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Checkdowns: Smart Football Retrospective on 4th-and-2-gate

Posted by Neil Paine on November 19, 2009

One of my favorite football blogs is Chris Brown's Smart Football, and yesterday he had a very thoughtful post about Bill Belichick's controversial decision:

"It’s not really fair to pick on Tony Dungy, who was an excellent football coach, because his excellence had nothing to do with any training in statistics or probability. But his comment that 'you have to play the percentages and punt' is symptomatic of a wider issue, which is that when something 'feels horribly wrong' we inherently want the evidence to comport with that feeling and we convince ourselves that it does. Dungy is a conservative guy, he likely would say that punting gives him plenty of chances to win, he’s a defensive coach so he has no qualms about showing faith in his defense, and, bottom line, the idea of putting that much significance on one play just didn’t sit well with him. That’s all fine, but it has nothing to do with the percentages. Yet his brain and experience had told him that somehow the percentages supported it too, and thus Belichick’s move was the 'risky gamble.'"

You already know how us stat geeks feel about Belichick's call, but it's nice to see someone with a great deal of expertise in the X's and O's also think critically about the decision to go for it.