Redskins and Two-Point Conversions: The Math Geek
Ok, the final two-point conversion item of the week, but having already published Jim Zorn's feelings and his players' gut instincts about going for two, I finally went to the two-point guru himself, offensive assistant Chris Meidt, the man in Jim Zorn's ear for much of the game, and the man with the BA in mathematics and the MBA in information decision sciences.
Like I said earlier, a friend of mine wanted to know exactly how much statistical analysis was going into these decisions, and how much of it was Zorn just blindly reading off a chart. So I asked Meidt to describe what their in-game two-point conversion conversations are like. Not blind, is the short version.
"I just threw out the scenarios," Meidt said. "It's his decision, he's the head guy, I just throw out the scenarios: Here's the scenario: we take one, we go up by 13, a field goal puts us up by 16, that's still two scores. If we can get two here and a field goal, now we can go up by three scores. If we take the point here and they score, we're only up by six. If we take the point here and they get a field goal, we're up by 10. And so it's really all the different quick scenarios that I'm trying to lay out for him, so he can decide what he feels is gonna happen."
When Meidt coached at St. Olaf, he actually came up with his own version of The Chart, because he found the standard one unsatisfactory. Why? Because, he said, The Chart doesn't account for the other team continuing to score. Zorn still uses The Chart, but after every applicable touchdown Meidt gets in his ear. He likes an aggressive approach and thoroughly wanted to go for two against the Lions, and so I asked if he convinced Zorn to pull the extra-point team off the field.
"You know, in all this stuff it's just ongoing dialog," Meidt said. "I don't know if convinced is the right word. I just try to lay out the data, lay out the scenarios so that he has really the best informed decision he can make.
"I'm a math guy. That's what I do. I go through the scenarios, I go through the numbers, they make sense to me, and that's what he appreciates, I think. I just lay them out for him. I don't try to convince or connive, I'm just saying, 'Here's the data.' I've been the head coach for six years, I understand the pressure of that decision. He's got to decide what makes sense.
"What we just felt was our defense was coming on and was playing pretty good, we felt like we had a chance to get a three-and-out. We get a three-and-out at that point and get a field goal, it's over. Turn out the lights at eight minutes, it's done. That didn't happen, they came down and scored, and even that I think validated why it was a good decision to go for two. They came down and got a touchdown, ok? Well if we had gone for one and been up by 13, they get a touchdown and now we're only up by six. We get stopped, they score, they beat us by one, that one point did us no good.
"So going for two helped us I think in two cases: one, our chance to extend the lead and really put the game out of reach, but secondly, IF we have a meltdown and they go down and score a touchdown, we get stopped, they score a touchdown, had we converted, it'd still be a tie game."
You'll also note that, in his explanation above, Meidt placed great importance on the possibility of going up by 17. Everyone I've talked to assumed that you go for two in that situation to get the two-touchdown lead, but for Meidt, that was "absolutely" secondary to the chance to get to 17.
"The idea of going up by 14 at that point means if you can get a three-and-out, get the ball back, a field goal puts you up by three scores, and really puts the game out of reach, because they're not gonna get three more possessions," he said. "That's really the fundamental principle: getting to 14 so you can get to 17, ok? I'm always looking at how you get up by three scores.
"If you're gonna be aggressive, if you're gonna be the aggressor, you're looking at getting up by three scores. So that's why the numbers nine and 17 are so critical: nine puts you up by two scores, 17 puts you up by three scores."
For all his math love, Meidt still wouldn't necessarily advocate Chart orthodoxy; "It's just data, that's all it is," he said. "You have to still make your own decision from the data."
We'll have to complete this conversation some other day, but I was also curious how often math could figure in to the job of an NFL offensive assistant, especially on a staff where the defensive coordinator has bragged about ignoring statistics.
"Every day," Meidt said. "I mean, every day. Because what we do is all based on a system: how you break your opponent down, what you're looking for, being systematic really in how we approach our offensive plan. Very much so. For us, it's not just, 'Hey, how do you feel today?' It has really little to do with feeling. It has everything to do with data and analysis. That's where a math background, I think, comes in [handy] in the world of football, because it IS so complex."
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