Time to toss out football’s unwritten rules – ESPN

NFL broadcasts and coaching news conferences are full of football proverbs. Very often, these are simply explanations for a why a situation demanded avoiding risk, or at least delaying it. And very often, the numbers — while not perfect — tell us otherwise.

In many cases, these unwritten laws of coaching and game management in football are more a function of history and tradition without a space for self-reevaluation or change, and that’s not acceptable. Teams who spend all week looking for the tiniest little competitive advantages abandon them when given the opportunity to impact a game. That’s a waste, and it’s time for a change.

Let’s run through some of these close scenarios and explain why the traditional method of thinking about them is antiquated. Starting with a classic …

Never take points off the board.

Points are valuable! Of course we want points! And when you have to battle for 60 yards and sweat a questionable kicker narrowly sneaking one through the uprights, the last thing you probably want to do as a coach is do it all over again while running the risk of coming away with no points whatsoever. The possibility of scoring seven points, though, should make three seem a lot less valuable.

There are obvious situations where teams should keep their points — to tie or take the lead in a close game, for one — but early in a game, when the only goal should be to score as many points as possible, coaches need to be open to the idea of pulling the points off the board and sending their offense back onto the field to try to score a touchdown. Given that kickers are better than ever before and turnover rates are at their lowest since 1932, the chances that an offense will take three off the board and end up with zero are slim at best.

Let’s use the expected points model that underpins ESPN’s QBR metrics. Here’s a simple scenario: It’s early in the second quarter of a 7-7 game with league-average offenses and defenses. Your kicker hits a field goal on fourth-and-2, but the defense is offside, giving you a first down if so inclined. Here’s how many points your team would expect to score with a new set of downs from each given yard line:

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