Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

20 Dec 2005

TMQ: Go For It!

Tuesday Morning Quarterback opines this week that manly men don't punt. I was especially surprised that Detroit punted with fourth-and-1 at midfield, down 24-7. I mean, you should go for it on fourth-and-1 at midfield almost all the time, but when you're down 24-7 and just playing out the string anyway, what can it possibly hurt to go for it?

I'm always a big fan of the all-unwanted all pros, and this year TMQ reminds us that Rod Smith was unwanted at the start of his college career and his pro career but may very well end up in Canton.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 20 Dec 2005

36 comments, Last at 22 Dec 2005, 12:02pm by LnGrrrR


by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 3:41pm

TMQ - still the only person in the world who respects the '72 Dolphins' tradition who wasn't on the '72 Dolphins.

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 3:46pm

I respect the Dolphins '72 tradition, even if it doesn't really exist. I think former players should be proud that thier records have held up.

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 4:00pm

I agree that teams should punt less, but I disagree with the criticism that someone should have gone for it on 4th and 2 at their own 28, down by 11 in the 4th quarter. There was still plenty of time left for two more drives, and you're a TD+2point + FG behind, whereas if you don't make it, the other team is already in FG range and will go up by at least two TD's. At some point you have to have faith in your defense.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 4:04pm

Antonio Pierce and Plaxico Burress on that all unwanted teams?!

I don't think there's really any comparison...

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 4:07pm

I also wish TMQ would stay away from science and math.

"Tom Brady is 15-0 when the temperature is below 274.816667 Kelvin (35 Fahrenheit). "

This is silly. Most thermometers are accurate to the degree, or at best tenth of a degree. Just because 35 Fahrenheit happens to exactly equal that long Kelvin number doesn't mean that it's appropriate to use that many decimal places. There's something called "significant figures" which everyone learns about in high school physics. Using that many digits implies that you can accurately measure that many digits, which is silly.

Also, TMQ of all people talking about game theory? My understanding of the "minimax" phenomenon is that it has nothing to do with maximizing a losing score, but is related to Nash equilibria--it's the equilibrium point where both sides choose strategies that are optimal assuming that the other side will also try to choose an optimal strategy, which often leads to sub-optimal performance by both parties. If I'm wrong, maybe some folks here more up on game theory than I am could correct me? Maybe this could lead to coaches playing to keep the margin of defeat small, but TMQ certainly doesn't prove that. Instead, it just implies that both coaches will choose strategies that optimize WINNING, while assuming that the opposing coaches will do the same.

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 4:14pm

The big blitz question is interesting. But one thing that bears discussion is that frequently teams will big blitz because their "straight" pass defense isn't very good (example, this year's Patriots). The "average" NFL pass play may gain 6 yards, which TMQ often cites as why you shouldn't blitz on third and long, but that doesn't mean that, if your team has a bad pass defense, you should expect your opponent to gain six yards when facing 3rd and 10.

I understand why coaches often call big blitzes, especially when trailing. If your pass D is bad, you have a choice between letting the opposing offense carve you up with 8-10 yard pass after 8-10 yard pass by playing straight D, and finally building on their lead after taking lots of time off the clock, or big blitzing frequently and risking giving up a long play that scores (but at least takes almost no time), but maybe getting a defensive stop, or, even better, getting a turnover and getting your team back in the game.

My sense is that blitzing DOES increase the probability of getting a turnover. Even "coverage" interceptions, where you don't blitz and manage to flood the zone where the QB throws, usually occur because the QB EXPECTED a blitz and rushed his throw when one didn't come (see, 2004 Patriots defense), but if you never actually blitz, they'll never expect a blitz.

by johonny (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 4:18pm

I don't get why it's not OK for the 72 Dolphins to root against teams when just about every football fan has teams they root against. I mean aren't 50 % of the people that watch Notre Dame rooting against them.

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 4:22pm

I have no problem with the 72 Dolphins rooting for no other team to go undefeated.

But here's an interesting question. The 72 Phins went 14-0 against the world's easiest schedule ever. What if a team someday manages to go 14-0 and then 0-2, or, more significantly, 15-0 and then 0-1, presumably against a tougher schedule. (or for that matter, loses their first game and then goes 15-0). Technically, they did something more impressive--won more consecutive regular season games in the same season, but they would never get the same glory because they didn't go "undefeated". Hmmm...

by big_adventure (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 4:22pm

#5 -

Wait a sec - THAT is what was silly to you??? Not the sliding-endpoint BS Favrenomics stat?

Oh, and sig figs typically come up in high-school chem, the year before high-school physics.

Statistically, going beyond 3 significant figures is effectively valuless. Notice I say "statistically". Scientifically, many many more significant figures are often warranted and necessary. For example, I'd hate to be the guy on the first manned mission to Mars if the trajectory calculations were done to 3 significant figures. Mars is, at the closest point, about 55.7 million Km from Earth. I'd really hate to miss my orbital window by, say, 50,000km, hapilly within the range of a three-significant-figure precision.


by B (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 4:32pm

#8: In 2003-2004 the Patriots won 21 straight regular season victorys (The streak ended in Pittsburgh), in 2004-2005 the Steelers won 20 straight regular season victories (the streak ended vs NE). I'd say those are more impressive. The New England streak also included 3 playoff games, but those arn't counted in official stats.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 4:42pm

Just because 35 Fahrenheit happens to exactly equal that long Kelvin number doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate to use that many decimal places.

That's why he's using it. Because it's silly. Technically, it's correct, because the conversion is absolute. But it's stupid. Which is the point.

by abe (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 4:49pm

Sour Play of the Week
...Brad Johnson, don't do anything silly here, because a field goal makes it 10-6 at halftime. Instead pass into triple coverage, interception. Ye gods.

For some reason I read the Phil Simms book, and he said complaints about triple coverage are a pet peeve of his. There is never triple coverage. When the ball reaches the receiver a third defender may get close-ish, making it look like he was triple covered, but to say the QB threw into triple coverage is wrong.

What do you guys think?

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 4:53pm

Well, there is triple coverage when the ball arrives. If Johnson's throw takes so long to get to it's target that three defenders can converge on the spot, he shouldn't be throwing it there.

by jebmak (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 5:17pm

I watched the sunday night game (don't worry it was in a loud sports bar, and I couldn't hear the 'announcers'). I distinctly recall Urlacher coming off the field and being rapped up in a big coat, so I guess 'the football gods' were not paying attention.

by jebmak (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 5:19pm

I referring to his comment about Vick looking cold, and yes, I meant wrapped.

by Andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 5:27pm

B #10:

In 2003-2004 the Patriots won 21 straight regular season victorys (The streak ended in Pittsburgh), in 2004-2005 the Steelers won 20 straight regular season victories (the streak ended vs NE). I’d say those are more impressive. The New England streak also included 3 playoff games, but those arn’t counted in official stats.

Ummm ... New England won 12 games to close out 2003, and 6 games to open 2004. 12+6 = 18, not 21.

Pittsburgh won 14 games to close out 2004, and 2 games to open 2005. 14+2 = 16, not 20.

Much more impressive is New England's 27-1 streak from early 2003 to late 2004. I think the closest thing to that is the Eagles going 25-3 over the same period, the Colts current 21-1 record since mid 2004 (and 25-3 from Game 2 2004 to the San Diego loss), the Bears 29-3 in 1985-1986, the 49ers 27-3 1989-1990, the Redskins 25-3 1981-1983, the Raiders 29-3 1975-1977.

Its interesting that three of the strongest teams of all times (Patriots, Colts, Eagles) have been playing in the past couple of years. To win 85%+ of the time over a stretch is just incredible in football.

The very best long record ever though, might be the Raiders going 34-3-1 during a stretch in 1967-1969.

by Andrew (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 5:29pm

abe #12:

I've seen throws this year where the ball clearly heads to a receiver with, 3, 4, even 5 defenders around him. Not just near him, but right around him.

by Craig B (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 5:33pm

He mentions that turnovers are half-skill, half-luck. I understand this concept when applied to fumbles, but not to interceptions. Has there been any studies done regarding this? I'd think interceptions rely on more skill than luck, although playing the NFC North helps.

by Sara (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 5:52pm

18 - Depends on the interception, I guess. If it's Nathan Vasher reading a route and coming across with perfect timing to pick off a pass, I'd say skill. If it's Al Wallace juggling a dropped pass as it bounces off his calf inches from the ground, I'd say it's both (but mainly luck).

by Oldcat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 5:54pm

Indy gets points for "cheer babe professionalism" ? Its easy to wear skimpy outfits when you are INDOORS.

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 6:29pm

18: The skill part is making the interception, the luck part is having the QB throw a ball than can be intercepted.
20: It's also easy to wear skimpy outfits in San Deigo.

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 6:38pm

Indy is a dome. San Diego (I think) is an open stadium. And it get's down into the 50's at night there this time of year. I would know--I was there this past weekend. From a New Englander's standpoint, 50's is just fine for wearing skimpy outfits, but those southern Californians have funny ideas about weather, like "Anything below 68 is cold" or "It's not supposed to rain in the summer".

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 6:58pm


I’ve seen throws this year where the ball clearly heads to a receiver with, 3, 4, even 5 defenders around him. Not just near him, but right around him.

Me too. Last night.

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 7:17pm

THe minimax strategy in the game theory books I have read refers to conduct affairs such that the minimum possible outcome is maximized. (Coaching for a 100% chance 6 wins for example as opposed to coaching for a 50% chance of 5 wins and a 50% chance of 14 wins). Now obviously, the wisdom of this strategy depends a lot on the situation and the numbers involved, and clearly it is usually not the best strategy. But it is a principled rubric one can use while decision making.

It is often used by more liberal economic philosophers to argue for some sort of half-capitalist/half-socialist state where the idea is to maximize the welfare of the worst off members. Here the idea that very low outcomes (starving, sick, poor people) are very bad and should be avoided as much as possible even if it requires sacrificing high end luxury.

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 7:18pm

crap that should read maximin....minimax is something different.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 8:14pm

My earliest memory of going to an NFL game was the one that the Dolphins came closest to losing in'72, at Minnesota in the old outdoor Metropolitan Stadium, early in the season. The Dolphins trailed by more than field goal (I'm not bothering to look it up), and had the ball deep in Vikings territory in the closing moments, and I was sitting in that end zone section.

On a fourth down play, the pass was incomplete, but part-time pass rusher Bob Lurtsema was called for a rinky-dink roughing the passer infraction. Armed with a new first down, the Phins scored a winning touchdown on a pass to TE Jim Mandich. The Vikings went to what was for them, in that era, a very disappointing 7-7 season, missing the playoffs, and I learned to complain about being jobbed by the zebras very early in life.

by Ned Macey :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 8:55pm

Wasn't Tony Dungy fired, or does TMQ not think he's doing a better job than Belichick and Shanahan?

by BillWallace (not verified) :: Tue, 12/20/2005 - 9:42pm

Re: 25 right idea, just reversed. The theory as applied to here is that they are reducing their max loss margin. In other words they'd rather lose by 20 five times than lose by 34 four times and win by 1 once.

by Stevie (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 12:55am

Good to see the TMQ bashing is down this week. Just want to keep pointing out Rich Eisens column is one of the best on the web. I loved this on the Texans blowing the No 1 pick to the Niners.

"He's coming up the coast to give the 49ers a Bush to go with their Gore. All they'd need is a Chad. But that's the Jets' problem"

by the K (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 4:38am

27. Yup, Dungy was fired by the Bucs. Apparently this is a TMQ oversight but I'm sure he'll get a ton of emails about it.

For game theory, let me recommend "The Compleat Strategist" by J.D. Williams. The ultimate guide to game theory, and as an avid gamer of cards, football, videogames, anything, I have to say it's one of the most enjoyable and enlightening books I've ever read.

by loginimpaired (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 5:55am

re #22 - I've seen skimpy outfits standing in line at clubs on San Diego nights this time of year. re #27, 30 - Belichick since being fired, 3 super bowls; Shanahan since being fired, 2 super bowls; Dungy since being fired, 0 super bowls. Personally, I think Dungy can't be considered since this is the first year that the Colts have a defense. Also, Dungy never finished with a strong, talented team in Tampa Bay; neither Shanahan nor Belichick had that opportunity in their first jobs.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 7:16am

12,17, 23: it does happen, but generally I'd agree with Simms. For example, last year Jake Plummer got heat from TMQ for throwing an INT into double coverage at the goal-line versus San Diego. On the reply it was definitely single coverage, but the ball was tipped high in the air allowing the safety who was trailing the play to make the pick.

My pet peeve is comentators describing a receiver as "wide open" when there is a defender within a yard or two of the guy. Seems to me like this happens a lot.

by Liam (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 10:39am

According to TMQ "the weak points of my squad are corner and running back".

I'd take Deltha O'Neil over any CB in the league right now, and Al Harris has been pretty impressive this year too.

Re: 31. Isn't the all-unwanted pro's supposed to reward performance this year?

by Arkaein (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 9:40pm

Concerning minimax theory (as least how it applies to game strategy in artificial intelligence, which is where I've studied it), TMQ is only correct if it is applied in a very naive way, i.e. pure point differential.

Normally, what minimax does is score game states, where a better score indicates higher chance of a favorable outcome. In Pro football there are only three "real" outcomes with any meaning: win, lose, tie. Final score should not be important to any intelligent agent who simply want to win, or possibly tie to avoid a loss.

Now scoreboard score would play a factor in determining situation score, but it would also take time remaining, field position, etc. into account. A well programmed minimax system, following the basic rules I've described, would always take a course of action which gives at least some possibility of a win or tie over a choice which gives no chance, or practically no chance. Unlike TMQ's description, a well programmed minimax system would probably go for it on 4th down when trailing by two scores late in the 4th quarter.

by LnGrrrR (not verified) :: Thu, 12/22/2005 - 12:00pm

Re: 33,

Being 9-5 with the secondary that the Patriots have had to use is no small matter.

Though it does concern me that we have been pretty well stomped by decent competition (not counting hte Bucs)

Denver, KC, Indy....ouch. We'll see in the playoffs, I guess. :)

Still, going 11-5 is not too bad at all. Hopefully we can win these last two...when the season was four/five weeks long, I thought we'd be lucky to get to 8-8.

by LnGrrrR (not verified) :: Thu, 12/22/2005 - 12:02pm

Also, is it an amazing case of deja vu, or were the 2nd/3rd/4th paragraphs lifted directly from last year (not the Miami Dolphins one, but the ones directly afterward, until the bullet points)? I could've sworn they were, or I had a major case of deja vu.