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Statistical analysis: When should a coach take points off the board?

Statistical analysis

Should a football team ever take its own points off the board? Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan did exactly that in Sunday's 13-7 win against Dallas, and without the epic hold Alex Barron put on Brian Orakpo, it would have been the most talked-about topic in town Monday.

With the Redskins up 10-0 with 10:29 remaining in the third quarter, Graham Gano kicked a 36-yard field goal. Dallas was flagged for offside, and Shanahan decided to accept the first down. As fate would have it, the Cowboys' defense held, and the Redskins muffed the snap on the subsequent field-goal attempt.

Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote that had Washington lost, the game "would have been blamed on a decision by the Redskins to take three of their own points off the board in the third quarter."

Some might say it was a bad decision, because the Redskins came away empty handed and they nearly lost by a single point. But that would be hindsight, and Shanahan's decision should be judged based on the facts on hand at the time.

A concept known as "expected points," computed using several seasons' worth of NFL drives, can measure the point value of various down-and-distance situations on the field. For example, a first and goal on the one is worth about 6 expected points, because it's a near certainty the offense will score a touchdown in that situation. (With a first and goal from the 1, teams score touchdowns just more than 86 percent of the time, and come away with field goals another 9 percent of the time.)

A first down at an opponent's 40 is worth about 3 expected points to an offense because, on average, they will end up with a field goal on the drive.

A few more examples:

*First and 10 from a team's own 15-yard line is zero expected points. In other words, it's the neutral point where each team is equally likely to score next.

*First and 10 at midfield is worth about 2 expected points, but if the offense is stuffed for no gain or throws an incomplete pass, second and 10 at midfield is worth 1.5 expected points.

*On third and 10 at midfield, it becomes 0.8 expected points.

Toward the end of close games, it often makes sense to keep the points on the board to tie or take the lead. Game situation in terms of score and time remaining can be critically important in the end game, but this wasn't the case on Sunday night.

By accepting the penalty and taking the points off the board, the Redskins had a first and 10 at the Dallas 12. This is worth 4.6 expected points, clearly more than a field goal, so Shanahan made the right call.

Brian Burke is the author of Advanced NFL Stats. He has a BS in aerospace engineering and an MS in management and leadership. After spending 15 years in the Navy, most of them as an F/A-18 carrier pilot, Brian has taken up the less dangerous hobby of advanced NFL statistics. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

By Brian Burke  |  September 16, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Statistical analysis  
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Next: Kareem Moore practices in pads, Haynesworth ailing

Comments

From a previous post:

So, catch them Razorbacks, watch R Mallet and dream of him in burgandy n gold.

'Cuz he won't be in those colors next year.

Posted by: MistaMoe | September 16, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Moe - speaking of next year's draft, how great would it be to draft Michigan QB Denard Robinson -- as a RB. He's the same build and weight as the Titan's Chris Johnson and is a sprinter on Michigan's track team too. Yes, he's a QB now, but he's basically a RB in disguise, taking the direct snap and running out of the backfield.

Posted by: quinn3 | September 16, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

I thought it was the right call, too. Thank goodness it didn't cost us the game. One of the many things that were overcome Sunday night.

Posted by: NateinthePDX | September 16, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

What no one is talking about Tea Partiers, how Obama is really a muslim-communist in disguise, how the BP spill was Bush's fault?

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | September 16, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Of course it was the right call, I don't know how this is even a question. Even if you don't gain another yard, even if you TAKE another penalty, you're still looking at another FG attempt of less than 40 yards, which NFL teams will convert 80% of the time.

It just happened to be that 5% of the time that a FG gets muffed. It happens.

Posted by: Rypien11 | September 16, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Moe - speaking of next year's draft, how great would it be to draft Michigan QB Denard Robinson -- as a RB. He's the same build and weight as the Titan's Chris Johnson and is a sprinter on Michigan's track team too. Yes, he's a QB now, but he's basically a RB in disguise, taking the direct snap and running out of the backfield.
Posted by: quinn3 | September 16, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

____________________________

Can you say WILDCAT?

Posted by: tony325 | September 16, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Does JR ever respond to any of these posts? Just curious if he would or if we should just assume he's sitting in his chair rubbing one out to the pics of Tom Brady that have been adorning this blog for so long I am almost dying to get the Ray Lewes photo put back up.

Posted by: No_Punt_Intended | September 16, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Brian Burke's statistical analysis didn't play well in Ashburn.

(I like this new feature. Nice change of pace. And thanks for your service, Brian.)

Posted by: freakzilla | September 16, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Can you say WILDCAT?

Posted by: tony325 | September 16, 2010 2:41 PM |

I thought we stopped talking about that dumb c*nt reporter.

Posted by: No_Punt_Intended | September 16, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

CTF on! It was still early in the game and they received a 1st down. If anything. Armstrong's hands should be examined....

Posted by: 4thFloor | September 16, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Of course it was the right call. But this whole analysis is stupid. Expected value is determined by the long run probabilities/frequencies, and in the long run we're all dead. The main factor in the decision is determined by your risk strategy. Naturally this becomes more prominent further into the game.

I hate commentators that always talk about how you should never take points off the board as a rule, except for the fact that every case where this comes up is an exception to that rule.

Posted by: parkerdn2000 | September 16, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Zorn would have run the swinging gate unsuccessfully with Dallas taking it the other way on a pick for six.

How would that math add up?


Thank god that era can be banned from the history books only to live in infamy through the night terrors of those who witnessed it.

Posted by: Devo2 | September 16, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

"Vincent Jackson only to sit out one game if traded due to roster exemption rule"...

Posted by: RedDMV | September 16, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Hope the Redskins put up 42 expected points on sunday!

Posted by: PlayAction | September 16, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Everyone scroll up for a second and take a look at that guy who is telling us about football do's and dont's.

I rest my case.

Posted by: No_Punt_Intended | September 16, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

OF course you accept the first down...

josh bidwell is a stinky punter and place holder... and he almost cost us the game.

4thfloor is correct.. Armstrong should've caught the first fade pass by McNabb anyway... he had both hands on it. it would've been 17-0 and a completely different game. but the past is the past and thank god it didn't cost us. but yes, of course is was the right decision to accept the offside penalty...

Posted by: rachel216 | September 16, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

About the previous thread about the Clinton Portis / Haynesworth skit...

In contrast to Reid, Lindsay Czarniak called it "highly entertaining".

http://api.twitter.com/lindsayczarniak/status/24688184508

Posted by: JohnnyRyde | September 16, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

For what it's worth, as a working media, uh, stiff...I thought Portis reaction to "Packagegate" today was very funny.

Posted by: 4-12 | September 16, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Maybe it was "highly entertaining" to Lindsay because she was "excited" to be in a lockerroom with 1/2-nude men.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | September 16, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

NPI, maybe you didn't read the part on why we need to listen to him:

"Brian Burke is the author of Advanced NFL Stats. He has a BS in aerospace engineering and an MS in management and leadership. After spending 15 years in the Navy, most of them as an F/A-18 carrier pilot, Brian has taken up the less dangerous hobby of advanced NFL statistics."


He has two degrees and was in the Navy. You BETTER listen to that man!


On a side note, what does it take to create and have a high traffic blog? I wouldn't have to do any real investigating or reporting. I could cut and paste just like these jackholes from WaPo. I'd rarely give my analysis about on the field and just mainly report the story and give my analysis on it.

Sort of like PFT, but without the rumor mongering.

Posted by: RedDMV | September 16, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

The only NFL Coach that wouldn't have taken the points off the board would be Wade Phillips, and that's only if Jerry pulled the puppet string not to.

Posted by: monk811 | September 16, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Great Analysis. We need more articles like this. But there has to be a significant statistical difference between the leagues elite offenses and an offense as unreliable as the Redskins have had for many years now? First and 10 at the opponets' 12 is great for the Colts or the Saints. But for the Redskins, does anyone actually feel like a touchdown is inevitable with first & 10 from the 12?

Posted by: sufferingskinsfan1 | September 16, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Devo,

I think that the NFL statisticians as well as Mr. Burke have eliminated all 2008-2009 Redskins season stats from the equation when they figure out these mean averages/pts expected formulas.

To not do so would contaminate an otherwise admirable study.

Posted by: WaitingGuilty | September 16, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Listen, the way that dooshbag Doogie Howser feels everything can be statistically predicted, no games need to be played - ever. None of us need to do anything because our futures are all mapped out mathematically.

See if he can calculate the odds of himself actually getting laid. That number could crash NORAD.

Posted by: No_Punt_Intended | September 16, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Points were at a premium...and the Redskins were pitching a shutout...I don't care about expected points...what about expected turnovers in the red zone...or expected block field goals...take the points!

Posted by: PlayAction | September 16, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

In a offseason where the Skins could have got Brandon Marshall, Santonio Holmes, and Tj who'syourmomma. I think they should dash out the goods for Vincent Jackson. It was clear to me that, the only thing keeping our offense from being really good, is a good 2nd string reciever. Tana will become that with a big VJ. Tana will also be able to move into slot when Armstrong or Devin Wild child comes on the field. I think we get VJ and trash Galloway. We will have VJ ready to go, when we play the Packers OCT. 10th.

Posted by: roccoskins | September 16, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

On a side note, what does it take to create and have a high traffic blog? I wouldn't have to do any real investigating or reporting. I could cut and paste just like these jackholes from WaPo. I'd rarely give my analysis about on the field and just mainly report the story and give my analysis on it.

Sort of like PFT, but without the rumor mongering.

Posted by: RedDMV | September 16, 2010 3:02 PM

Build it and we will come, Red. Build it and we will come.

Posted by: stevek20147 | September 16, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/sports/After-Locker-Room-Hubub-CP-Is-Once-Bitten-Tape-Shy-103064304.html

Sorry if it's a repost...notice who asked the questions. haha, J Reid got punked!

Posted by: oh_boy1 | September 16, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: JohnnyRyde | September 16, 2010 2:53 PM

Reid clearly was a little salty. Did you hear his sarcastic "Thanks guys. Really appreciate it" at the end? You can't make hay of guy sticking his foot in his mouth then get mad when he decides to censor himself.

Posted by: learnedhand1 | September 16, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

NPI, maybe you didn't read the part on why we need to listen to him:

"Brian Burke is the author of Advanced NFL Stats. He has a BS in aerospace engineering and an MS in management and leadership. After spending 15 years in the Navy, most of them as an F/A-18 carrier pilot, Brian has taken up the less dangerous hobby of advanced NFL statistics."


He has two degrees and was in the Navy. You BETTER listen to that man!

Posted by: RedDMV | September 16, 2010 3:02 PM

Pardon my yawn.

Posted by: No_Punt_Intended | September 16, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Adam Scft. is reporting the chargers have a time frame to trade VJ from 4pm Friday - 4pm Wednesday in order for VJ to only miss an additional 1 game. If not traded by then he will miss 6, traded or not.

LETS GET IT DONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: roccoskins | September 16, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Coulda woulda shoulda, and if Haynesworth didn't make so many trips to the buffet line or eat so much Kung Pao Chicken his azz wouldn't be so big! Can't people just congratulate us for a tough win instead of listing why we hypothetically could have lost?

Posted by: monk811 | September 16, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

From RI Blog Owner

mistamoe/gimmesummoe

We are sorry to inform you that we are not considering you or any other regular blogger for our proposed REDSKIN Fanblog as, well, y'all suck.

And in place of said blog, we've offered a slacksidaisical bean counter who lacks the rudeness, sarcasm, snarkiness, knowledge of booty, racist/sexist views, and penchant for po' gramma so many of the people who enjoy this forum crave.

In other words, we figured you apes would keep posting anyways, so why even carry on like we really wanted to give you a forum to speak directly to the people.

Please find something else to do while at your job during the day.

Please refrain from submitting some poorly crafted response while surfing the few porn sites you can access while at work.

Please give up the business of posting under some other screen name and arguing against yourself like a schizo-early Robin Williams internet freak.

In fact, given the poor quality of your posting, we hope you spend more time doing what we don't: getting our job done.

We hope both you and the Washington Redskins enjoy a wonderful season.

And, above all, we hope you go annoy some other blog with your coffee-fueled rants.

RI Blog Owner

Posted by: MistaMoe | September 16, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Poop In Pants

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | September 16, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/sports/After-Locker-Room-Hubub-CP-Is-Once-Bitten-Tape-Shy-103064304.html

Posted by: oh_boy

In Reid's 'My anus hurts 'cuz I just got butt fu_ked' voice: "You guys should take that act on the road, it was very funny."


And what was his deal putting his hand on Portis' shoulder? Is that his way of asking him to 'Please answer my questions or my wuttle feelings would be hurt and I'll go cry to my blog'?

Reid = Media hack rumor mongering deuchetip

That piece of road kill on the ground is you face, Jason. Feel free to pick it up now.

Posted by: RedDMV | September 16, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Hey Poopy, how does it work? When you poop, do you poop in Albert_Haynesworth's pants also or just your own? People with Multiple Personality Disorder are so confusing!

Posted by: monk811 | September 16, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Moe...can you get me a list of those work-accessible porn sites?

Posted by: PlayAction | September 16, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Poopy is being framed monk...

and Hessone is the one behind it...

Book it

Posted by: PlayAction | September 16, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

I respectfully disagree DeAngelo...as you will see this weekend...Anthony Armstrong is the best receiver in the league.

Posted by: PlayAction | September 16, 2010 2:37 PM

WRONG!!!! Marko Mitchell is the best receiver in the league.

Posted by: HokiesSkins | September 16, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

who is the blonde with the sunglasses on her head in that NBCWashington clip....she shows up 44 seconds into it...that is a VERY attractive woman...

Posted by: BeantownGreg1 | September 16, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Actually, now that I've watched the tape, I think even LESS of Reid than before....I know..."Bear drive car? how can this be?"

He tries to write in the blog that this was not funny, and unprofessional, and he comes across offended and put off that Portis did not use the opportunity to apologize AGAIN...."Didn't play well etc."

On the tape, he seems complicit with the skit, buddy-buddy back pats, laughing, taking the tape off himself..."You should take this show on the road...Ha ha ha"

No sack to actually confront the players in person...Reid you are the worst. A terrible reporter lacking in any type of conviction or integrity. At least when you are wrong, stand firm, don't play along like you did and then condemn them after the fact.

Maybe I'm being to harsh, but really, every other account from those present was that this was funny...Reid, please leave on your own terms, we can't take you any more.

Posted by: WaitingGuilty | September 16, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

"Of course it was the right call, I don't know how this is even a question. Even if you don't gain another yard, even if you TAKE another penalty, you're still looking at another FG attempt of less than 40 yards, which NFL teams will convert 80% of the time.

It just happened to be that 5% of the time that a FG gets muffed. It happens. "

What happens the other 15% of the time?

Posted by: zimbar | September 16, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Pardon my yawn.

Posted by: No_Punt_Intended | September 16, 2010 3:17 PM


Wow, what an a-hole. That's too bad.

Posted by: freakzilla | September 16, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

If I had really good writing skills and had put my bid in to freelance as a contributor to a WaPo blog, I'd say "Siiiiike! and "NO THANKS!" and just start my own.

WaPo has been sucking Whoopi's asscrack now for the last few months and I think they're only going to get worse. I wouldn't have my name on anything with these brain dead hacks involved. Colleagues with Jason Reid? Sally Jenkins? Mike Wise? I would be able to feel the scum building up in my eyes by the second.

Posted by: RedDMV | September 16, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I was told there would be no math.

Posted by: No_Punt_Intended | September 16, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

playaction

"...can you get me a list of those work-accessible porn sites?"

The computer based ones are okay.

But I want one like what the jets players have at their job:

attractive big booty scantily clad, Mexican female sports reporter in NFL locker room: Gentleman, I'm here to do my job.

naked jets' football players: Boy, are we glad you're here.

This summer, it was all about "Hard Knocks".

With you here, we're just hard.


Posted by: MistaMoe | September 16, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

What happens the other 15% of the time?

Posted by: zimbar | September 16, 2010 3:38 PM


The other 15% of the time, it works every time.

Posted by: freakzilla | September 16, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

LOL! Whoever this dude is pictured on the article looks like a young John Clayton and is sporting quite the toupee!

Posted by: ga8085 | September 16, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Taking the field goal at that point and not the first down is equivalent to playing not to lose. You are up 10-0 and have the opportunity for 1st and 10 at the 12, you take those points off in a heartbeat and go for the jugular. If we score a TD and are up 17-0 at that point, the Girls probably fold up the tents. At the very least, with a veteran QB, you would expect to still be able to get the 3 points. We didn't in this instance, but the possible reward made it worth the risk.

Posted by: HokiesSkins | September 16, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Pardon my yawn.

Posted by: No_Punt_Intended | September 16, 2010 3:17 PM


Wow, what an a-hole. That's too bad.

Posted by: freakzilla | September 16, 2010 3:38 PM |

F u c k y o u a s s h o l e !

Posted by: No_Punt_Intended | September 16, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

beans, I can't make out who that is. It ain't Lindsay Czarniak nor Kelli Johnson and they are the two most attractive and real sports/anchors in the area. Both are as knowledgeable as they are good looking.

Posted by: RedDMV | September 16, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Bench Galloway- Start Armstrong/Thomas/Moss

We win big this weekend!

McNabb has a great game.

Posted by: iH8dallas | September 16, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

red, thanks....she's got a beautiful face...

Posted by: BeantownGreg1 | September 16, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

beeps

Posted by: stevek20147 | September 16, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Oh yeah, and the defense clobbers the Texans.

Posted by: iH8dallas | September 16, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Points were at a premium...and the Redskins were pitching a shutout...I don't care about expected points...what about expected turnovers in the red zone...or expected block field goals...take the points!

Posted by: PlayAction | September 16, 2010 3:10 PM

That's weak sauce. Gibbsian. Only a pansy would turn down a first and 10 on the 12 yard line with a 10-0 lead.

That's not playing to win, that's playing not to lose.

We ended up with 1st and goal on the 5 and SHOULD have ended the game there, except we called 3 dumb plays in a row and then screwed the pooch.

95% of the time, we would walk away with at least a 13-0 lead anyway, if not more.

Posted by: Rypien11 | September 16, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

coming soon from beltbuckle buddies entertainment. two black men disguised as indians and lost in Texas. Clinton Portis as Sherriff gonna getchya and Albert Haynesworth as cheif wanna watch from sideline,......it's Sherriff gonna getchya a doughnut


cheif: we sure killed dem cowboys good sherriff
sherriff: we're not through here yet
cheif: whatd'ya mean sherriff? we done killed the cowboys
sherriff: listen, every cowboy is a texan but every Texan ain't a cowboy you understand? cheif: no
sherriff: anyways wait here I'll be back
cheif: where,..where you goin
sherriff: gonna getchya a doughnut

Posted by: nflorida1 | September 16, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Haynesworth hasn't practiced in two days because of a sprained ankle. Where are you Jason Reid?

Posted by: Black706 | September 16, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

i know wapo being as big as it is runs a sort of a wellfare program for "reporters" but it would be a good day when we don't see jason reid's pic up at the top.

how cool would it be to actually have a good reporter running this blog. once again. even it will mean just for a few months...

Posted by: dealer1 | September 16, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Excellent post! Honestly, I didn't like the last edition of Insider-Squared. But as soon as Shanahan made the call last Sunday to take points off the board I was hoping to see exactly this analysis here. Thanks!!!

Posted by: SkinsFaninCanada | September 16, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

"That's weak sauce. Gibbsian. Only a pansy would turn down a first and 10 on the 12 yard line with a 10-0 lead.

That's not playing to win, that's playing not to lose.

We ended up with 1st and goal on the 5 and SHOULD have ended the game there, except we called 3 dumb plays in a row and then screwed the pooch.

95% of the time, we would walk away with at least a 13-0 lead anyway, if not more."

---------------------------------------

Agreed. It was the right call that just didn't work out.

Posted by: ouvan59 | September 17, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

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