Friday, November 27, 2009

Why Gary Kubiak is an ass

I've been watching coaches do the stupid center-the-ball strategy at the end of a game, for long field goals, for my whole life. It's as dumb now as it was when I was eleven or twelve years old and first learned how to use the arctangent function. If you're really, really close to the goal, with a chip-shot field goal, then it might be remotely defensible to center the ball. But the further out you go, the less difference it makes whether you're in the middle or on the hash. It's really very simple geometry. Of course, I may not have done it accurately because today we discovered not only clayuda (which was a big hit, and now I have six things I can cook), but also -- after a day spent watching college football and cooking, both of which activities require copious consumption of beer -- we broke out something I had never seen until this year, namely, pumpkin eggnog. That was good, but of course every glass of eggnog is legally required to contain plenty of rum in it. And now we're all out of pumpkin eggnog. So, um, maybe I didn't do the math right just now. But you can go do it yourself and prove my point for me, if you want. (You could do it more rigorously than I did by taking into account the fact that a pro kicker is never going to be so incompetent as to kick the ball at an angle of, say, forty-five degrees off of straight; if you estimated the number of degrees that represent the window within which a pro kicker would kick the ball 99% of the time, and then take the percentage of that window that would go between the uprights, and then apply the cumulative normal distribution function to figure out the percentage of kicks that would...oh, you do the real math. I'm just trying to have a good excuse to say I'm smarter than an NFL coach here; I don't need the real answer.)

Say you're on the three-yard line and about to kick a field goal from the ten. That's a twenty-yard field goal, which is about as short as you can ask for as a kicker. If you're on the hash mark, then you have a 17.14° window to hit. If you're in the exact middle of the field, then you have...well, you have a 17.53° window to hit. Lookie there, you increased your target size by 2.3%. Woo-hoo!

But now let's say you're looking at a forty-five-yard field goal (the Texans, on Monday night, missed on a 47-yarder to lose the game). From either hash, you have a target that is 7.80° wide; from the exact middle of the field, your target is 7.84° wide. You have just picked up an extra 0.04° of target, which is to say, you've increased your chances of success by 0.47%. That means that your move will give you one extra made field goal every...two hundred and fourteen tries. [In my best sarcastic Ron White voice] Con-gra-tu-la-tions.

/sarcasm on
Amazingly, that extra 0.04° of target space was not enough to rescue Kris Brown's wide-left 47-yarder to win lose the game.
/sarcasm off

But what if you were to pick up five yards -- even staying on the hash mark? What do you do to your target space by moving your kicker even five yards closer? Well, going from forty-five yards to forty, your target grows from 7.80° to 8.76° -- you just increased your odds of success by 12.32%. Let's see, should I pursue a strategy that increases my odds by 0.47%, or one that could increase them by 12.32%? I'm Gary Kubiak, so this is a no-brainer -- let's go for the 0.47%!

And what if I managed to complete a ten-yard pass to the middle of the field (since I still have a time-out), rather than a five-yard out? Why, then my target increases to an arc of 10.07° -- which is to say, now I'm increasing my odds by 29%!

Let me repeat that:


Let's see, should I pursue a strategy that would make the difference between losing and winning one time out of every about two hundred attempts, or one that makes that same difference about once every three kicks? I'm Gary Kubiak, so this is a no-brainer -- let's go for the one-in-two-hundred shot!

I know Kubiak would say that he centered the ball because he was afraid of a sack or a turnover or something else bad happening, which is to say, because he trusts his quarterback and offensive line to lose games, when given the opportunity, rather than to win them. I know this, because it's what Kubiak actually did say, or at least was quoted by the Chronicle as saying. But considering that taking the snap and running a sneak to center the ball increases your chances by less than one-half of one percent, why do you run the play at all? Why take the chance of a fumbled snap, or a false start? Why not just kick the field goal on third down and be done with it?

Here, let me make it easy for you. As soon as Kubiak decided to center that ball on third down instead of trying to run a quick high-percentage pass downfield to pick up an extra five or ten yards, he deserved to lose the game. Because it was a stupid, stupid, stupid decision. Just like it has been every time I've watched a coach make that same decision for the last forty or so years.


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