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Old 02-08-2010   #1
Dan B.
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Default Should Coaches Emulate Sean Payton?

Pretty interesting read here on Sean Payton's ballsy play calling during the Super Bowl. Payton made at least two incredibly daring calls during the game. Both actually ended up helping New Orleans. The first came near the end of the first half when Payton went for it on 4th and 1 from Indy's 1 yard line, rather than kicking the field goal. The second was the onsides kick to start the second half. As far as the first play, an interesting statistical analysis (warning: pdf file) showed that coaches would benefit much more if they were to go for it more often on fourth down, particularly when they are deep in their opponent's territory.

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One case where the departure from win-maximizing choices is particularly striking and relatively easy to see arises when a team faces fourth down and goal to go on its opponent’s 2-yardline early in the game. In this situation, attempting a field goal is virtually certain to produce three points, while trying for a touchdown has about a three-sevenths chance of producing seven.

Thus the two choices have essentially the same expected payoff in terms of immediate points. But if the team tries for a touchdown and fails, its opponent typically gains possession of the ball on the two-yard line; if the team scores a touchdown or makes a field goal, on the other hand, the opponent returns a kickoff, which is on average considerably better for it. Thus trying for a touchdown on average leaves the opponent in considerably worse field position.
How much worse?

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What if you go for it instead? How often would you have to score the touchdown in order to make going for it the right play? Only about 20 percent of the time -- the main reason being, again, that failing to score but sticking your opponent on their own 1 yard line is almost as good as converting the FG but giving the ball to the opponent on the 20.
Even when they fail (as New Orleans did -- Thomas was stuffed) the other team is forced into a terrible situation wrt field position. So bad in fact that on average a team lose 1.5 points per drive when they get the ball inside their own 2.

Essentially New Orleans faced these choices when considering Indy's field position:



So they gain almost as many points on average by missing a TD as they do by scoring a FG and giving Indy decent field position. While Manning would certainly perform better than average when pinned down in his own EZ, he would perform at an even higher level when given the ball with a chance to make something happen.

There was also the onside kick to start the second half. According to Football Outsiders surprise onside kicks are recovered 55% of the time. Naturally this percentage would drop if the kick weren't a surprise anymore. However, a team must only recover their onside kick around 37% of the time in order for it to net a positive result.

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Once again using the estimates from Romer's paper, giving yourself possession on your own 45 (if you recover the kick) is worth +2.0 points; giving your opponent possession on your 45 is worth about -2.3 points. Compare this with giving the opponent their ball on their 20 after a regular kickoff, which is worth -0.5 points ... although often they'll return the kick and wind up with slightly better field position than that, so let's call it -0.7.

Given those estimates, the onside kick breaks even if you convert it about 37 percent of the time.
And according to Football Outsiders, "surprise" onside kicks are in fact recovered in the neighborhood of 55 percent of the time or so. So this, too, looks like a good call -- and probably something that teams should be doing a little bit more often than they do.
To put it simply, I think Sean Payton showed you have to keep your opponent guessing. Never let them get comfortable, and never be predictable. I think that NFL coaches by and large are too heavily scrutinized to make such controversial decisions. If they make the easy safe choice and kick the FG on 4th down and the other guy drives to win, everyone throws up their hands and says it's the defense's fault for not stopping the other team. But at least the head coach is safe. He refrained from taking any risk.
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Old 02-08-2010   #2
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Default Re: Should Coaches Emulate Sean Payton?

Like I said in another thread, I liked the 4th and 1 call even though the play failed and I disliked the onside kick even though it worked.
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Old 02-08-2010   #3
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Default Re: Should Coaches Emulate Sean Payton?

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Originally Posted by infantrycak View Post
Like I said in another thread, I liked the 4th and 1 call even though the play failed and I disliked the onside kick even though it worked.
I agree that I like the 4th down call more, and would do it more often. Unlike an onside call (which becomes much less likely to succeed the more often you use it), going for it on 4th and inches is generally going to end with the same result whether you call them once in a blue moon or every time it's 4th down. Onside kicks are far more likely to work when they take the other team by surprise.
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Old 02-08-2010   #4
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Default Re: Should Coaches Emulate Sean Payton?

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Like I said in another thread, I liked the 4th and 1 call even though the play failed and I disliked the onside kick even though it worked.
agreed here. Ballsy as hell call on the onside kick, but the Colts recover and Payton would be considered 'crazy' for trying that. Thin line, and its always the winner that looks like a genius.

I loved the call to go for it, and I thought his clock management all game was better than you or I if we were playing a video game. Nothing escaped him - the man was truly ready for this stage.
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Old 02-08-2010   #5
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Default Re: Should Coaches Emulate Sean Payton?

if Baskett holds the ball, Payton looks like an *****...but he didn't, and today he is a genius.

great call at the time, but could have backfired easily.
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Old 02-08-2010   #6
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Default Re: Should Coaches Emulate Sean Payton?

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if Baskett holds the ball, Payton looks like an *****...but he didn't, and today he is a genius.

great call at the time, but could have backfired easily.
He went all-in, lucky the opponent wasn't holding pocket aces, so to speak.
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Old 02-08-2010   #7
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Default Re: Should Coaches Emulate Sean Payton?

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Originally Posted by Silver Oak View Post
if Baskett holds the ball, Payton looks like an *****...but he didn't, and today he is a genius.

great call at the time, but could have backfired easily.
I agree. it is one of those WTF moments and then when it goes in your favor, it changes to "great call"
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Old 02-08-2010   #8
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Default Re: Should Coaches Emulate Sean Payton?

I think it should be noted that an onside kick works the majority of the time in a situation like that precisely because it is a WTF moment. Why do you think Baskett wasn't back there returning kickoffs?

I definitely think that it is something you have to save for a rare occasion. Once or twice a season is about the best you can hope for. After that it's on tape and it'll be in the back of someones mind. But man, that's a nice time to bust out the surprises.
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Old 02-08-2010   #9
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Default Re: Should Coaches Emulate Sean Payton?

If it didn't work, then he'd be saying a familiar phrase from a beloved (by most here, but certainly not me) coach here in Houston. "Its on me guys"
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Old 02-08-2010   #10
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Default Re: Should Coaches Emulate Sean Payton?

Nobody complains about Payton's "Denny's menu" huh?

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