How Analytics Are Changing Football
Jarrod Thurman @JarrodChiefsFCS
When the Chiefs played the Raiders on Monday night football on October 10th, the Raiders, who were down 30-23 before the touchdown, scored a touchdown to make it 30-29 before the PAT. Instead of going for the conventional thing and kicking the extra point, they went for a two-point conversion. They failed and lost the game because of it. Why did they make this decision? So-called “analytics”. Point blank, analytics are ruining football and frustrating fans. Some analysts actually defend some of the decisions based on analytics. I’m going to do some analytics on analytics, or at least on that aspect of analytics.
I’m going to start with one of the more controversial decisions, going for a two-point conversion after a touchdown when you were down 7 before the touchdown late in a game. Going back to the 2012 season (including this season), there have been 15 attempts of a 2-point conversion in that scenario, the majority of which come in the past 3 seasons. Teams have only successfully converted only 5 times in that scenario. That is only 33.3%. The Ravens lost two games last year taking this gamble, the image below is the missed catch that cost them the game.
Why do coaches keep attempting something that fails 66.7% of the time? This is where analytics ruins things. Two-point conversions are successful overall anywhere from 49 to 51% of the time (statistics I found vary). One thing statistical analysis people do not take into consideration is game scenario. There is so much more pressure converting a two-point conversion that if you make it, you win, and if you miss it, you lose, then there is converting one to go up by 3 or 7. There’s less pressure going for a two-conversion to tie a game as well because there isn’t another safer option.
One aspect of analytics I’ll give it credit for is it has made coaches more willing to go for it in 4th and short situations when 10/15 years ago a coach wouldn’t have gone for it. In 2021 the league as a whole converted 386 out of 793 4th down conversion attempts for a 48.7% conversion rate. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find data for specific yardage numbers, but it does seem like teams are really successful converting 4th and short, I just don’t have data to back this up. The only time it doesn’t make sense, in my opinion, to go for it on 4th and short is in the first half when you’re on your own side of the field or if you are up by one score late in the game when a punt can pin a team inside the 19.
I’m all for making the NFL exciting, but don’t make it exciting at the cost of the game. Call me old school, but I miss when two-point conversions were only attempted when it makes the game a 3, 7, or 10-point game for the team leading, or when it was done to tie the game for a team that was down 8 before the touchdown. I’m not even a big fan of a team going for two down by 7 when they are struggling that season. Herm Edwards tried that during his last year with the Chiefs in 2008 against the Chargers when the Chiefs were 1-7 and finished 2-14, and I was furious.
After games players act like they’re ok with the two-point conversion decision, but you can tell by they are acting like they didn’t like it, they just don’t want to say it. Players want to win. They know that decision fails more often than it succeeds. NFL kickers so far this year are 94.7% overall on extra points, with the overwhelming majority of kickers only having a single miss or no missed extra points. That just adds another layer of confusion about why teams don’t take the extra point. I’m no mathematician and not a betting man, but I’m pretty sure 94.7% is better than 33.3%.
Look at the two active coaches with the most wins, Bill Belichick and Andy Reid. When I was going through my research, I did not see a single instance of an Andy Reid-coached team or the Patriots going for two in a 7-point game. One could argue they are old-school coaches, but they’ve evolved in other ways, including being more willing to go for 4th and short situations. So my point-blank message for NFL coaches is, KICK THE EXTRA POINT WHEN DOWN BY 7 AFTER SCORING A TOUCHDOWN!
I’m personally willing to accept most of the changes being made to the NFL, but with this one change, I cannot get behind this.
What are your thoughts?