Dumb Coach, Smart Player, and A Little Probability Theory
In the span of about 3 hours yesterday afternoon, I saw one individual, a head coach, do something that ensured that his team was more likely to lose and another individual, a running back, do something that gave up a small amount of glory in return for a guaranteed victory.
First, the coach. And, yes, I mean you Ravens head coach Brian Billick. The situation, the 0-13 Dolphins lead the Ravens by 3 in the final seconds. The Ravens have a fourth down, 18 inches from the end zone. If they elect for the FG, they have less than a 50% of winning. Why? Well, the odds of winning in OT are 50/50 (or probably 49/49 with about a 2% chance of a tie) and there is also the slight risk that the FG is missed (say 1%). So a team that attempts the FG will win slightly less than half the time. What are the odds, however, of scoring from a yard and a half out. I guarantee you that they are better than 50/50. Of course, what does Billick do? Kick the FG and, thank you statistical gods, lose in OT. He took the "safe" approach which is actually more high risk. But at least the Ravens are 4-9.
Contrast that with Brian Westbrook. With the Eagles ahead 10-6 against the Cowboys, Dallas out of time outs, and about 2:20 left in the game, Westbrook breaks free from the Dallas 25 and is about to score a TD to put the Eagles up 17-6. But instead, Westbrook falls at the 1 yard line, enabling the Eagles to simply take three knees to end the game. By stopping at the 1, Westbrook ensured the Eagles would win. (Unless they decided to run a play, and I was at the Joe Pisarcik game.) If he scored, however, Dallas would have had a chance, albeit a slim one to come back with a TD, two point conversion, onside kick, and FG to tie. Sure, the odds would have been long, but I'll take a 100% chance of victory over 99.8% any day of the week. I have commented on this situation for years, and once, in a college game, I saw a team lose because they scored a TD that they didn't need. So my heroes of the weekend: Brian Westbrook and Jon Runyon, the Eagles tackle who told him what he should do if he broke into the clear. And I am pleased that the press ultimately realized how smart a move it was although many were at first confused.