Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Bill Belichick, coach of my beloved New England Patriots, has been pilloried in the media for going for a first down Sunday night on 4th and 2 from his own 29-yard line with a little over 2 minutes remaining while leading the Indianapolis Coats 34-28. It turns out that Belichick was following the advice of UC-Berkeley economics professor David H. Romer, whose paper, Do Firms Maximize? Evidence from Professional Football, makes the statistical case for going for it on 4th down in virtually all situations, including the one facing Belichick:
Figure 4 combines the analyses of kicking and going for it by showing the number of yards to go where the estimated average payoffs to the two choices are equal as a function of the team’s position. On the team’s own half of the field, going for it is better on average if there is less than about 4 yards to go. After midfield, the gain from kicking falls, and so the critical value rises. It is 6.5 yards at the opponent’s 45 and peaks at 9.8 on the opponent’s 33. As the team gets into field goal range, the critical value falls rapidly; its lowest point is 4.0 yards on the 21. Thereafter, the value of kicking changes little while the value of going for it rises. As a result, the critical value rises again. The analysis implies that once a team reaches its opponent’s 5, it is always better off on average going for it.
Indeed, Sports Illustrated wrote about an Arkansas High School football coach who has taken this advice to heart and always goes for it on 4th down; his team has not punted since 2007 (Just Go for It! A Coach's Case for Kicking Conventional Wisdom to the Curb).
- WEEI.com, When It Comes To Fourth Down, Belichick Is Anything But Conventional
- Wall Street Journal, What's So Great About Punting? Belichick's Decision Draws Fire, But Number Crunchers Are in His Corner
- Freakonomics, Bill Belichick Is Great
- ESPN, Bottom Line Is, Bill Belichick Was Right
- Greg Mankiw's Blog, A Rational Loss for Bill Belichick
- Tax Policy Blog, Bill Beleichick as Frederic Bastiat
- Wall Street Journal, It's Time to Man Up on Fourth Down
- Wall Street Journal, Sometimes Gutsy Call Is Safer One
- Wall Street Journal: It's Fourth and Long. Go For It?