I was checking out smart football, and I enjoyed Chris' recent article on underdog strategy (great stuff).
However, Mr. Brown ends his article with some troubling findings, courtesy of the gentlemen over at Advance NFL Stats.
Given the choice between kicking or receiving, conventional wisdom is to always take the ball. The only time you consider kicking is when you defer your decision to the second half, as a strategic tactic. If you use that strategy, then you always elect to receive after halftime.
This is not ground breaking to anyone……you want the ball, unless you can get it later.
What Advance NFL Stats discovered, however, is the team that receives to open a half will actually LOSE a majority of those respective halves.
This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, even challenging that long held, irrefutable tenant of successful football: maintaining possession.
I have only one plausible justification, albeit an anecdotal explanation (and I am wide open to other thoughts).
I'll take the word of this man:
You may recognize this gentlemen (Elmer Layden, Notre Dame Head Coach 34'-41') from a more famous picture from his playing days:
I remember reading "It Was A Different Game: The Elmer Layden Story" when I was in high school (I highly recommend it both for history of the game, and insight into Coach Rockne), and in the chapter where the late coach was espousing his football strategy, he mentioned he often considered a quick kick on 1st down when backed up against his own end zone.
Being 18 and knowing it all, I immediately wrote this off as archaic football strategy from the days of no facemasks and 7-3 thrillers.
Maybe, without the use of the internet and fancy algorithms, Coach Layden knew something we lost………that field position, not possession of the football, is the prime asset.
The average NFL kickoff return nets 22 yards.
If the defense forces a punt inside their opponent's 40, and given an average net punting yardage of 40 yards, then the starting field position for the team who kicked off can be expected anywhere from their own 30 to mid-field, segments of the gridiron where the odds of a drive ending in a touchdown increase substantially.
In short, it is (or may be) better to kick-off and then receive a punt, because of the relative real estate you are afforded in those respective situations.
This also serves to underline the important role garnering explosives plays in stemming the field position tide. If one can complete a 20 yard pass during the drive, and subsequently can punt from their opponent's 40, then they have relieved their burden and placed it on the other team.
Finally, in another fine article from Advance NFL Stats, this dynamic serves to highlight the importance of a player like this.
I don't think it is enough to make me not want the football, although I have some serious rationalizing to do to overcome the weight of these findings.
If anyone has any other ideas, feel free to share.