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Cause and Effect in the NFL

I have been a fan of NFLosophy on Twitter for a long time and now he has a blog.  He has a great post on the myth of balance.

About NFLosophy

I know how it works because I did it. I lived it, although only for a season. I am a former Football Operations Coordinator for an NFL team. I began as an intern for one team and then was an intern for the team that eventually hired me. My job was to manage the day-to-day operations of the team. Essentially, my job was to take all of the non-football related duties and handle them so the coaches and personnel department could focus on the football related duties. It’s a lot of work. I was removed with the football staff when our team had a poor season. It’s simply part of the business.

Here is comments on “balance in football”

The cause is running the football. The effect is winning football games. This logically leads us to the conclusion that maintaining balance and keeping with a solid run game will lead to more wins. This is why you hear analysts and talking heads discuss it all week long leading up to games — “Team A must stick with the run game. They have to stay balanced to win this game.” The stats support the theory — “They’re 3-0 when running the ball 20 times and 1-4 when they run it less than 20. So they need to keep pounding the rock.” If there’s logic involved and the stats support the statement, then it has to be true, right?

Nope. It’s all a lie. Balance is the biggest fallacy in football. It’s an illusion that people logically arrive at because we’re confusing the cause for the effect. Putting the carriage before the horse, if you will. Or more aptly, putting your ass in front of your face.

The cause is winning. The effect is running the football.

Put another way: Winning (or being ahead) is what causes teams to run the football more.

This is why balance is an illusion. Go look at the box scores at the end of games and you’ll typically see that the team who won probably had more “balance” to their playcalling. That’s because when they were leading in the 4th quarter they were trying to drain the clock and ran it 2 out of every 3 downs. After a couple first downs on a couple different series in the 4th quarter, the team that is leading has padded its rushing numbers by somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-15 rushes to 3-5 passes. Before those 2 series, that team could have had twice as many passes as it had runs, but now because of trying to melt the clock, they’re “balanced.”

So what is balance in the football?

To really determine a team’s balance I look at first half rushing and passing attempts. That tells me what a team wanted to try to do. I can take into account the number of called runs and passes along with the effectiveness of each playcall and discern what their intent was for the gameplan. A team who isn’t having a lot of success in yards per carry but is still calling an even amount of runs and passes is a team that is making a concerted effort to stay balanced. If they’re gashing our defense for 6 yards per carry, well then we can just attribute that to their playcaller following the production.

The other team could disregard balance entirely by throwing it 20 times and rushing it 10 in the first half. Coaches try to avoid this because a gap in balance like that allows the other team to adjust their personnel and packages accordingly. Under pass heavy circumstances, a defense can almost assume a pass out of one-back sets. They can switch to nickel, play more coverage, and focus more on pass rush. All of this is why I favor the idea that teams should stick with what is productive until the other team proves is can stop it. Once the opposing team adjusts to a personnel package filled with DBs to stop the pass, then start handing the ball off and gashing them for runs.

Makes sense to me, even if it confuses Phil Simms.

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