Not So Simple a Decision

In the run up to a Super Bowl a lot of football-related things get discussed.  In Tuesday’s New York Times the decision on whether to kick or go for two got a 2 page discussion:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/sports/football/02fast.html?pagewanted=1&th&emc=th

One thing the article neglected to discuss at all, but that I think has to be a big factor until very late in the game, is the ramifications of going for 2 and failing.  For example, if you were down 11 and score a TD all the charts tell you to go for 2 and get within a field goal.  However, if you fail you are down 5 and if the other team gets a field goal you are down 8 and will have to go for 2 again.  OTOH, if you had kicked the PAT you would only be down 4, their field goal would put you down 7, and you could score and kick the PAT again to tie.  Obviously as you get deep in the 4th quarter you worry less about that, but when there is more than a couple minutes left this sort of consideration matters.

Bottom line is I don’t think you can make that decision based on a chart.  A chart is a crutch that a coach can use to hide behind when a critical media comes calling, but its not the best way to go.  First of all, I would hope a coach can do basic math in his head.  But more to the point, its a decision oftentimes mired in intuition, feel for the game, that sort of thing.  Many things, like how your offense and their defense are playing, the likelihood of more scores being posted in the remaining time, maybe the receiver you would throw the fade to is hurt, or the corner that would cover your receiver on the fade is hurt.  Maybe your kicker or their kicker is hurt or struggling so a tie is more or less palatable.  Maybe a penalty lets you try from the 1 instead of taking it on the kickoff.  And just plain coaching philosophy on whether you are aggressive or go the safer route.  Basically its one of the few decisions a football coach has to make that can be almost like a zillion decisions a baseball manager has to make.  Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

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