Saturday, December 1, 2007

Shining Star

A couple of good pieces showed up today from the Indy Star. Phil B. has some nice comments about the secondary, and dubs the "Hit Squad." It's incredibly accurate, as Bethea, Sanders, MJax, and Kelvin Hayden have become the strength of the team. They level receivers and seem to come through with big plays in the Red Zone. Honestly, Bracket should be included as well, because he adds an extra level to the excellent coverage. Phil B also noted, as we have many times, that the only real weakness in the Colts secondary is with the the nickle back.

The piece on the computer simulation Zeus was also fascinating. It's discouraging to see the lack of respect the NFL brain trusts gave this program. Going for it on fourth down is almost always the correct call, especially at the 1 yard line (unless the first half is drawing to a close). Now, if you go for it on 4th down, you have to call a good play. Bad play selection is the culprit for failed attempts far more often than the actual decision to go for it. In the piece, the emotional consequences of failing were often mentioned as reason to doubt the computer. I think that argument can go both ways. Isn't there an emotional component to success on fourth down that is demoralizing to the other team far beyond the mere consequences of the play? If a coach goes for it on fourth down, especially early in the game, he exerts tremendous pressure on the opposing coach to go for it. He puts that coach under the microscope for the rest of the game and causes him to sweat out every fourth and short. To me, this is extremely valuable over the course of a game. I've seen Del Rio coach himself into a knot before trying to figure out what to do. This year, he's said, "Screw it. I'm going to get fired if I don't win. GO FOR EVERYTHING!". I think that attitude has helped his team.

Dungy has gotten more aggressive over the past couple of years, though he was criticized in the article for certain calls in the Super Bowl (Whitlock had said the same thing months ago). My only caveat about that game is that I get the feeling that the Colts realized that Grossman wasn't going to lead the Bears on a scoring drive. The Bears only chance to win was if they scored on a return of some type. Dungy may have figured that at that point in the game, the Colts really only needed 6 more points to insure a win. So he took three of them right away. I've often said, I'm easier on FGs than punts, because you need points whereas punts are by definition a turnover. Still, it makes for interesting debate.


Andy said...

Someone tell the Colts to get that ZEUS software, fast. We have the best offense and the worst special teams in the NFL. We can't even kick short field goals this year. 4th and 20 should be the only time our kicking team sees the field.

Bob M. said...

Amen, brothers and sisters. But did you read the coach comments in the article--in corporate Amercia, they'd be out on their asses in no time. Frightening head-in-the-sand fear of innovation. "I don't want to be the only guy doing it." "Not in my lifetime..." If they were forced to make a choice between wearing a skimpy cocktail dress on the sidelines (NFL-approved of course) or even consider using a serious analytical tool to refine their decision making, I am not sure what most coaches would choose.

Salesman: Boss, we have this gizmo called a desktop personal computer. With this, your staff will never need carbon paper, wite-out, or the old mimeograph machines. You can fix 20 typos in a 40 page document in a minute.

Boss: Not in my lifetime.

Anonymous said...

I have no trouble agreeing with the contention that NFL coaches (and most football coaches) fail to accurately play percentages (going for two is an example where they aren't conservative enough).

The problem with this computer and similar programs (see e.g. a prof out at Berkeley with one) is that they have to use oranges to compare with apples. They use 3d and short situations to predict 4th and short outcomes. The have to do so because there just aren't many 4th and short situations in reality.

The other problem is that these programs (usually) assume that all offenses and all defenses are equal to the NFL average. That's a huge shortcoming. Colts fans who know how incredibly bad the Colt offensive line was at getting a short yardage push over the last few years can attest that decisions made on the basis of an average line would have been a complete disaster.


DZ said...

From what the article indicated, the program does take stregths and weaknesses of the teams into account.