Monday, November 16, 2009

4th and 2

The facts are clear, the Patriots had a better chance of winning the game by going for it on 4th and 2 than if they punted.

In fact it is a 78% winning probability going for it on 4th and 2 versus a 70% WP when punting.

Here is the math.

Still hurts though, huh?


Doug Haslam said...

I am trying to start a new hashtag on Twitter. If you make a good decision and would like to brag about it, tag it #betterthanbelichick

Tim Walker said...

In the spirit of Mike Leach, I'm sympathetic to Burke's math.

BUT . . . in the last two minutes of a game . . . against P. Manning in a rhythm . . . in Indy . . . when you're the Patriots . . . and you have pride in your defense . . . isn't where you make that call.

Over time and in the aggregate? Sure. A lot of coaches are complete wusses (and innumerate) when it comes to 4th-down calls.

But trying to make 4th-and-2 against a GREAT pass rush that's given you problems throughout the 2nd half? And giving a 37-yard field with 2:00 left to one of the great clock managers in league history? No.

The problem isn't that Burke's math is incorrect (though the conditions I just cited change the odds more substantially than he indicates), but that there's no time to recover from an adverse outcome in the short-field situation. It's why you play your infielders in with the winning run on third in the bottom of the ninth.

Or am I crazy?

Mike Langford said...

The problem with statistical abstractions like this example is that it assumes macro/historical averages of the super set apply in a real time micro situation.

Smarter analysis would look at things like:

1. How well the Colts had moved the ball against the Patriots defense during last night's game. How many times during the game had the Patriots held the Colts to fewer than 28 yards during a possession? How would that compare with a punt situation?

2. How well the Colts had performed in 2 minute drills so far this year?

3. Special teams performance in punt situations for each opponent this year and during last night's game. Do the Colts suck at punt returns? Are they average? How often do the Pats kick into a fair catch situation?

4. Heck why look look at Brady's 4th & 2 conversion rate vs. the Pats D from 28 yards over the season.

Yes, the law of large numbers applies in a macro sense but I find Brian Burke's analysis about as relevant as saying "The odds an NFL pass will be a first down are 1 in 3", which by the way they are.

Belichick's failure last night was in underestimating the risk of failure not the odds of failure. There's a BIG difference.

KFFBOS said...

Mike, I think you actually make the argument stronger for the odds, particularly Peyton in the 2-min drill, Colts special teams, etc.

The numbers all stack up to the fact that the Colts would score from 60 yards or 30 yards in 2-minutes. Therefore if you get the first down you win, if not you statistically are going to give yourself MORE time to kick a FG if you need to on the other side.

The two biggest mistakes in the game were Maroney fumbling on the one and them not letting Addai just run it into the end-zone with a minute to go. And the latter goes to Tim's point of putting yourself into position to have to come back from an Indy TD. Belichick had thought that through (much like the Denver game in 2003) and realized he might need time on the clock if they scored.

Belichick was going to go on 4th down no matter what because it put his team in the best position to win.

BTW, I'm not a Belichick apologist, I've just always been in this camp when it comes to 4th and 2/3. My coach in High School and my coach in college both played it this way when past your own 30 yard line and Greg Easterbrook also has a bunch on it on over the years if interested.

Mike Langford said...


I'm not against using statistics to guide decisions, I just expect them to use the right ones. Belichick may have used the right ones when he made the call but Brian Burke tried to fit a macro trend into a specific situation where it may not have applied. Lazy analysis on his part.

Another way to look at it, albeit not rooted in stats, is what Teddy Bruschi said:

"The decision to go for it would be enough to make my blood boil for weeks. Bill Belichick sent a message to his defense.

He felt that his chances were better to go for it on his own 28-yard line than to punt it away and make Peyton Manning have to drive the majority of the field to win the game."

KFFBOS said...

Mike, the problem with that quote is whom it is from; a player will always think that way (and they should). If Teddy actually looked at all the facts from that game he would see that Belichick was right; that WAS his best option to win the game. There is no doubt in my mind, at the time and today.

I don't think Burke was lazy. He used this well publicized situation to detail a well known analysis that has been gaining steam the past few years. Perhaps he's reaching a bit, but I'm hoping more people realize the analysis that goes into being the HC of the NEPs.

Here is my final thought, would love your opinion:

The Patriots are a better team today because of that game. They know that if not for turnovers near or in the red zone they win that game by 10-14 points easily. Both teams know that and that will play out in January. It's too bad they didn't win, but in the long run it doesn't derail this team's ultimate objective.


Jim Storer said...

Agree with your last point Kyle. As fans we live and die with each game (or play as it were), but the coaches and players are in it for the long haul. This game just gave BB more fodder to use to motivate both the offense and defense for the remainder of the season. Sure, it'd be great to be 7-2 and only one game behind Indy for home field, but it's a marathon, not a sprint. Now let's close out the AFC East!

KFFBOS said...

Oh, another good post (well, for my argument):

Johnny Rooster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny Rooster said...

Definitely a tough call - but shouldn't the fact that Peyton had thrown two interceptions during the game and if he had to go 60 yards versus 30 yards, the odds of turning the ball over were much more likely be factored in? Also factor in that the Colts would feel much more confident going from the 30 versus the 60. Finally, the larger distance would require the team to possibly rush plays, whereas with the 30 yard field they have more time.

I also agree that it was strange that after not getting the 1st down, they didn't let the Colts score faster. Perhaps they were thinking back to the 200__ game where they stopped the Colts at the goal line to win the game.

Aaron_Strout said...

Loving this thread. Now that I've had a couple of days to digest, here are a few thoughts:
1) If I were Belichick, I would have made the same decision. I'd make that same decision again.
2) two major downfalls were a) wasting last two timeouts too early and b) Maroney's fumble in the endzone
3) I've watched every Pats/Colts game played over the last 10 years (rivalry of the decade!) and in spite of the two picks that John mentions, every single one of those games has included a bullshit pass interference call. The exact same thing would have happened if the Pats gave the Colts the ball on their own 30. I think the Colts go out and practice that play (drawing pass interference) as much as they do throwing the long bomb.
4) Pats will win out the rest of their schedule and will take the 2nd spot in the AFC (Cincy is good but not better than the Pats - same w/ Denver and Pittsburgh). To Kyle's point, they are a better team because of this loss.
5) WELKER ACTUALLY MADE THE 1ST DOWN! It was Belichick's poor use of timeouts that killed his chance to challenge. THAT was a real killer.

MW said...

Couldn't happen to a better guy. Bill B. might be the most arrogant, obnoxious coach in pro sports history. Like the Patriots, but despise Belichick.

KFFBOS said...

Aaron, great call on the pass interference...which actually did happen the drive before against Eugene Chung. Ended up being a 35 yard penalty and helped get the Colts that TD much faster than they would have. Might have been in BB's brain.

MW, I love when someone is a winner they are "arrogant" and "obnoxious". LOL. Did you feel the same way about Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Larry Bird, Curt Schilling? All winners, all "arrogant" and thus, according to detractors, "obnoxious".

BTW...Loved Faulk's response:

Fighting back his frustration amid reporters in a solemn post game locker room, Faulk came close to reaching a boiling point when asked how long it would take to get over such a devastating loss. His voice rising, he said: "I have four letters for you: J-E-T-S."

Johnny Rooster said...

Bill Simmons has a great article on this at His argument does make it so that you wonder about Belichick's decision.