Probabilities, sports, and emotions.

People get emotional about sports.  If you add to the mix a little bit of knowledge than you are in trouble.  After the Broncos lost an article titled “John Fox belongs in a Fortune 500 Company, Not a Startup“.  I am not sure if that is true or not but the article does not support that conclusion.

With 0:37 left in the first half and 3 timeouts, Fox decided to kneel on the ball.

Without any context this could be a good or bad decision.  But lets look at it more deeply.  The Ravens had just scored a touchdown, tying the game.  They gained possession of the ball after the Broncos missed a field goal.  The Ravens had flipped the momentum.  The Broncos got the ball at their 20 with :36 second left and 3 times out.

Fox’s only rationale for this decision can only be: “The chances are greater that the Ravens will score more points before the end of the half than the Broncos if we try to score here.”

If that sounds insane, it’s because it is.

One of the things that people do not understand is that football is a science.  John Fox knows exactly what he is talking about. I am not sure what the current stats or any idea about NFL, but in NCAA in 2004 you had something like 30% chance of scoring a touchdown from that spot, that is without a time constraint and with the SEC cupcake pre conference schedule.

The stat does not matte,r only illustrates that it is measured and he knew it.  There was not a high probability of them putting points on the board.  These are some factors:

  • Momentum:  Ravens tied they game.  You take risks when they are in your favor or things are going your way.  Not the case here.
  • Field goal range: The kicker had just missed.  To get to that same yardage they would have had to go more than 40 yards.
  • Passing: There are more negative outcomes from passing than running.  Positives are penalty or completion.  Negatives are sack, fumble, interception, penalty.  Many of the negatives of passing can be mitigated by the passing type.  Shorter passes decreases sack and penalty.  Even with :36 second left and three time outs shorter passes are not an option.

Was that the right decision, I do not know.  But I can say that based on probabilities and contributing factors that it was not an “insane” one.  Many fans and maybe players can see taking a knee as giving up but that decision is emotional.

With 2:38 left in the game and ahead by 7, Fox decides to run the ball three straight times.  In particular, on 3rd and 7, Fox chooses to run the ball.  It was ridiculously predictable and the Ravens stuffed the play.

Once again, there are stats to back this up.  The Broncos were in their “4 minute offense”, this offense is designed to run the clock out.  Broncos forced the Ravens to use all of their time outs.  They put Ravens in a statistical hole. They needed to go 77 yards in 1:09 to tie up the game.  The Ravens had limited play calling.  Every coach wants to be in that situation.

Statistically, Fox was out of his mind.  Peyton leads the league with a 52% 3rd down conversion rate.   Whether it’s 1:15 left or 1:55 left in the game, the marginal probablistic difference of a Broncos victory given those two scenarios is MUCH MUCH less than 52%.

Stats can lie.  On a single play stats do not matter. That 52% is not against a playoff teams and in the playoffs.  I do agree that if he completes the pass they win and Peyton Manning would be a good choice.

I am not sure if John Fox should be in a start up or not.  His thinking was conservative but statistically correct.  I am not sure what went through his mind and in a different situation he might act differently.  John Fox, I am not sure if he thinks about it or not, helps determine the outcomes of hundreds and hundreds of peoples lives in some way.  A start up determines tens and tens.  The impact of a decision is different and so it should be taken differently.

A coaches job is to win and he knows if he doesn’t he will be fired.  The goal is to win.  He also has perspective that unless you win (sometimes not) you’re done.  The key is always making the best decision with the information you have at the time. Even with perfect information and stats on your side, sometimes a safety gets beat.

Emotion is a hellava drug.

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