the QB scrambles, receivers are not confined by the back of the endzone, tilting the odds of completeion in favor of the offense.
If I had to judge based on the two statistical measures, I'd say it's somewhere between the success rates of two point conversions and regular 4th and 2 situations, but closer to the two point conversion success rate.
...because I have no idea as to the accuracy of that statistic, but I disagree that 2 point conversion success would be more telling than taking the success rate of the entire population of all 4th and 2 chances ever. 2 pt conversions are going to be notably more difficult than your "average" 4th and 2 plays because on a 2pt conversion the defense only has 12 yards to defend, making it more difficult to get those two yards than it would be if they had to defend the "whole"* field.
*Allowing for the fact that the Colts in that situation wouldn't be ACTUALLY defending the whole field, but would almost certainly be forced to defend more of it than just 12 yards.
Why would 2pt conversion success be more telling? 2pt conversions have the disadvantage of working w/ a shorter field making the conversion more difficult.
If the probability of winning is higher by going for it rather than by punting, then it's a no-brainer.
difference between a 2-point conversion and 4th and 2 from midfield. There's a reason a lot of teams get into two TEs and pound the ball from the 2--the shortened end zone plays a huge factor into what you can do successfully.
I will agree that there a lot more factors in play than the analysis above. My guess is that the decision is pretty close to a wash and Belichick put the game in the hands of his best player to make a play.
Actually, I think the two-point conversion point is a really good one: in this case, Indy does not care about a 60-yard play. Two yards is the same as 60 to them: a loss. So they can play it like it's fourth and goal from the two.
It's still considerably easier to get two yards than three, so the conversion rate should be well above 50%.
Indy is going to let Randy Moss go down the field unimpeded. They're going to cover him if he goes past 15 yards. They aren't going to cover him if he goes into the tunnel on the goalline. I agree that Indy needs to protect the sticks like it's the goalline, but NE has a lot more options to work with in the extended field.
the NFL does their 2-point conversions from the 2, not the 3
I've read elsewhere - on Advanced NFL Stats, I believe - that the two point conversion percentage is weighed down by one-point conversions that go bad and no kick is attempted. It doesn't happen often (except to Romo), but neither do two-point conversions.
I also agree that defending the entire field makes the chance of conversion higher than defending 12 yards. Game situation is irrelevant; you still have to stop them from getting 2 yards... or 60.
Does this make Notre Dame less likely to offer him their head coaching job (which he'd clearly take)?
What makes you think that? Just curious...
I believe you need to recalibrate your sarcasm meter
This example illustrates how Belichick uses stats to make his game decisions, but his wisdom goes far beyond that.
In draft-day decisions, notice how NE is always trading high picks for lower ones (eg taking a chance on longshots like neer-do-wells like Brady, although he's not actually the result of a trade). Also, notice how NE often trades current year picks for future ones (this year NE also traded one of his top defensive players, Seymour, for Oakland's #1 pick 2 years hence, when there will probably be a rookie salary cap).
Why do these strategies make sense? First, there's evidence that it's more cost effective to trade away high picks (who, based on past performance statistics, cost more than they're worth). Since a team has a fixed budget, the best teams are built by making cost-effective decisions--getting the most bang for the buck. Second, the best teams are built by making cost-effective decisions for the future and resisting the pull of one's desires to get the best players immediately. Other teams often choose the immediate reward of getting (or keeping) a player now in lieu of the delayed reward of getting an even better (and/or cheaper) player later. As an economist, Belichick realizes this bias. And he exploits it.
PS On this blog, yesterday, I published a decision analysis which demonstrated Belichick's wisdom in the IND game (dakotapalm pointed out that someone else already also laid out the logic for the decision). But it was nice to see that some objective numbers from NFL stats actually reached the same conclusion.
While I didn't agree w/ Ferentz playing for OT there, I could see why he did it. He had a QB making his 1st start playing in Columbus. A turnover there gives OSU a short field to kick a winning FG. That said, the kid was playing quite well considering the circumstances.
I would love to know the statistics on the outcomes when teams play for OT like that. I know I was in the minority, but I wanted to see RR go for 2 against MSU and get the win right there. I thought we would be playing at a disadvantage in OT since we were on the road and MD could no longer sit back and coach not to lose.
That qb making his first start had already managed to bring them back to tie the game. The decision to play it safe and go to overtime seemed to be based on Ferentz's unfounded fear, not on the qb's performance to that point.
Iowa's decision that trying to win the game wasn't a good path brought back many frustrating Michigan memories from the past decade.
for other points in the game. If its a good decision to go for it with 2:00 min left, is it also a good decision to go for it in the 1st or 3rd quarter?
I happened to love the decision. Most coaches err on the side of conservatism and people think they are risky b/c they run a triple reverse at some odd time.
Probably not. The statistics are easier in this case, because a 4th and 2 conversion effectively wins the game. In the 1st or 3rd quarter, it's just maintaining possession a long way from the end zone. I don't think there is enough of a reward for converting to balance the risk of failing.
with a lead in the 3rd quarter this season. They went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 24 and made it. The Patriots went on to control the ball and the clock for the rest of the quarter and put the game away.
I actually would like to have seen the Patriots go for their previous 4th down on their drive before...instead of kicking the Field Goal.
They were up 10 points and I would rather try and go up 3 scores (17 points) than kick a FG and remain in a situation where 2 Colts TDs costs you the game.
With that in mind, I think Belichick should have ran that second last series once they got in Field Goal range as a series willing to use all 4 downs to put it in the endzone and go up 3 scores.
but MGoBrian, I have a follow up question.
You're big on these in-game probabilities, but dont seem to buy into historical probabilities, like when I pointed out how poor ATS Michigan is in their first road game. or how great MSU is in their final home game of the year?
Whats the differnce, IYHE?
Both are probabilities with overwhelming percentages one way. You're asking to lose if you bet on UM in their first road game.......just like you're increasing your chances of losing by punting in that spot on 4rth and 2.
Season based probabilities are poorly controlled and poor predictors. You don't have more than a sample size of at most 100. Position and time based probablities seem to control much better for the important factors.
True, but MIIICH's struggles ATS in their first road game stretch back over 30 years. It's part of the program's ID at this point, dont you think.
Same thing with MSU's 19-3 ATS record in their final home game of the year. That's a regular occurence that's happened for more than 2 decades over the span of a 5 different head coaches.
I hear you on small sample size and lack of control, but there are certain historical trends out there that cant be overlooked, IMHE
There's another factor here besides sample size, and that's sample composition.
If Michigan has a bad year or a run of bad years, there may be extenuating circumstances that led to those results (like, say, years of lousy recruiting or a coaching change). Because of the sample size, those circumstances can have a substantial effect. If we go back to your example of the last 30 years and we agree to chalk the last two years up to, say, black magic, that's 6.67% of your sample size that isn't "average." That's a significant amount.
In game probabilities, on the other hand, have colossal sample sizes that encompass most any combination of team skill level, outside circumstances, coaching ability, weather, or karma imaginable. Somebody made an argument that the Colts offense is better than average; that's irrelevant, because the "average" in those percentages includes teams as good as the Colts, better than, and far, far worse.