Monday, November 16, 2009 9:11 AM
Bill Belichick, according to the almost-unanimous opinion of the football punditry, is an idiot for going for it on fourth and two at his own 28, up six, with 2:03 left in the fourth quarter last night against the Colts. Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy, Trent Dilfer -- all possessors of Super Bowl championship rings -- said so in the aftermath of the Colts' 35-34 last-second victory. This is conventional, safe football thinking. But it's wrong. (Yes, the guy who lasted 10 days playing JV in high school, is calling the guys with a lifetime in pads, meeting rooms and games wrong.) How many times do we have to see Parcells and Belichick, whether with the Giants or Patriots, going for it in big games, with championships on the line, before we realize that going for it is the superior football strategy? Forget, for a minute, that the logic of the game pointed toward going for it; Tom Brady had shredded the Colts' decimated secondary all night. There was no reason not to think that Brady, from the gun, in a spread, wouldn't find somebody open. This is not my idea, nor have I tested it. But others have. Gregg Easterbrook, of the Tuesday Morning Quarterback column on ESPN.com, is a strong proponent of going for it almost from everywhere on the field. He's cited statistical studies from Brian Burke at Advanced Football Stats, and commissioned his own comprehensive study of 10,000 simulated games from the 2006 season by Accuscore, a statistical website that crunches the numbers to find "win probabilities" (I know, this is a little wonky) in games. Accuscore found in its simulated games from the '06 season that a team that avoided punts altogether added, on average, one point to its per-game scoring, without adding any points to the opponents' average scoring. Teams avoiding punting were five percent more likely to win, which adds up to almost one extra win per season. And one more win, as you know, is often the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. Easterbrook concluded, based on the statistical evidence, that from your own 21-yard-line to your own 35, you should go for it on fourth and two or less if you want to win. Which is exactly what Bill Belichick did. And there is precedent for a coach going for it, on fourth down, inside his own 30, on the road, late in the fourth quarter. This coach's team didn't make it, either, and went on to lose the game. Everyone thought they were postseason toast. But they went on to win the Super Bowl. And, yes, I have just compared Bill Belichick, favorably, with Barry Switzer. I'm sure he'll sleep better now. Belichick, I mean.