Smart links – 1/5/2010

Hitchens on Orwell on making proper tea. I agree. Also, there’s nothing wrong with some skim milk in hot tea.

- Rich Rodriguez is not dead… yet. If Rodriguez does go, I think, assuming Harbaugh said no, that RichRod would have been safe if not for the disastrous bowl game. But that happened, and Rich Rod is still likely out. Pete Thamel has a (slightly) premature post mortem on the Michigan program.

- More on risk and variance being the ally of the underdog in sports. Very good link, though see also here and here and here for prior work done on this. The upshot is that big underdogs wants higher variance in outcomes, even if it might reduce their overall expected output — i.e. they need to increase the “fat tails” on their chance of winning, even if they might be more likely to get blown out. The practical application of this in football is tricky, as you both need to shorten the game and increase the variance of your offensive output (i.e. get more aggressive). Due to arbitrary choices in how the game clock works, these two things, to an extent, work against each other. I think the question on defense is much tougher, and I do not think more blitzing is necessarily the answer.

- Gravity and Levity suggests installing “dosimeters” in NFL players’ helmets to measure cumulative blows to the head.

- Ohio State wins a wild one over Arkansas.

- Just fall on it! Or don’t?

  • hturner3280

    One of the comments makes a great point that I am sure many coaches fail to reiterate to their players: if it is 4th down or on a blocked punt, you have nothing to gain by just falling on it (unless it is in the end zone). Mallett has consistently come up short in big moments this season (although maybe the game would not have been in doubt had his receivers caught the ball throughout the game). I think he would benefit from another year under Petrino, but I doubt that will happen with all of the uncertainty surrounding the new CBA and rookie salaries.

  • Chris

    I agree. On fourth down the analysis has to change. I’m always shocked by a giant fumble scrum on fourth down, when it’s irrelevant which team gets the ball.

  • Clark

    Relatedly, I cringe when a DB stretches out for an INT on a deep pass on 4th down. Luckily, they mostly aren’t able to catch it.

  • Chase

    Good links on underdog strategies. I agree that blitzing is not necessarily a good underdog strategy, because limiting possessions seems to be the biggest underdog key. People talk about controlling the clock, but that doesn’t make any sense in a vacuum. When Miami held the ball for over three times as long as the Colts in that Monday Night game last year, people talked about how brilliant it was to keep Manning off the field for 45 minutes.

    But the Colts and Dolphins had the same number of possessions in the game, so who cares? The point isn’t to hold the clock, the point is to minimize variance. That’s the real advantage of controlling TOP, but giving up a ton of big plays on defense and having a methodical offense won’t help you win games no matter how great your TOP is.

    So what can an underdog do?

    1) There is one real way to win the all-important possessions battle: control the ball at the end of each half. Combined with other possessions-minimizing techniques, you could end up with 9 possessions to your opponent’s 8 possessions, which is a legitimately valuable edge. If you get the ball with 8 minutes left, it probably makes sense to start thinking about a 2-for-1 with possessions. If you get it with 5 minutes left, figure out if you should go 2-for-1 or if you can drain all 5 minutes. With 3 minutes left, you have to ensure that you have the ball last. Do that in both halves, and you’ve stolen a possession (ideally, scoring a TD with as close to triple zeroes as possible).

    2) Going for it on 4th down is another obvious underdog strategy. In addition to it being a legitimate favorite strategy — going for it on 4th down is the correct play far more often than conventional wisdom dictates, and the correct player is almost always a good favorite strategy — it helps increase variance.

    3) Kicking field goals is almost certainly a loser. Going for it on 4th and G from your opponent’s 10 may not sound like a great idea, but even if you only gain 5 yards, odds are you will prevent the other team from scoring. The more times you can force your opponent to start drives inside their own 10, the better, because research shows that teams are overly conservative in that area. Only in blatantly obvious FG situations should an underdog kick — punting and trying to pin inside the 5 is also a good strategy.

    4) On defense, I think bend but don’t break is the correct strategy. If you can force the opponent to chew up clock and kick a FG, that’s a big win. Chewing up clock conquers all, I think. Once again, the goal should be 9 possessions to 8. Although obviously TOs would be very nice.

    5) On offense, chewing up clock is good but scoring touchdowns is better. I think whatever play is TD-maximizing, whether it’s going for it on 4th down, being run heavy, being pass heavy, being trick-play heavy, whatever, is the goal. A flea-flicker that goes for a 60-yard TD might turn it into a 10-to-9 possessions game, but who cares if you score a TD on that possession?

    6) On offense, I think a modified no-huddle offense following plays where the clock is running is the key. Following a run or completion that lands in bounds (or out of bounds before the clock stops in the final 5 mins), the offense should immediately run up to the LOS to prevent the defense from substituting. Then, they should simply milk the clock for the full 40 seconds (with some variance so defenders can’t time the snap) by doing whatever. Actually calling the play, wasting time, twiddling their thumbs, it doesn’t matter. But preventing defensive substitutions would seem to be a strong underdog strategy.

    7) Special teams would be the overlooked key here. Winning the field position battle, the hidden yardage in football, is an easy way to level the playing field.

  • Melissa Knox

    Come on Manchester, come and get your retro football shirts!

  • Brad

    I have posted this before, but I think the triple option offense fits the bill as a great underdog offense.

    It combines both a running game(to decrease possesions) and a high risk reward offense (to increase variance).

    As I was writing this I thought of the analog on the defensive side. You want to milk the clock but you also want to create variance in your opponents offense. 8 man fronts with 3 deep or quarters coverage with the safeties supporting late combined with zone blitzes probably accomplishes all of that.

    3 deep and quarters are both good against the run and the deep pass but weaker in the flats and intermediate areas. So you force you opponent to pass to increase variance but still don’t give up the big play to make them chew up clock. Zone blitzes also add variance without giving up the big play,