“But every coach in America would have done the same thing.”

I know this WSJ piece is about the NFL, but it’s still a fascinating statistical look at how successful conventional playcalling is.

… The NFL’s current roster of coaches is a very conservative bunch. And that might not be a formula for success.

A Wall Street Journal analysis of NFL play calling this season shows that—despite a legion of mathematicians, economists and win probability models urging them to take more chances—most of the league’s coaches still reach for the conventional choice by habit.

The Journal analysis examines how coaches played their hand this season across three broad categories of game management: fourth downs; play calling (blitzing on defense; passing on early downs or with the lead on offense) and special teams (going for a 2-point conversion and onside kicks when ahead).

I would argue there’s more than just habit at work here.  There’s also the parity factor.  When you don’t have a huge talent gap between teams — and say what you will, the gap in the NFL is way smaller than the gap in college — the consequences of coaches’ decision making at key times become magnified, especially those decisions that backfire.  Wrapping oneself in conventional wisdom is an obvious defense to criticism.

Again, one of the great things about college football is that disparity in resources forces greater creativity in strategy to try to offset the disadvantage than we see in the pros.  At least that’s the case at schools that don’t use their backup quarterbacks to field punts.



Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

13 responses to ““But every coach in America would have done the same thing.”

  1. “Nobody gets fired for recommending IBM.”–the NFL in a nutshell.


  2. Bright Idea

    Coaches in NFL face too much nationwide media scrutiny to go against the book. Even if a trick or two worked they would catch flack. They just don’t have the job security to take risks.


  3. DawgPhan

    It’s the penalty kick study but for the NFL.


  4. Derek

    The NFL would be so much more watchable if they lined up in shotgun, empty, 1st and goal at the other team’s 1 yard line.

    Maybe the Pirate can get an NFL job. Afterall, he nearly beat a team that didn’t even want to play the game.


  5. Go Dawgs!

    First day back at work from vacation and the Senator hits me with a Logan Gray reminder. Woof.


  6. HVL Dawg

    This season I read Take Your Eye Off The Ball by Pat Kirwan. (I recommend it) He details how the game plan is formulated during the week and how the play call sheets get created week to week. For each situation, say 2nd and 1 in the red zone or 1st and 10 in the greenzone (midfield), they maybe only repped 6-8 plays that week in practice for that situation based on the game plan matchups and what executed well in practice.

    There are so many game situations to rep in practice and so little time from Wednesday to Sunday.



    I know I cut against the grain here, but one of the things I like about the NFL is the parity….I enjoy the college game more..more passion, but I have enjoyed the watching the Falcons this year too…much more interesting when they are in it. Much like UGA. 🙂


  8. RCBRick

    You actually made the opposite of your intended point there, senator. In the context of disparity, the inferior team’s only chance is high variance and increased risk taking. The superior team should be ultra conservative. FWIW, Richt did tend to take more risks when playing good teams. Fake punts, 4th down attempts, and that nifty football in the hip play were always in his pocket, particularly when the D was having a down year. He did not take enough risks for my liking, but it could have been worse.


  9. Bulldog Joe

    I agree, especially when you look at how that NFL conventional wisdom has fared at Georgia.