Guest Post by D’Bickataw Purgaton
*Editor’s Note: The following piece has been slightly edited from its original content.
Ever since the untimely demise of firejoemorgan.com, there has been a void in the world of sports journalism criticism that occasional #FJM marathons on Deadspin are unable to fill. I’m sure other Doritos-eating, mother’s-basement-dwelling mole people like me have attempted to come out of the woodwork to blatantly imitate what the FJM writers were able to do with such humor and eloquence, but failed miserably or just weren’t noticed. Where they failed, I will, well, probably also fail.
I’m sort of mystified that no one aside from Sean Salisbury has noticed that John Clayton sucks, and since Sean Salisbury is more or less illiterate, I guess it’s left to me to carry that torch as well. I may not be as funny as the FJM writers and I may not write for a successful TV show (or any TV show at all, or really anyone who pays significant money for writing of any sort), but the world needs this. Or, at the very least, I need this.
I formed what will one day be described by my official biographer as “the vendetta that defined [my] very existence” by simple chance: I happened upon this horrendous piece of non-information by Clayton. Since the Jets deferred and then lost, there’s only one thing we can expect from Clayton: wild generalizing. It’s called “Deferring doesn’t make sense.”
My latest pet peeve is coaches who defer the opening kickoff after winning the coin toss.
A hypothesis is always a good start to any scientific paper.
Jets coach Rex Ryan and Dolphins coach Tony Sparano are the league’s biggest proponents of the strategy. What I can’t figure out is why. Ryan did it eight times during the regular season and he ended up with the second-lowest first-quarter scoring totals in football.
… And an 11-5 record. And a win against the Colts in the playoffs after Indianapolis won the coin toss and elected to receive.
In the ’10-’11 regular season, the Jets had a 7-3 record when kicking off and a 4-2 record when receiving. So kicking off clearly worked out just fine for them, although certainly not in a statistically significant way.
Screw me sideways.
Miami’s points by quarter this year:
- First: 70
- Second: 72
- Third: 60
- Fourth: 71
If those look like bizarrely low totals to you, well, they are. Miami had the third-worst offense in the NFL this year, which probably had more to do with almost costing Tony Sparano his job than starting slowly. The Dolphins not only started slowly, they also continued slowly and finished slowly. Several NFL teams posted single-quarter scoring totals larger than Miami’s best two quarters combined. Maybe Sparano’s offense playing ineptly for the entire game, pretty much every game, is a little more relevant than whether he elects to kick or receive.
Ryan figures the Jets are playing to their strengths by having their defense on the field at the start of games. Every offensive coach the Jets face has a 15-play script of what he wants to do early. Why give him the chance to run it when you control the action at the beginning of the game by winning the toss?
John Clayton Revelation: NFL offensive coordinators come up with game plans.
Does having the second possession mean you’re going to deviate from your offensive game plan four minutes into the game? If you’re planning to do, for example, what the Steelers were able to do to the Jets in the first half of the AFC Championship — in short, ball control and long drives — are you going to throw out your “script” because you’re down 3-0 or 7-0 in the first quarter?
No. No you’re not. You’re going to run the same plays regardless. No offensive coordinator who values his job is going to abandon his game plan to start heaving the ball 40 yards down the field in an attempt to make a dramatic first-quarter comeback.
I went through the entire season of coin tosses. Teams deferred kickoffs 74 times this season. In 50 of those games, the other team ended up getting points first. The NFL is an offensive league. Why not take the ball and try to score?
The team that gets the ball first tends to score first? NO WAY. Too bad that’s not relevant.
Still, impressive data. (Who keeps track of coin tosses like that?) Conspicuously missing information: What was the deferring team’s record in those games? What was the kicking team’s record this year in all games combined? I don’t know and I’m not going to waste five hours of my life finding out, but I’m willing to bet one whole bag of Doritos that deferring didn’t have any negative effect on the deferring teams’ records, or you’d actually have a number that says it did.
For the Jets’ part, in the 10 regular-season games in which they kicked off (I neither know nor care whether they deferred; the kicking team is the kicking team and the receiving team is the receiving team, no matter who won the coin toss), the other team scored first six times. The Jets still went 7-3 in those games.
To me, the deferred kickoff is like the overuse of the two-point conversion. For years, many coaches tried it in the first half and failed. Some found the failed use of the two-point conversion took points off the board instead of balancing the score.
Going for two is a fairly low-percentage play — it succeeds at a rate of about 40%, to be precise, which means that going for two unless you need to is provably stupid. It’s kind of like sacrifice bunting with your No. 2 hitter. Kicking off at the beginning of a game, on the other hand, changes the distribution of possessions so that you have the possibility of back-to-back possessions before and after halftime, as well as the ball at the beginning of the second half, which is generally considered, you know, the more important half.
Let’s go back to the baseball analogy. It’s generally accepted that the home team in a baseball game has a strategic advantage because it has the last at-bat. You’ll never hear a baseball player say he can’t wait to go on the road so his team can have the chance to score first. Deferring the opening kickoff is very much the same principle as being at home in baseball — you’re giving yourself the last at-bat, in a sense, setting yourself up for the possibility of an extra possession at the end of the game (unless you turn the ball over, but if you’re doing that, you have bigger problems) that — if you have an offense and defense that keep you in the game, which is exactly what those Jets units were built to do — give you the opportunity to drive down the field and tie or win.
By all means, if you have Michael Vick or Peyton Manning at quarterback and it’s bombs away from beginning to end, go for it — receive. If that’s not your game, though, too bad — receive anyway, ’cause if you decide to kick off, you might as well just give up.
In John Clayton’s world, NFL teams that kick off are already losing 1-0.
Deferring the kickoff in order to get the ball at the beginning of the second half is a failed strategy.
Because the Jets lost to the Steelers. If Ben Roethlisberger threw that final pass to Antonio Brown into the ground, the Jets got the ball back and scored to win the game, it would have been a successful strategy. But because the Jets lost, clearly deferring was a failed strategy. When the Jets were 8-3 after kicking off, it was just fine. Lose a game in the playoffs in which you kicked off and it’s now a failed strategy. That’s the kind of brilliant logic that John Clayton brings to the table.
This is all part of a general theme in NFL “journalism” in which every risky strategic move that works is staggeringly brilliant, while every one that fails is horrendously stupid and a failure. The Saints onside kicking to start the second half in last year’s Super Bowl — “one of the greatest coaching jobs in Super Bowl history.”
Unless the Colts recover the kick, in which case he’s an idiot who gambled the Super Bowl on a low-percentage play with a rookie kicker that his team recovered because of a lucky bounce off Mr. Kendra Wilkinson’s hands. If Hank Baskett wasn’t Hank Baskett, Sean Payton wouldn’t be a genius.
If Mark Sanchez’s “fumble” for a TD had been ruled an incomplete pass, the Jets could well be headed to the Super Bowl and deferring would be a smart strategy again.
Screw that, Clayton. You’re on notice.