Bill Belichick is smarter than you

For the sake of simplicity, I just made up some numbers that seemed pretty reasonable to me, and hopefully to you as well. As you can see, this is not at all a straight-forward decision:

Colts scoring from their own 30 = 30%
Colts scoring from the Pats’ 30 = 70%
Pats making a 4th and 2 = 70%

So if they punt the ball the Colts have a 30% chance to win. But if the Pats go for it, the Colts have a (100%-70%)*70% = 21% chance to win.

Since I am generally an anti-punting zealot, the amount of people who called Belichick’s decision the “worst coaching decision ever” sort of annoys me. Not just that people like Mike Francesa or Tom Peretti disagree, but that they consider it the worst decision in the history of NFL coaching strategy. NFL coaches tend to make gutless punting decisions as it is, and I fear that this reaction will only serve to augment that trend.
If you ask me, the worst coaching decision ever happened in the 2007 AFC Playoff game between Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, when Mike Tomlin went for a 2-point conversion from the 12-yard line, after a holding penalty on the previous attempt, with the score 28-23 Jaguars. After failing to convert and getting the ball back, Pittsburgh was compelled to go for two again after scoring a touchdown to make the score 29-28: this attempt also failed. Because they went for two on back-to-back touchdowns, the initial decision ended up costing the Steelers two points instead of just one. Needless to say, the final score was Jacksonville 31, Pittsburgh 29.

In conclusion, Bill Belichick is smart, whereas Mike Tomlin is dumb.

Three things here. I was discussing with DC Hero, an avid pats fan, who makes a couple good points:

“All the talking heads are focusing on the decision to go for it, which is the usual nonsense. If you know you’re going for it on 4th down, you run the ball on 3rd down–end of story. Make the colts use their last timeout. Instead, you throw the ball, then YOU use a timeout. [Then] they flank out faulk, and he is in press coverage with a safety.”

Agreed on all accounts. The clock management was bad, the 4th down play was iffy, and the pats had numerous chances to put the game away before that. Belichick certainly made his share of mistakes, just not with regard to this decision.

Now there are two common lines of arguments I’ve been hearing that I find sort of dumb:

“What message does this call send to your defense, that they can’t stop Manning?”

This is a very wishy-washy argument to me. So because Belichick trusts his offense and respects Peyton Manning, now the Pats’ defense will be moping around the field, too emotionally scarred to tackle or cover people? Give me a break. Football is about winning games, not being nice to people.

“Maybe this strategy works in Madden, but not the NFL.”

If there’s any team that makes you think you’re watching a game of Madden, it’s the Patroits. They scored 59 points against Tennessee for crying out loud. And are 4th downs really harder to convert in the NFL than Madden? Has this been studied? On the contrary, ESPN columnist Bill Simmons likes to talk about how NFL coaches should have a Madden-playing teenager on the sidelines, because they usually make better two-minute drill decisions. I would tend to agree with him.

**UPDATE 2**
No I did not plagiarize Joe Posnanski. Clearly this is a case of great minds thinking alike. But go ahead, side with Peter King (the subject of previous Quality Prose) and Trent Dilfer if you prefer.


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