Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Belichick Gets No Respect, Except from Economists

1. "Bill Belichick Is Great" by Steven Levitt

I respect Bill Belichick more today than I ever have. This decision may have hurt his chances for the Football Hall of Fame, but it guarantees his induction into the Freakonomics Hall of Fame.

2. "
Bill Belichick as Frederic Bastiat"

It's pretty evident that the degree of opposition to Belichick's decision amongst the sports public and even so-called football experts is disproportionately high compared to the true probability that Belichick's decision would fail. In fact, a few statistical geeks have even suggested that Belichick made the correct decision under the criterion that head coaches are supposed to use: maximize the probability of your team winning.

The type of response we see to Coach Belichick's decision is too often what we also see in public policy debates: there is a bias for what is seen versus what is not seen.


Update (Wall Street Journal): Somehow in American football, the punt—a clear and unambiguous symbol of surrender and retreat—has become the hallmark of sensible coaching.

Brian Burke, a statistician who has studied the results of fourth-down situations in the NFL, says a team in the Patriots' situation had a 79% chance of winning by going for it (either by converting the fourth-and-two or stopping the opponent thereafter). That compares favorably to a 70% probability of preventing a foe from driving down the field for a touchdown following a punt.

12 Comments:

At 11/17/2009 12:15 PM, Anonymous Benny Telling It Like It Is Cole said...

Um. It is columns like this that economists a bad name.
That was a dumb call by Belichick, unless his punter had rabies that night or something. You want your punter to kick the ball out of bounds as deep as he can go, or hang it so high there is a fair catch.
There may be a reason not too many economists are coaching football teams.

 
At 11/17/2009 12:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Economists don't have a clue. Being a football coach is not about doing the right thing and maximizing your chance for victory. It's about being a spineless weenie who does the wrong thing and pass the buck of responsibility to someone else when your team fails to prevent the other team from marching down the field and scoring. You see, fans love to blame coaches first and quarterbacks second. If you are a coach then you goal is not to maximize you chances of winning but minimize the blame that comes your way after a loss. Duh!

 
At 11/17/2009 1:06 PM, Anonymous Fryboy said...

Belichick has won more championships than the majority of people who are commenting on his decision. Peyton Manning is dangerous in any situation, but particularly in game winning drives. The play was a solid play that two of the best football minds (Brady, Belichick) drew up. Only bad thing is the defensive player made a great play and saved the game.

 
At 11/17/2009 1:35 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Well no suprise that pseudo Benny is showing us some more clueless Monday morning quarterbacking: "That was a dumb call by Belichick, unless his punter had rabies that night or something"...

Personally I'm with Levitt on this one...

That reach for a first down was just about two foot short and if had worked everyone would have been applauding Belichick and Brady...

"Being a football coach is not about doing the right thing and maximizing your chance for victory"...

The skies aren't blue on your planet right?

 
At 11/17/2009 1:43 PM, Anonymous Rolo Tomasi said...

Choice A: Give the football to best quarterback in NFL so you can win the game.

Choice B: Give the football to best quarterback in NFL so you can he can beat you.

Which call would you make? Belichick chose A.

 
At 11/17/2009 2:41 PM, Anonymous Blue Sky Benny said...

Actually, Belichick went with C.

"Give the ball to the best QB in the game on your own 29 yard line."

The only problem, that QB was on the other team.

Now, a fake punt, I might have supported. The element of surprise is a great offensive weapon.

 
At 11/17/2009 2:58 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Note the following from the WSJ's Everson & Albergotti regarding Belichick's 4th down call: The truth depends, of course, on how you slice the numbers. Brian Burke, a statistician who has studied the results of fourth-down situations in the NFL, says a team in the Patriots' situation had a 79% chance of winning by going for it (either by converting the fourth-and-two or stopping the opponent thereafter). That compares favorably to a 70% probability of preventing a foe from driving down the field for a touchdown following a punt...

 
At 11/17/2009 5:02 PM, Blogger happyjuggler0 said...

He gets some respect from an astrophysicist as well here.

 
At 11/18/2009 10:06 AM, Blogger Andy said...

I was really surprised when I saw the call, but not because I thought it was inherently a bad idea, just because coaches don't really do that sort of thing.

After seeing the probability analysis online, it looks like the call was a pretty good one in terms of increasing their win probability. So I can't really fault Belichick for it.

 
At 11/18/2009 2:23 PM, Anonymous Diz said...

I saw the Arkansas HS coah quoted in there, who was the guy I immediately thougt of when I saw this. I was really amused when I saw this originally, but I think the guy has a real point:

Never a fan of taking his offense off the field, the coach became miffed when his Bruins punted away to Pine Bluff (Ark.) Dollarway High only to see Pulaski allow an 80-yard touchdown on the return.

"That was stupid," Kelley said. "We should've gone for it."

As a result, his 2008 team did not punt during 14 games. Such an unorthodox strategy may seem like lunacy, but it was successful: Pulaski won the 5A state title on Dec. 6.


http://highschool.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=892888

I think in the HS game there is a real case to be made against punting. In the pro game, punts are far more effective in changing field position and offenses tend to be far less efficient than a good HS offense so the math changes a lot.

I have a tough time believing the statistician controlled for all the relevant factors to be confident enough to say it was a 79-70 decision. Though he's probably right that it's a much closer call than most people would assume.

I tend to think it was the wrong call. If you have to pass for it, a lot can go wrong.

 
At 11/20/2009 4:13 PM, Blogger Stan said...

Both the number crunchers and the traditionalist knee-jerkers are wrong. There simply exists no data sufficient to calculate probabilities with any accuracy. The stat geeks are building marvelous edifices of certainty on the quicksand of very dubious assumptions (see e.g. Wall Street risk models or global climate models).

It's likely a close call on the probabilities. But anyone trying to calculate them should admit to large assumptions and wide error margins.

 
At 11/23/2009 8:25 PM, Anonymous Odofakyodo said...

I'm not so sure all analyses are making large assumptions. Take this analysis of over 2,400 NFL games from 2000-2008: http://www.advancednflstats.com/2009/09/4th-down-study-part-1.html. It simply bases its probabilities on what actually happened in past games. Granted, I don't see any sort of error calculations, but it looks like a pretty straightforward and convincing argument to me.

 

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