Your Lying Eyes

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28 September 2006

Dumb Sports Talk

Greg Easterbrook writes on espn.com (thanks to Ross Douthout)that football coaches should pretty much do away with the punt.
Let's turn to this 2005 paper by David Romer, a professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley...His numbers say that anytime the situation is fourth-and-4 or less, teams should not punt. Romer thinks teams should try for the first down on any fourth-and-4 or less even when in their own territory. After all, the average play gains almost five yards. On average you will retain possession, and the pluses of that exceeded the minuses of the inevitable failed fourth-down try.
Steve Sailer has already debunked this study, but for the life of me I can't come up with a link. (Steve has kindly responded with the reference.) But let me point out the obvious - his argument is based on an average gain of 'almost' 5 yards. That's average, Greg. This includes plays when the score is 24-0, and plays when it's 1st and 10 from your own 25, when decent sized-gains are not unusual. So some other situations must bring the average down - could these possibly occur disproportionately in short yardage 3rd/4th down situations? And since gains of 20+ yards are fairly common while losses of 20+ yards are exceedingly rare, then the median gain is certainly less than 5. This 'average' is a meaningless statistic.

You get this kind of reasoning from baseball announcers when a pitcher can't find the strike zone. "He's trying to be too fine," an announcer will tell us. "Just put the ball in the strike zone - even the best batter will only get a hit 33% of the time." Yes, that's his average against all pitchers, including the best in the league and 0-and-2 counts. What's his average against a struggling pitcher behind in the count - about .700?

Easterbrook dreams about the day some brave coach will try his no-punt stategy.
Such a coach would need to be completely unconcerned with the media and owner backlash that would follow a loss caused by a no-punt policy. Such a coach would need to be fearless, and financially independent. Will there ever be such a coach?
Or maybe the coach doesn't have to be in the NFL - for example, an un-ranked college team with a mediocre record. If it worked, then people would notice, others would try it, and it would spread. But something tells me it's been tried, many times, and the results have always been the same - disastrous. Or how about a thought experiment - imagine your team is playing an opponent facing a 4th-and-3 from their own 30 - and they decide to go for it. Is your reaction going to be 'damn' or 'Yes!'?

10 Comments:

Blogger FreedAtlas said...

There's an easy way to figure this out. Get out 2007 Madden and try it. Play the strategy for 16 games (a whole season) and report on it.

September 29, 2006 11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice try with the amateurish statistical work but those numbers can't hide the real reason punting is used so much at all levels. Can anyone name ALL the black punters who made a career of it? If you said "Reggie Roby", you got the entire list.

Back in the 20s and 30s, teams rarely punted, preferring instead to let their stars attempt to get the yardage for them on 4th down. The punt was used more as a surprise weapon, e.g. quick kicking on 3rd down to catch the opponent off guard.

In the 40s, seer-like coaches such as Paul Brown and Red Blaik predicted the black athlete would eventually dominate their game where quickness was so important. In response, they began preaching the virtue of punting on almost every 4th down, knowing that whites would dominate a "kicking skill" position and ensuring their continued involvement in the game. Their scheme was so effective that even black coaches now eschew the 4th down gamble in favor of punting.

So yes, this is yet another example of Whitey keeping the Black man down

September 29, 2006 1:32 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

anonymous - you are kidding right? If so, brilliant parody. If not, then don't forget to change the foil twice a day.

September 29, 2006 7:28 PM  
Blogger Steve Sailer said...

I share Romer's prejudice that NFL coaches punt too much, but his methodology for documenting that isn't very persuasive since, lacking enough 4th down tries in his database, he used 3rd down results and assumes they would be just as successful as 4th down tries. Thus, he advises coaches to go for it on 4th and 2 at their own 10 yard line. But defenses play differently on 3rd and 2 at the 10 -- they play softer to avoid giving up a 90 yard touchdown. On 4th down, they'd stack the line more.

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2006/05/whats-worse-than-freakonomics-pseudo.html

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2006/05/irate-reader-defends-economist.html

September 29, 2006 9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand the foil reference so I must have been kidding.

September 29, 2006 11:21 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

I think we can all agree that in your own territory, you have to punt. It would be interesting to look at what happens after punts inside the 50. How frequently does the receiving team bring the ball back past the kicking team's 4th down line of scrimmage? Once that happens, the punt becomes pretty much pointless (unless doing so has been particularly exhausting or time-consuming). Anybody have some spare time to look into this?

September 30, 2006 12:55 AM  
Blogger Glaivester said...

I think that the best strategy in football is to get the ball to the other side of the field and through or under the goalposts.

September 30, 2006 1:52 AM  
Blogger Dennis Dale said...

Ziel, your ignorance appalls me. As long as someone buys aluminum foil of a sufficient mil thickness (Reynolds heavy duty is more than adequate) the alien mind rays cannot penetrate and there should never be any need to replace it.
You're obviously spreading disinformation on behalf of the aluminum foil industry as well as the racist NFL coaching cabal.

September 30, 2006 8:14 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

...the aluminum foil industry as well as the racist NFL coaching cabal.

Surely they're one and the same thing.

October 01, 2006 7:24 PM  
Anonymous anonymous-ll said...

hey now- Jesse Jackson be the right man for the job with this NFL-racism issue you be bringing up. I say boycott the NFL until draft "lightnes up" a bit.

October 05, 2006 8:54 PM  

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