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17 Aug 2005

2004 Strategy Revisited

by William Krasker

Throughout the 2004 season, I analyzed coaching decisions at footballcommentary.com. In this article I re-examine a couple of those decisions, and also analyze some decisions that I originally overlooked or lacked the tools to evaluate.

The Value of Information

With 3:32 remaining in the Monday night game between Minnesota and Philadelphia in Week 2, the Vikings scored a touchdown to close the deficit to 24-15 before the try. They had one timeout. Minnesota kicked the extra point to make the score 24-16, and then kicked off deep to the Eagles. I believe that every NFL coach would do the same thing. But is it the correct strategy?

The starting point for the analysis is the following result: If you score a touchdown to trail by 9 points prior to the try, and you have time for at most one more score, then it doesn't matter whether you kick the extra point or go for two. Your probability of winning is the same either way. I showed this formally in the appendix to an article that was reprinted here at Football Outsiders last year, but the result is intuitively clear. You'll have to attempt (and make) a two-point conversion in order to tie, so it doesn't matter whether you go for it now or later. The only exception is if you have reason to believe that your success probability will be different later in the game. (In addition, if your success probability on a two-point conversion exceeds 0.5, you should go for two after both touchdowns.)

Of course, in the case we're considering, the key assumption for that result is false. It's possible for Minnesota to score twice. The problem with kicking the extra point at 24-15 is that the Vikings don't learn whether they need one more score or two, and if it turns out that they need two more scores, they probably won't find out until it's too late. Minnesota should attempt a two-point conversion, so they can tailor their strategy to the outcome of the try. If they're successful on the two-point conversion, they should kick off deep, but if the two-point conversion fails, Minnesota should attempt an onside kick. If the onside kick succeeds, Minnesota can win with a touchdown and a field goal.

Onside Kicks

One of the more heavily debated decisions of the season was Philadelphia's decision to kick onside with 1:48 left in the Super Bowl, after scoring to close to within three points. The Eagles had two timeouts. In my original analysis of that game I concluded that Philadelphia made the correct decision, but the numbers that went into that analysis were very imprecise. In the spring I built a detailed model for the two minute drill, and as an application, I re-examined Philadelphia's decision using better estimates for some of the win probabilities. However, the analysis still used a questionable estimate of the likelihood of recovering an onside kick, and failed to account for an effect called "convexity."

The basic facts are clear, and I'll repeat them here for convenience. If New England gets possession and makes a first down, the game is over. Therefore, if the Eagles kick deep, they have to use both of their timeouts and force a three-and-out. Conditional on a three-and-out, the central case would be for the Patriots to return the kickoff to their own 27-yard line, gain 5 yards on their first three downs, and punt the ball a net 38 yards. The Eagles would then get the ball at their own 30-yard line with about 0:45 remaining and no timeouts. From there, according to my model for the two-minute drill, Philadelphia's win probability is 0.109.

However, the 30-yard line is only the central case. There is substantial variability around that yard line, because of the variability of New England's kickoff return and their net punt. That variability works in Philadelphia's favor. The intuition is that Philadelphia would be helped by starting at the 40-yard line more than they would be hurt by starting at the 20-yard line. This effect is called convexity. (I first invoked it in a football context in my analysisof the Indianapolis-Detroit game in Week 12.) Convexity effects are usually small enough to be ignored, but not near the end of the game. The effect of the convexity in this case is to raise Philadelphia's win probability if they kick deep by 0.019, to 0.128.

If the Eagles attempt an onside kick and are successful, they get the ball at about their own 42-yard line, and have nearly 1:48 and two timeouts. In this case, the model for the two-minute drill says that Philadelphia's win probability is 0.306. (The intuition for such a large win probability is that the Eagles are not only in much better position for a field goal that would send the game to overtime, but also have time for a touchdown that would win outright.) Even if the Patriots recover the onside kick, Philadelphia has a chance if they can force a three-and-out. Calculations using the model for the two-minute drill show that New England would need to have less than a yard to go on 4th down in order for it to make sense to go for it, and that a field-goal attempt would be a mistake in any case. So conditional on the Patriots failing to make a first down on their first three plays, the overwhelmingly likely outcome is a pooch kick, following which Philadelphia takes over with about 0:45 left. Instead of using Philadelphia's average starting field position and correcting for convexity, it's better in this case to use the actual distribution for starting field position following a pooch kick. Combining that distribution with the model for the two-minute drill, I find that Philadelphia's win probability if the onside kick fails but they force a three-and-out is 0.046.

This leaves two key probabilities unspecified. Let p denote the probability of recovering the onside kick, and let q denote Philadelphia's probability of forcing a three-and-out. Then if the Eagles kick onside, their win probability is

p0.306 + (1–p)q0.046,

whereas if they kick deep their win probability is q0.128.

Philadelphia's probability of forcing a three-and-out when it's clear that New England is going to run the ball is certainly larger than the usual probability. I'm still content to use q=0.5, as in my original analysis. You are welcome to plug in your own value.

During the Monday Night Football broadcast in Week 1, ABC displayed a graphic that said that over the previous five seasons, 24% of anticipated onside kicks (and 61% of surprise onside kicks) were recovered by the kicking team. Since I couldn't vouch for the accuracy of those numbers, and 24% felt high to me, I used p=0.2 in my original analysis. Subsequently, I decided to record information on onside kicks from all the games I could conveniently access at nfl.com: the 2002-2004 regular seasons, plus the 2004 playoffs. It's not a straightforward process. The official NFL Gamebook doesn't always identify onside kicks. (For example, look at the Gamebook for Tampa Bay at Oakland in Week 3.) Therefore, one is forced to look at the situation and the length of the kick to determine if the kick was onside.

In addition, it's not always clear which onside kicks were anticipated. Often the Gamebook contains language like "onside kick formation." However, no such language appears in the Gamebook for Super Bowl XXXIX. Therefore, one has to look at the situation to try to determine if the receiving team was anticipating an onside kick.

Looking only at kickoffs in the 4th quarter, I came up with 133 presumed onside kicks that were, or at least should have been, anticipated by the receiving team. Of those, 20 (or 15%) were recovered by the kicking team. (One implication is that the 24% figure reported by ABC can't be right. It would imply that about 30% of anticipated onside kicks were recovered by the kicking team from 1999 through 2001, which is completely implausible.)

Of course, there are different degrees of "anticipated." So I also tried restricting the sample to cases in which (barring a turnover) it's impossible for the kicking team to win the game without recovering the kickoff. (For example, if there is less than 2:00 left and the kicking team has no timeouts.) This eliminates any uncertainty about what the kicking team is attempting, or what the receiving team anticipates. However, it's an extremely stringent filter. It excludes Philadelphia's Super Bowl onside kick, for example. In fact, one can argue that this filter excludes all the interesting cases, because it excludes every case in which there is a decision to be made. It also results in a hopelessly small sample: only 56 onside kicks, of which 7 (or 12.5%) were successful.

Even with a sample of 133 attempts, the sampling error is large. The standard deviation is about 0.03. Nevertheless, to estimate the success probability on an anticipated onside kick, we really have nothing to go on other than the data. Based on the data I collected, I intend to use p=0.14 -- a value that makes Philadelphia's decision a close call. However, I will gladly revise my estimate in response to additional, carefully collected data.

I have one final comment. Prior to 2003, if a kickoff went out of bounds before traveling 20 yards, there was a 5-yard penalty and a re-kick. But beginning with 2003, there is no re-kick in the last 5:00; the kick is treated like any other kickoff that goes OB. Strictly speaking, then, including years prior to 2003 introduces a bias. But the bias should be small, and in any case, there is so little data that one has no choice but to use every year available. (None of the successful onside kicks in my 2002 sample benefited from the old rule.)

Use of Timeouts

With just 0:13 left in the Monday night game between Dallas and Washington in Week 3, the Redskins trailed 21-18 and had the ball at their own 33-yard line. On the next play, quarterback Mark Brunell threw to Rod Gardner for a 46-yard completion. But Washington was out of timeouts, and the game ended when Gardner was unable to get out of bounds.

The television commentators pointed out repeatedly that the Redskins had squandered timeouts. Twice during Washington's second possession of the 3rd quarter, the Redskins were unable to get off a play in the time allowed. In both cases, Washington averted a delay-of-game penalty by calling timeout just before the play clock expired.

The first occurrence came with 5:38 left in the 3rd quarter, with Washington trailing 14-3 and facing 4th-and-1 at the Dallas 41-yard line. The second came with 3:42 left in the quarter, when the Redskins had 1st-and-10 at the Dallas 16-yard line.

In both cases, Washington's indisputable error was the poor execution that prevented them from getting off a play, and forced them to choose between two unpleasant alternatives: incurring a five-yard penalty, or expending a timeout. Were they right to call timeout?

To answer that question, we need to know the value of a timeout at any particular point in the game. In the spring I developed a model for the most important component: the "clock-management" value, which is the value of the option to stop the game clock to conserve time. For the most part, the clock-management value of a timeout is small -- perhaps smaller than one would expect. To understand why, consider Washington's situation, trailing by 11 points with 5:38 left in the 3rd quarter. In many of the scenarios that could unfold from that point, Washington will still trail by more than one score late in the game. An extra timeout will then be helpful, but won't increase their probability of winning by very much. In some other scenarios Washington will take the lead, and won't even use a timeout for clock management. Even among scenarios in which Washington trails by one score late in the game, the timing has to be just right in order for a timeout to have a large impact. For example, along the scenario that actually occurred, if the Cowboys fail to make a first down on their final possession, the Redskins get the ball back with plenty of time to score; whereas if Dallas makes two first downs, they can run out the clock even if Washington has a timeout. Of course, as it happened, Dallas made exactly one first down on that possession, so that an extra timeout would have enabled the Redskins to gain possession with 1:01 left rather than 0:21. This is actually the timing for which the extra forty seconds have the maximum impact, and it raises Washington's win probability by 0.1, from 0.03 to 0.13. But if we take a weighted average of the value of a timeout over all the possible scenarios, weighted by the likelihood of occurrence, we get something much smaller.

According to the model, the clock-management value of Washington's first timeout, when they used it with 5:38 left in the 3rd quarter, was 0.007. By this I mean that Washington's probability of winning the game at that point is 0.007 higher if they have three timeouts rather than two. We have to compare this to the reduction in Washington's win probability if they incur a five-yard penalty. According to the footballcommentary.com Dynamic Programming Model, going for it on 4th-and-6 from the Dallas 46-yard line is as good as punting, so we can assume that the Redskins go for it whether they incur the penalty or not. Washington's win probability is about 0.07 higher if they make the first down than if they are stopped. Since the probability of making the first down on 4th-and-1 is about 0.7, compared to about 0.38 on 4th-and-6, a delay-of-game penalty lowers Washington's win probability by about (0.7–0.38)×0.07=0.022. This exceeds the clock-management value of the timeout by a margin wide enough that, even though timeouts have legitimate uses other than clock management, it appears that Washington was right to call timeout.

It's much harder to determine if the Redskins made the right choice when they used their second timeout. The problem isn't finding the clock-management value of the timeout. The clock-management value of Washington's second timeout, when they used it with 3:42 remaining in the 3rd quarter, was about 0.01. The problem is estimating the cost of a five-yard penalty when it's 1st-and-10. Here's the best I can do. A five-yard penalty reduces Washington's probability of scoring a touchdown on the possession by some amount, say δ, and increases their probability of settling for a field-goal attempt by about the same amount. It also increases the expected length of a field-goal attempt by about five yards. Calculations using the footballcommentary.com Dynamic Programming Model then imply that a five-yard penalty would reduce Washington's win probability by 0.15δ. So it's right for Washington to call timeout if δ exceeds 0.01/0.15=0.066. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to get a good estimate of δ from data, so I can't reach a verdict.

End-of-Half Tactics

With 0:10 remaining in the first half of the Divisional Round playoff game between Minnesota and Philadelphia, the Eagles led 21-7 and had 2nd-and-goal at the Minnesota 9-yard line. Though the Eagles were out of timeouts, they elected to run another play rather than kick an immediate field goal. Donovan McNabb threw a short pass over the middle to Dorsey Levens, and when Levens was tackled immediately for a gain of 5 yards, time expired and Philadelphia came away with no points.

Later that same afternoon, in the game between Indianapolis and New England, the Colts trailed 6-0 near the end of the first half, but had the ball deep in New England territory. As I explained in my analysis of that game, the Colts could have called timeout with 0:17 left, and if they had done so, they could have run two more plays instead of one before settling for a field goal. I interpreted their failure to call timeout as a clear error, but the analysis is actually more complicated, and c comes down to the following hypothetical question. If it gets to 3rd-and-goal at the 5-yard line with 0:10 left, and Indianapolis has no timeouts, should they kick an immediate field goal or run another play? If it's right to run another play, the Colts erred by not calling timeout at 0:17. Otherwise, it doesn't matter.

The decisions Philadelphia and Indianapolis faced require a coach to weigh the benefits of a potential touchdown against the possibility of a sack, an interception, or (as in McNabb's case) a lapse in judgment that prevents a field-goal attempt. Notice that the probability of an incomplete pass is irrelevant, since an incompletion sets up a field-goal attempt. And a penalty just makes the subsequent field-goal attempt a little longer or shorter.

I examined a few such situations on an ad hoc basis during the 2004 season, beginning with my analysis of the game between the Giants and Minnesota in Week 8. Here I'd like to do a more general analysis.

If the offense attempts to run another play, let pTD denote the probability of scoring a touchdown, and let p0 denote the probability of coming away without even a field-goal attempt (due to a sack or interception, for example). Let V7, V3, and V0 denote the offense's win probability if they get a touchdown, a fieldgoal, or no additional points respectively. These can be determined using a model like the footballcommentary.com Dynamic Programming Model. Let pFG denote the success probability on a field goal from the current field position, so that the win probability associated with a field-goal attempt is

VFG = pFGV3 + (1 – pFG)V0.

It's correct to run another play rather than attempt an immediate field goal if doing so gives a higher probability of winning the game:

pTDV7 + p0V0 + (1 – pTDp0)VFG > VFG.

With a little algebra, this inequality and the preceding equation can be reduced to the more convenient condition

pTD/(pTD+ p0) > pFG(V3–V0)/(V7–V0).

The factor (V3–V0)/(V7–V0) represents the value of scoring a field goal, relative to the value of scoring a touchdown. It depends only on the score and the time remaining in the game, and in general is larger for a team that leads than for a team that trails. For example, just before halftime, (V3–V0)/(V7–V0) equals 0.54 when the offense leads by 14 points, but is only 0.4 if the offense trails by 6 points. This is in agreement with intuition: it's more sensible to settle for a field goal if you're ahead than if you're behind. (In a naive analysis based on expected points, the value of a field goal relative to the value of a touchdown is always 3/7=0.43.)

Since pFG is about 0.94 when the line of scrimmage is the 9-yard line, the right side of the inequality is about 0.5 in Philadelphia's situation. This implies that Philadelphia should run another play if the probability pTD of scoring a touchdown on that play exceeds the probability p0 of coming away without even a field-goal attempt.

Unfortunately, it's hard to learn about either pTD or p0 from data. For example, one is tempted to try to estimate pTD by looking at the results of 3rd-and-goal plays from the 9-yard line. However, those situations are quite different from the one Philadelphia faced. On a typical 3rd-and-goal play from the 9-yard line, a 5-yard gain is better than an incomplete pass. For Philadelphia, it was equivalent to an interception. In Philadelphia's situation, you either throw into the end zone or throw the ball away; and since the defenders know that, the probability of a touchdown becomes lower and the probability of an interception becomes higher. Still, I believe pTD exceeds p0

in that situation, so I'm content with the decision to run another play. But I'd be more confident about the correctness of the decision if Philadelphia had been trailing in the game.

For Indianapolis's hypothetical situation the conclusion is easier, because the Colts trail and are closer to the goal line. Even if pTD were only 0.2 from the 5-yard line, p0 would have to exceed 0.3 for an immediate field goal to be correct. That's not plausible. So I'll stick with my original conclusion: the Colts should have called timeout with 0:17 left in the half, and made use of the extra chance for a touchdown.

Analogous situations can also arise at the end of the 4th quarter, although they are only interesting when the offense trails by 3 points. The offense might then have to decide whether to attempt a tying field goal immediately, or run another play and risk a game-ending sack or interception. In this case, (V3–V0)/(V7–V0) equals the probability of winning in overtime (presumably about 0.5), and the condition under which it's correct to run another play reduces to

pTD/(pTD+ p0) > 0.5pFG.

Posted by: on 17 Aug 2005

58 comments, Last at 24 Aug 2005, 12:51pm by Fraser B

Comments

1
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 08/17/2005 - 8:06pm

Good job on the reanalysis of the Philly decision - you actually addressed the two points I vehemently defended against others on the original Extra Points article. I still say that the right decision was to kick deep rather than onsides kick, for one reason.

Andy Reid had absolutely zero experimental knowledge of the situation specific (i.e. Philly vs. NE) p. It could be 0.05. It could be 0.25. It could be zero. Using the league averages ignores the very real fact that the Patriots were likely harder to kick an onsides kick on than another team. So, if anything, it's probably less than 0.15. But as I said, it's unknowable. Even if you just take the Eagles rate at recovering 2-point conversions in 2004, you still don't know. They never tried.

Reid had moderately good experimental knowledge of q - the Eagles forced 3 and out 6/11 drives. So q is somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.54+/-0.09.

In the lack of any good information on p, it's better for Reid to make a pessimistic approximation. In other words, you should always overestimate your opponent. In that case, kicking the ball deep is clearly the better option.

I have written far too much on one decision, but in my mind, I have no idea why he tried an onsides kick.

2
by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Wed, 08/17/2005 - 10:03pm

Nice job of utilizing the data, but it's difficult to quantify the value of missed opportunities. I think calling timeout to save a delay penalty is almost always the wrong decision. There are some easy ways to avoid this situation: (1) get the dratted play in to the QB sooner. The offensive "coordinator" is supposed to coordinate. It's not like he gets 25 seconds to make up his mind on one play, then only 8 on the next--the time constraints are fairly consistent. (even with a little fluctuation due to marking the ball.) If the coordinator is too busy watching the play or cheering or whatever to make a decision about the upcoming play, he's not doing his job. (2) Empower the QB to call something on his own. I loved Terry Bradshaw as a player and think he has a pretty good grasp of the game, but I don't think he's quite in the Bill Walsh category of football guru. Yet Terry managed to lead his team to four Super Bowl wins calling his own plays. You're paying your QB huge amounts of money...he ought to have one or two ideas about a play that would work on 2nd and 8. (3) If you absolutely can't trust your QB even that far, designate two plays (one run--call it A; one pass--call it B) If the play clock is running down, just tell him A or B and get the play off before the clock runs down. The play might not gain much in the way of yardage...but that could be said about a significant proportion of all plays--at least you won't have lost five yards on the penalty, and you'll still have that time out to use for a tactical reason (or to call randomly if you're Mike Martz.)

3
by carl s (not verified) :: Wed, 08/17/2005 - 11:00pm

Bill James once said that the probablilites and logic behind any non-trivial baseball managerial decision is so complex that there is no way of coming up with a clear answer. I sense the same problem here, which is that any use of win probabilities is based off some sort of league averages, and no guess about whether they are higher or lower in the given situation in a function of the perspective and information of the person observing the situation. I'm a big saber guy, but I really don't like the turn to all this advanced probablity measurements, since the logic in any specific situation just doesn't really hold up to that level of exactitude.

4
by Josh (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 1:53am

The first point, about whether to go for 2 late down by 9, has been my pet peeve for several years. Thanks for bringing it up.
Unfortunately most coaches still apparently are more interested and maximizing the amount of time the game is interesting, rather than maximizing their opportunity to win.

5
by billvv (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 9:56am

My take on this is pretty much the same as Josh's. Fourth and goal to go to win or field goal to tie and go into overtime. Field goal just prolongs finding out and I say let's find out now while we have the ball. I think coaches don't want to get ripped for that choice and, as you can see here, that can go on for years!

6
by Dave (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 10:57am

"The problem with kicking the extra point at 24-15 is that the Vikings don’t learn whether they need one more score or two, and if it turns out that they need two more scores, they probably won’t find out until it’s too late."

This decision also prevents Philadelphia from knowing whether the Vikings need one score or two -- compelling them to play as if it were one. The different play-calling and clock management the Eagles would employ in that case might well improve the Vikings' chances of making a stop and scoring again much more than would certain knowledge of the need for two scores if you leave yourself dependent on the virtually impossible "recover two onside kicks and score twice" scenario.

7
by Jon (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 12:21pm

Re: Value of Timeouts
I think unused timeouts are valuable in last-drive situations for another reason that seems to be overlooked here (maybe it's figured in earlier, can't tell). Beyond the ability to stop the clock, shouldn't unused timeouts make the offense harder to defend by increasing its options? If an offense needing one score gets the ball say on their own 30 with a minute left, the defense knows the receivers must get out of bounds and can devote more players to covering sideline routes than the could if they also had to tightly cover the middle of the field. Conversely, if the offense has at least one timeout, those same sideline routes should be easier to complete because the defense is forced cover the middle.

I think this could be tested by looking at how the succes rate of similar field position/score situtations varies when the offense have 3, 2, 1, or 0 timeouts. For example, are you better off with 2 minutes and 0 timeouts or 1 minute and 2 timeouts? Thankfully I am completely unqualified to actually do that analysis, but I would interested to know if anyone's looked at this and what the results were. Thanks for the article.

8
by Mike (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 12:44pm

Jon,

I said something similar in an Extra Points discussion about Trasker's detailed 2-minute model. Basically, I would expect the probability of completing a pass (especially a long pass) to be coupled to the number of time outs the team on offense has and the time remaining, because the defense has to defend more of the field. With plenty of time or timeouts in hand, you actually CAN run draws or throw short passes or passes to the middle of the field, which means the opposing D not only has to guard the middle of the field, they also have to respect playaction. Hence I think the probability of scoring from X yard line should be higher near the end of the game (say, < 1 minute to go) when your team has timeouts, increasing their value.

9
by Parker (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 1:01pm

RE: #1

Pat, while Andy Reid had absolutely zero experimental knowledge of the situation specific (i.e. Philly vs. NE) p., he did have the following information, albeit from an extremely small sample size: If you give Tom Brady the ball near the end of a Super Bowl, you lose every time.

10
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 1:23pm

Dangit, Parker! That's a good point.

11
by azibuck (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 4:55pm

Dave has it right:

"If they’re successful on the two-point conversion, they should kick off deep, but if the two-point conversion fails, Minnesota should attempt an onside kick. If the onside kick succeeds, Minnesota can win with a touchdown and a field goal."

And... and... Where's the and? Minnesota can win with a TD, a FG, AND ANOTHER ONSIDE KICK RECOVERY. Good luck with that.

Also, I can't prove this because it's not a stat, but if you get the 1 first to be down by 8, you're in the game. The team is still high. It has hope. You miss a two-pointer to be down by 9 with 3:32 left? Dead. You're dead, and you know it. The team is deflated. Momentum? Gone. Chances? Mathematical only.

12
by B (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 5:15pm

Yes, but if you take the 1, recover the onsides kick, score a TD and miss the 2-point conversion you're really dead, mathmatically and otherwise. If your team, down by two scores with 3 minutes left in the game, can't get motivated then you don't deserve to win.

13
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 12:17pm

re: post #12

I think you would have better odds at converting a 2-pt try than at recovering two onside kicks in a span of 3 minutes.

What what the analysis concludes in this situation is that its no big deal to be down by 9 points with 3:32 remaining and kicking off to the opposition, because you can simply recover the onsides kick, score a touchdown, then recover another onsides kick, and kick the field goal to win the game. I wonder how many times that has happened in the history of the NFL? I would guess zero.

I would think that kicking the PAT down 24-15 with 3:32 remaining would be a no-brainer decision requiring no thought whatsoever; its interesting to see common sense overruled by a little algebra.

14
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 12:37pm

I think you would have better odds at converting a 2-pt try than at recovering two onside kicks in a span of 3 minutes.

Of course you do, but that's not the point. If you try the 2-pt conversion first, then you at least have the option of trying to recover two onside kicks before the end of the game if you fail.

If you try the 2-pt conversion second, then you have no options if you screw up.

I would think that kicking the PAT down 24-15 with 3:32 remaining would be a no-brainer decision requiring no thought whatsoever; its interesting to see common sense overruled by a little algebra.

How is it common sense? You need a 2-pt conversion sooner or later, or a miracle. Why is it common sense to put it off till later?

15
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 1:23pm

How is that "not the point"? I thought the whole point was to give yourself the greatest chance of winning the game.

Recovering two onside kicks in the span of 3 minutes is not an "option" as you so eloquently put it...its a desperation move. I don't think any coach would manage a game so that he would proactively put himself into a situation where his team needs to recover two onside kicks.

"If you try the 2-pt conversion second, then you have no options if you screw up."

Why would you have no options? So, after kicking a PAT to trail 24-16, forcing the Eagles to punt, scoring a TD but missing the 2pt try, the Vikings trail 24-23. Do they not have the option for an onside kick at this point? Meaning in this scenario they only need to convert 1 onside kick try instead of two.

"How is it common sense? You need a 2-pt conversion sooner or later, or a miracle."

Because if you miss the 2pt try sooner, you need a miracle. You need to recover 2 onside kicks. As post #11 said, you've pretty much lost the game with 3:32 remaining.

If you convert the 2pt try sooner, you are still down 7 and the Eagles get the ball back. Is getting that 2pt conversion sooner improve the Vikings' position to the extent that its worth the risk of potentially losing the ball game with 3:32 left? No.

If you put off the 2pt conversion until later, you are still down only one score with 3:32 remaining and can play accordingly.

By going for 2 earlier, you supposedly gain an advantage by 'obtaining information' regarding how strategize the rest of the game...but how much of an advantage is it to know that you need to recover 2 onside kicks in 3 minutes?

"Why is it common sense to put it off till later?"

It seems that the line of thinking offered here would tell coaches they should go for it on 4th down routinely in the 1st half, because they need to score points sooner or later, so why put it off till later?

16
by Jeremy Billones (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 2:02pm

>Why would you have no options? So, after kicking a PAT to trail 24-16, forcing the Eagles to punt, scoring a TD but missing the 2pt try, the Vikings trail 24-23. Do they not have the option for an onside kick at this point? Meaning in this scenario they only need to convert 1 onside kick try instead of two.

Because in the "try for 2 now" case, you have 3:32 on the clock when things hit the fan.

In the "try for 2 later" case, you may have, like, 14 seconds on the clock when things hit.

If I need a miracle, I'd rather have 3 more minutes to come up with one :)

17
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 2:19pm

re: post #17

Which would you rather have to do: recover two onside kicks in 3:32? Or recover one onside kick in 0:14, complete a short sideline pass, then complete a hail mary? Hmm... (just kidding).

I think the point that is being glossed over has already been mentioned: By going for 2pt later, "you also prevent Philadelphia from knowing whether the Vikings need one score or two – compelling them to play as if it were one. The different play-calling and clock management the Eagles would employ in that case might well improve the Vikings’ chances of making a stop and scoring again much more than would certain knowledge of the need for two scores if you leave yourself dependent on the virtually impossible 'recover two onside kicks and score twice' scenario."

Really, if you screw up the 2pt try early and fail to recover the onside kick, all Philadelphia has to do is fall on the ball 3 times and punt back to Minnesota, who will get the ball back with 2 minutes remaining with no timeouts and needing 2 scores.

But if you put off the 2pt try until later, Philadelphia can't simply fall on the ball with 3:32 remaining because the Vikings only need to get to the endzone once. You can get the ball back with a punt and a reasonable chance to tie the game rather than depending on onside kick recoveries. Putting off the 2pt try limits what Philadelphia can do, which is kinda the whole point.

18
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 2:44pm

If you try the 2-pointer later, you only need to score once, but when you screw up the conversion, you're done. (IE. you have one chance of winning, score and get a 2 point conversion) Whereas if you try the 2-point conversion earlier and fail, you can still win with an onsides kick miracle (IE you have two chances of winning, a 2-point conversion or two onsides kicks). Math isn't my strong suit, but I'm pretty sure two is greater than one.

19
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 3:00pm

Thank you for so easily synthesizing the previous postings and concluding that two is more than one. Its that type of information that keeps me coming back to this website. Maybe teams should never punt the ball, because when they do, they give up possession and a chance to score. If they go for it on 4th down every time, they will increase their scoring opportunities.

First, I don't quite understand how screwing up the 2pt conversion later automatically means you are done. I don't think the odds of recovering an onside kick with 0:14 left and scoring on a hail mary would be that much worse than having to score twice in 3 minutes by recovering two onside kicks.

Second, as posts #3 & #6 point out, the equation doesn't factor in the effect on Philly's offense that going for 2pts later will have. My post #17 also explains this, so I won't post this a third time.

In essence, what you are saying is that the questionable small advantage you might get by having the opportunity to recover two onside kicks outweighs the effect being down one score will have on the Eagles' offensive play calling. I disagree.

20
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 3:07pm

Because if you miss the 2pt try sooner, you need a miracle.

If you miss the 2 pt try at all, you need a miracle. The question is "how big of a miracle do you need"? If you go for it early, that miracle is huge. If you go for it late, that miracle is God coming down and declaring you the winner.

Really, if you screw up the 2pt try early and fail to recover the onside kick, all Philadelphia has to do is fall on the ball 3 times and punt back to Minnesota, who will get the ball back with 2 minutes remaining with no timeouts and needing 2 scores.

If you screw up the 2pt try, you need a miracle. Period. Either you need a miracle with 3 minutes left, or with 14 seconds left. Regardless of what Philly will do, I still think it's probably easier to come up with a miracle in 3 minutes than in 14 seconds.

It doesn't matter that you going for the 2-pt conversion early changes what Philly does if you miss it, because if you miss it, you need a miracle. The question is how big of a miracle.

Do they not have the option for an onside kick at this point?

They might not. They might have zero seconds left on the clock, because they used all the time on the clock as they thought they only needed one score.

In fact, it makes far more sense for them to use all of the time on the clock anyway - to maximize their chance of getting a touchdown, because without a touchdown, hey, it's that "God declaring you the winner" possibility again. And given the low chance of success if you miss the 2-pt conversion, it doesn't seem worth lowering the TD chance to improve the "if we miss the 2-pt conversion" chance.

It seems that the line of thinking offered here would tell coaches they should go for it on 4th down routinely in the 1st half, because they need to score points sooner or later, so why put it off till later?

Nice strawman argument, but it's still a strawman. Coaches do not always have to go for it on 4th down. There are plenty of games where they don't. You have to do a 2 point conversion here, sooner or later. Have to. The question is whether or not you do it earlier or later.

It's a bit of a difficult thing to grasp. The Vikings have two worlds of possibility. In one of them, they make the 2 point conversion, either early or late. In this world, they can tie the game.

In the other world, they do not make the two point conversion. In this world, if they went for the 2-point conversion early, they have a snowball's chance in hell. If they went for it late, they lose.

Since your chance of scoring a 2-pt conversion is the same early or late (this is the basic premise!) there is no advantage to you scoring the 2-pt conversion late.

Here's an equivalent (non-strawman) from a probability point of view, although with the chances (obviously) tweaked:

Suppose I ask you to roll a die, twice. One time you need to roll 1-5, one time you need to roll a 6. If you choose to try the 6 first, and fail, you can try to roll twice to get two 6s in a row, and you'll win. But only if you choose to roll a 6 first.

What're you going to choose first? The 6, of course. Your chances to win are higher if you roll the 6, if only marginally.

21
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 3:21pm

I don’t think the odds of recovering an onside kick with 0:14 left and scoring on a hail mary would be that much worse than having to score twice in 3 minutes by recovering two onside kicks.

Well, it's certainly not worse - otherwise you could just kick deep, score, and revert to the previous example, and then it doesn't matter whether or not you kick early or kick late.

But is it really impossible to score twice in 3 minutes? I don't think so. It must've happened several times already.

Second, as posts #3 & #6 point out, the equation doesn’t factor in the effect on Philly’s offense that going for 2pts later will have.

Because there's no need to. All this effect means is that your "bonus chance" to win (see above) is that much harder. It doesn't change the fact that you already "lost" by missing the 2 point conversion.

If you go for the 2 early, the only downside is that Philly's defense might play harder knowing you only need one score. But this is silly - they'll play hard no matter what, because they have to be pessimistic and believe you'll score and get the 2 point conversion.

22
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 3:34pm

But what about the defensive strategys? If you're down 9 points with 3:30 to go, and you recovered the onsides kick at about the 40, you need to score twice to win, one fieldgoal and one TD. The defense's two goals are to keep you out of the end zone and in bounds, which could end up leaving them vunerable to marching quickly into field-goal range kick the fieldgoal. Of course then you still have to recover another onsides kick, but you should still have around 2 minutes to score.
On the other hand, had you taken the PAT, you'd be down 8 with 3:30 to go, so here I think the best strategy is to kick deep & force a 3 and out. With good special teams, you should hopefully get the ball around the 30, again the defense's strategy is about the same as before, right?

23
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 3:39pm

1) The size of the miracle is questionable and not nearly as clear cut as you make it. Although I have never seen a team recover an onside kick with 0:14 left and successfully execute a hail mary, I have also never seen a team comeback in 3 minutes from two scores down by recovering 2 onside kicks.

2) You don't really "HAVE TO" go for a 2pt conversion if you are down 24-15 with 3:32 left and one timeout. As has been said before, being down only 8 points as opposed to 9 points forces Philly's hand; they cannot merely run out the clock. The Minnesota D can force a turnover, the Vikings could get a big punt return, the Vikings could force a couple incompletions and get the ball back with over 3 minutes remaining and down by 8. If they can score a FG before the 2-minute warning, they are still in bad shape but they have a better chance of winning than had they failed their 2pt conversion right away. I guess this is the source of disagreement. Your basic premise that the Vikings "HAVE TO" go for two is not absolute, nor is your basic premise that the Vikings cannot score again if they miss their 2pt conversion late.

3) If you can think several times in which a team has scored twice in 3 minutes by recovering two onside kicks, please list them.

24
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 3:48pm

re: post #22

Since the Eagles know the Vikings need to score a FG and TD to win the game, it would make no sense for the Eagles defense to easily allow a FG by playing prevent. The Eagles' two goals AREN'T to keep the Vikings out of the endzone and inbounds, since a Vikings FG and TD are just as bad as two Vikings TDs. The Eagles' two goals at this point are to keep the Vikings out of FG range and inbounds.

As has been mentioned before, its difficult to assume what the Eagles will do in this situation, but sometimes common sense will allow us to make a fairly accurate prediction.

25
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 3:57pm

Well, that demonstrates my point that the Eagles defense has a harder job to do.

26
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 4:00pm

re: post #25

??????????????

No, it means that it would make no sense for the Eagles defense to easily allow a FG by playing prevent.

27
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 4:08pm

Then how exactly is the defense's job easier?

28
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 4:13pm

3) If you can think several times in which a team has scored twice in 3 minutes by recovering two onside kicks, please list them.

You don't need to score twice in 3 minutes by recovering both kicks. You just have to score twice in 3 minutes. You probably have time to screw up once, in three minutes.

Especially given that it's already happened once.

And that was just 2 years ago.

29
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 4:21pm

The situation is if the Eagles play the defense they are accustomed to playing (i.e. normal) and through some disaster they give up a TD, Minnesota still needs and onside kick recovery and a FG to win. I don't understand how this situation makes the Eagles' defensive job "harder" or "easier"..."harder" or "easier" compared to what? My point was that you botched the Eagles' defensive strategy, thats all.

This discussion is interesting, but it appears that Mike Tice is getting criticized because he didn't make his decision assuming his team would miss the 2pt conversion. That is ridiculous. IMO, the only way a coach would go for two down 24-15 with 3:32 and one timeout left would be if he knew for a fact that his team would miss the 2pt conversion...which makes it doubly insane because why would Tice go for 2 then if he knows that his team is going to miss anyway?

Regardless, I would think that Tice would have a better idea as to which 2pt conversion plays might work later in the game after scoring two TDs instead earlier in the game after scoring one TD. Maybe thats not a valid point at all, but its things like this that the equation overlooks.

30
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 4:27pm

"Regardless, I would think that Tice would have a better idea as to which 2pt conversion plays might work later in the game after scoring two TDs instead earlier in the game after scoring one TD. Maybe thats not a valid point at all, but its things like this that the equation overlooks."

Tice could figure out what play works best for a 2-point conversion if one of those two TDs is a successful goal-line play, but then the Eagles would know what to expect and adjust thier defense accordingly.

31
by billvv (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 4:27pm

You guys have been going at this since 11:37 this morning! No wonder coaches get it wrong, they have 30 seconds and everybody else gets half a day to second guess them and even THEY can't agree! An interesting way to pass the time until the Vikes/Jets tonight though! Have at it!

32
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 4:53pm

re: post #28

When deciding on what strategy to use late in the contest, I don't think coaches think of those games like the Bucs-Colts, because teams rarely recover an onsides kick with 3:37 left, score a TD, hold the other team to a 3-and-out with the aid of an offensive roughness penalty, and score another TD. I don't see how this validates criticism of Tice's decision to kick the PAT, and I would hope that the blanket change in coaches' thinking suggested by the article is not based on the wacky Bucs-Colts game.

33
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 4:59pm

re: post #30

So you are saying that the Vikings would be at a DISADVANTAGE by scoring more times near the goal line as opposed to scoring fewer times near the goal line? By that logic, defenses should let offenses score every possession in the 1st half, so they 'know what to expect' in the 2nd half.

34
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 5:21pm

If the Vikings had score more times near the goal line, they wouldn't have been in this situation. I didnt say they were at a disadvantage, I said they wern't at an advantage. The Vikings know one play that works, the Eagles know one play to expect. The Eagles defense is smart enough to adjust, so it's a wash.

35
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 5:35pm

Even the author of the article allows "The only exception is if you have reason to believe that your success probability will be different later in the game." Maybe Tice had reason to believe that it would be easier to score a 2pt conversion against a tired-out Eagles D? Maybe Tice saw a matchup he could exploit later in the game? Who knows, but its not out of the realm of possibility, whereas it IS a bit of a stretch (IMO) to think that a coach will use a strategy based on failure of a 2pt try in order to 'gain information'.

I don't know if it was the author's main idea, but the ideas brought up in this discussion are like criticizing a baseball manager for bringing in his closer when the closer gives up the game-winning two-run HR in the bottom of the ninth, and questioning the manager "If you knew that your closer was going to give up a two-run HR, why didn't you bring him in during the 6th inning so you would have 3 innings to come back?"

36
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 5:42pm

On the other hand, if you attempt the 2-point conversion first instead of second, you could use a trick play, like the one the Vikings tried to use in the playoffs. (Of course, this assumes you can get the right number of players on the field).
I'm not sure what it has to do with baseball, though. If the Manager knew his closer was going to give up a 2 run HR, shouldn't have have not put him in at all?

37
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 5:46pm

re: post #36

Exactly, the manager should not have brought in the pitcher in the first place. Kinda like the only way a coach would go for two down 24-15 with 3:32 and one timeout left would be if he knew for a fact that his team would miss the 2pt conversion…which is dumb because why would the coach go for 2 then if he knows that his team is going to miss anyway?

38
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 5:52pm

Well, the Manager should know he has less than a 50% chance to succeed, or as the article puts it, he should always go for two. If your closer gives up 2 run homers in every other save situation, he's not a very good closer (ERA ~9).

39
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 5:55pm

It sounds like the closer you are describing is LaTroy Hawkins.

But how does the manager know for a fact what his "success percentage" is?

40
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 6:04pm

Wait, are we talking about Mike Tice or a hypothetical head coach? Presumabally one of the many things a team practices is goal-line plays. Hopefully the coach would have been paying attention and noticed how often the offense scores on a play from the 2-yard line. This gives him a base percentage, which he would adjust downwards because the Eagles defense is better than the Vikings. But, as long as the number is less than 50%, it doesn't matter what it is. If the chances are over 50%, he should attempt two 2-point conversions, because if they succeed, he wins the game, with no overtime. Otherwise, he still needs at least one, so the only question is when would it be better to attempt. All this is to demonstrate how your baseball closer is a false analogy.

41
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 6:16pm

re: post #40

How would Tice know for a fact what his 'success rate' would be against the Eagles for a 2pt conversion? He could make an educated guess, but he wouldn't know it for a fact...that would be impossible. Its a no-brainer to say that if a coach has a greater than 50% chance of scoring a 2pt conversion then he should go for it...but unfortunately (or, fortunately) football isn't decided by set percentages. There are variables, nothing exists in a vaccuum. If there weren't variables, there would be no need for coaches.

Its like Charlie Jones' story of the newspaper editor complaining to the cameraman that he is using too much film when covering football games. "Just film the touchdowns!".

42
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 6:29pm

I never said he knew for a fact what his success percentage is, nor did I say he needs to. However, Tice should have an idea of what his chances are.

43
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 6:41pm

Exactly, the manager should not have brought in the pitcher in the first place. Kinda like the only way a coach would go for two down 24-15 with 3:32 and one timeout left would be if he knew for a fact that his team would miss the 2pt conversion

No. You'd go for two because you want a 2 point conversion. If you get it, terrific, now you only need one score. Great.

In fact, you go for 2 because you believe you can make the 2 point conversion.

If you don't think you can make the 2 point conversion, it doesn't matter if you go for it or not, because you need two scores (if you can't make it now, you can't make it then).

Try this. Pretend a 2-point conversion doesn't exist. You're down by 9, and you've got a PAT attempt. Now ask, does the PAT really matter? Not really. You're down by 9. If you kick the PAT, you're down by 8. That's still 2 scores. Doesn't really matter.

The important thing to note here is that there's 3 minutes left. You don't need to recover 2 onsides kicks. You need to recover one.

We know this from experimental evidence now that senser made me look it up.

3 minutes is a lot of time. I don't think needing 1 score or 2 changes the defensive strategy - they can only burn ~1 minute off the clock no matter what, and if you're assuming 1 recovered onsides kick (which you need for your 0:14 hail mary anyway) they only get one possession. So 1 minute to stop them. 1 minute to score the first TD. Onsides kick, and 1 more minute to score the game winning TD or field goal.

44
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 6:42pm

I am speechless. I just don't know what else to say.

45
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 6:50pm

HA! I was speechless at post #42, then Pat snuck in with post #43.

Anyway, its true that you don't need to recover 2 onside kicks with 3 minutes left, but I would refrain from calling the Bucs-Colts game 'evidence'. It really took a collapse of monumental proportions for the Colts to win. I don't think anyone would point to that game as a basis of strategy.

But by the same token, several things can happen that wouldn't require a two-point conversion attempt if there is 3:32 remaining but that is dependent on knowing whether or not the Eagles will falll on the ball or will try to increase their one score lead. Also, maybe the coach would feel he has a better chance of converting the 2pt conversion at the end of the game, and would have a greater chance of getting to that situation by kicking the PAT instead of going for 2 with 3:32 left.

Either way, its an interesting discussion, but I don't think you can fault the head coach for kicking the PAT in that situation, and I don't understand the whole "success rate greater than 0.5" issue.

46
by ToddCommish (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 8:29pm

A closer comparison would be for basketball teams at the end of a game. Teams will often (assuming they're not coached by Isiah Thomas) break the end of a game up by possessions. That is, the trailing team will try and get the game down to one or two possessions (the misnamed "two for one" shot theory). Essesntially, kicking the PAT with 3:30 left makes the football game a ONE-possession game, meaning that there is a 99% likelihood (PAT conversion) that they will only need ONE possession to tie the score. Going for the 2-pt conversion early (and failing) puts you prematurely into a two-possession situation and therefore a desperation mode. And even if you convert the 2-pt play early, you are still only playing for the tie, since NO coaches go for two at the end of a meaningful game where the PAT would tie the game.

47
by Trogdor (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 8:46pm

I hate to interrupt a nice argument-a-trois, especially since I haven't really read all of the comments too thoroughly, but one thing that stood out was the question of whether such 'miracles' are possible. I give two examples from relatively recent history, one which made me swear repeatedly, the other made me quite happy.

11/04/2001 - Browns at Bears. The freaking Browns managed to blow a 14-point lead in under a minute, by allowing a TD (thanks in large part to a horrible call, or more properly a correct call that was made exactly the opposite way several weeks later against Jacksonville, setting off a near riot. Apparently the rule on replays is, no matter what happens, screw the Browns), then allowing an onside kick recovery and successful Hail Mary (the only significant thing David Terrell's ever done in the NFL). Of course they made it complete by throwing an INT in overtime for a TD.

As for the other one, apparently my memory was wrong. I thought the Browns recovered 2 onside kicks against the Titans in 2002, but it was only one. So I can't think of an example right now of a team recovering two 'expected' onsides yet, but I'm sure I will if I care enough, which I'm not sure I do.

Anyway, it is possible, although a miracle, to go late score - onside - hail mary. It's gotta be possible (although admittedly unproven) to get two onsides, although also a miracle. But don't let that take away from the argument. Flame away, gentlemen.

48
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 10:28pm

So the lesson is if you're down by 2 scores with 3 minutes left, it doesn't matter what you do, because you won't win, unless you're playing the Bucs or Browns? Makes sense to me.

49
by Trogdor (not verified) :: Fri, 08/19/2005 - 11:14pm

Well, if you're looking for a miracle freaky ending, it certainly helps if you're playing the Browns. Heck, it wasn't too long ago that they lost a game that they were winning after the last play ended with no time left. So I think the real lesson is, don't root for the Browns, who keep finding incredibly heartbreaking ways to lose. Root for someone like the Lions, who don't ever come close enough to break your heart, and never will, because they will always su-diddley-uck.

50
by Pat (not verified) :: Sat, 08/20/2005 - 1:13am

It really took a collapse of monumental proportions for the Colts to win.

I do believe that giving up 14 points in 3 minutes is the definition of a collapse of monumental proportions.

51
by B (not verified) :: Mon, 08/22/2005 - 12:19pm

You know what they say; one fan's miraculous comeback is another fan's monumental collapse.
In any case, I think Trogdor had the best advice, don't root for the Browns.

52
by Jim A (not verified) :: Mon, 08/22/2005 - 4:50pm

I've always thought it was best to go for two in the down by 9 situation for the reasons that Pat expressed, but the difference probably isn't significant enough to make a big deal about. In fact, Professor Sackrowitz's analysis (see his paper on two-point conversions via Links Outside the Outsiders) says it doesn't matter.

I remember Mike Shanahan going for two in a similar situation a few years ago and was ripped in the media for it.

But if you do save the 2-pt attempt for last, you don't want to do it with 0:14 left, you plan as much as possible to score on the last play of regulation so your opponent has no time left for a winning FG.

53
by Bill Krasker (not verified) :: Mon, 08/22/2005 - 5:55pm

Jim A (#52),

Remember that Harold Sackrowitz assumes that every possession lasts exactly 2.5 minutes. As I pointed out, when the offense has time for at most one more score, it doesn't matter whether they go for one or two.

I'm sorry if I gave people the impression that I think going for two at 24-15 makes a big difference. If the two-pointer fails, Minnesota's chances are miniscule, mainly because successful onside kicks are rare. On the other hand, if the two-pointer fails but Minnesota recovers the ensuing onside kick, then (using my model for the two-minute drill) I estimate that Minnesota has a 0.025 chance of winning. That's still small, but it's a chance they deny themselves if they kick the extra point at 24-15 and play for one more score.

54
by Jim A (not verified) :: Mon, 08/22/2005 - 11:25pm

I would still guess that the benefit of going for two in that situation is statistically insignificant, especially if you leave room for any errors, inaccuracies, or assumptions in the methodology.

There are plenty of more important strategy decisions we should be criticizing coaches for besides this one.

55
by Belichick (not verified) :: Tue, 08/23/2005 - 2:29pm

You all may want to consider what Belichick would have done. As I have seen before in Patriots games, if the Pats were in the same situation, the coach would have faked the onside kick and kicked a really solid deep ball and got to it before Philly, because they would be taken by surprise.
Then the Pats defense would have come through like they have always done in the last few years with a three and out, when they needed it the most.
The Eagles defense is exactly the same rating as the Pats D in points allowed, and they could have forced a three and out by being tough against the run when Corey Dillon was grimacing in pain and limping around during the final quarter.
They still might not have won because Mcnabb's previous touchdown passes almost got knocked down by linebackers and safeties in the defense of the Pats, as well as several interceptions. But it would have been what Belichick would have most likely pulled out of his hat of coaching tricks.
That is what I think Andy Reid should have done!

56
by Ronaldinho (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 3:36am

I think, unfortunately, you're missing a big factor with respect to "go for two or not" decisions, which is psychology.

These things are very difficult ot measure, but assume the following situation: the team just scored a touchdown but hasn't gone for the extra point yet, and they need another touchdown, a two pointer conversion and a one point conversion.

While the main point about extra information is valuable, it overlooks something crucial.

When a team in that situation goes for two, and misses, the wind comes out of their sails. You can see the players lose heart; they tend to feel like all their effort has just been wasted (as, in some ways, it has, as a two plays ago they needed two scores, and here they need two scores agian.)

On the other hand, when the team scores the two point conversion, it's the defense who starts to get desperate and loses confidence. "These guys just marched down on the field on us and rammed it into the endzone ... twice!" They often get flat on their heels, while the opposing team's offense gains confidence.

As a former professional statistician I know just how hard these sorts of things are to measure, but we shouldn't make the mistake of concluding that, just because they're hard to measure, that they don't exist. In important psychological ways, the team that's just scored the two-point conversion (for eight points total) is a very different team than the one who's just missed it (for six points total) in these situations.

In the former case, the pressure is on the team with the lead. In the later, it's on the trailing team. That's not a trivial difference.

57
by B (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 11:54am

I'm not sure, but that sounds like a good argument to go for two early. The trailling team is fighting an uphill battle, and if they miss the two-point conversion, whether they miss it eary or miss it late, they're in all likelyhood going to lose the game. However, if they make the two point conversion early, now they have confidience, thier opposition is deflated. Suddenly that second score doesn't look difficult at all.

58
by Fraser B (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 12:51pm

No coach would ever go for two early because popular opinion is that you always kick the PAT to preserve your chance to make the tie with one score (despite statistical evidence either way). A coach who goes against convention and fails won't last very long, whether or not convention is correct, even if the two-point conversion is a long shot in the first place whether it is attempted first or second. As TMQ frequently says -- coaches make decisions that put failure on the shoulders of the players rather than the coach -- the two point conversion down 9 is clearly a case of this.

What might be successful would be to call a play for the 2 point conversion, see what defense you are lined up against, assess the likelihood or your play's success against the aligned defense and either run the given play if one thought there was a reasonable chance of success or take a delay of game penalty and send out the kicking team (Of course, this will only be feasible if the probability difference of converting a 17-yard kick and a 22-yard kick are miniscule, which I suspect they are). This effectively would give the offense two opportunities to obtain a successful mismatch and increase the likelihood of success with a 2 point conversion.