Eagles, Patriots both relied on analytics to help them reach the Super Bowl

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Analytics got a bad name in the NFL this season when the Browns went 0-16 and fired Sashi Brown, the G.M. who promised to use an analytics-based approach to building the franchise. But two other NFL teams rely on analytics with much greater success.

Those two teams are the Eagles and Patriots, who both use analytics as a tool in free agency, on draft day, during games and in just about every part of their organization.

The Eagles have been open about their reliance on analytics. As we’ve noted previously, no coach in the NFL is more aggressive about going for it on fourth down than Doug Pederson, and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said during the season that that aggressiveness is tied to the team’s analytics research, which found that the benefits of a fourth-down conversion usually outweigh the costs of failing on fourth down.

The Wall Street Journal quotes Eagles G.M. Howie Roseman as praising Philadelphia’s analytics department, saying, “They give us a clear direction of what they’re looking for and what they want.”

But while the Wall Street Journal article makes clear that the Eagles rely heavily on analytics, it steps wrong by trying to contrast the Eagles with the Patriots, writing that the reputation of analytics in football has suffered because “the best coach in football — the one across the field from Pederson, Bill Belichick — has expressed his disdain for a numbers-heavy approach.”

The reality is that Belichick “has expressed his disdain” for analytics not because Belichick doesn’t believe in analytics, but because Belichick doesn’t believe in letting the rest of the world in on the Patriots’ strategic thinking.

As PFT has noted multiple times, Belichick actually does rely on analytics. One of his most trusted advisors is Ernie Adams, the Patriots’ football research director, who was a municipal bonds trader before spending more than two decades working for Belichick, both in Cleveland and in New England. Many of the methods that sports statistical analysts use are rooted in the same methods used to analyze economic data. Adams understands both, and that makes him valuable to Belichick.

In the NFL draft, Belichick prefers trading down to trading up, and he particularly likes to trade a pick this year for a higher pick next year. That suggests that he’s studied the economic phenomenon of hyperbolic discounting, something football people don’t necessarily know a lot about but that a hedge fund guy like Adams understands.

On the sideline, the most controversial call of Belichick’s career appeared to be influenced by analytics: When Belichick went for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 28-yard line late in a 2009 loss to the Colts, it was the analytics people who said he had made the mathematically correct decision, while most football fans and media members thought Belichick had lost his mind.

Belichick also hired a little-known coach named Matt Patricia in 2004, in part because he liked Patricia’s background as an aeronautical engineering major. Belichick has groomed Patricia to the point where he’s now the Patriots’ defensive coordinator and the Lions’ next head coach, and Belichick likes the fact that Patricia has a mind that can understand high-level statistical analysis.

Yes, Belichick has been known to toss around the line, “stats are for losers.” But that’s a reflection more of the disdain Belichick has for members of the media who use stats to evaluate which players are playing well and which players are playing poorly. Belichick isn’t interested in such stats because his own staff’s film evaluations are far more accurate.

Belichick absolutely is interested in advanced stats, and that interest goes to the very top of the Patriots’ organization. The Patriots’ website once ran a story that said, “You may not find a bigger believer in data and analytics than New England Patriots Owners Robert Kraft.” And Kraft isn’t just talking when he says he believes in analytics: Kraft puts his money behind it with Kraft Analytics Group, a company he owns.

Is Kraft, Belichick, Adams or anyone else on the Patriots making the rounds on Radio Row during Super Bowl week, telling all the world about the analytics insights the team relies on? Of course not. That’s not the Patriot Way. But like the Eagles, the Patriots rely on analytics.

So while it’s easy to scoff at analytics as the approach that got the Browns to 0-16, an honest assessment of analytics would acknowledge that some teams use them successfully. Including both teams in the Super Bowl.

59 responses to “Eagles, Patriots both relied on analytics to help them reach the Super Bowl

  1. Maybe if our Steelers used a more analytical approach, rather than seat of the pants, clown show coaching decisions, we’d have had that 7th SB, and maybe more by now?! 😦

  2. Peyton Manning had 1 TD, 2 INTs and 2 lost fumbles in his two Super Bowl winning games. He played great. Stats don’t tell the truth says the Peyton faithful. LOL. It those two playoff runs he had 5 TDS and 11 turnovers. He earned those rings. The stats are irrelevant says the Peyton faithful. LOL.

  3. That call in the Colts game was the right call. It didn’t take a lot of statistical analysis to know that giving the ball to Manning, either by punt or on downs, usually meant a touchdown.

  4. Bill gets every bit of information possible, and then goes with his gut. He never talks about stats, he talks about working hard every day. That’s the big secret.

  5. Every team uses analytics, look at the mountains of both game and physical stats, the wonderlic, how a team is against the run, release times when under pressure in the red zone in the final 2 mins when down by 6+ points in the rain against a top 10 pass D – on 3rd & long sitiations…

  6. The scoffers I read tend to not understand analytics to begin with. The shortsighted arguments they type out are typically all the proof that I need to come to that conclusion.

  7. Browns used Analytics to pass up on 2 franchise QBs, Eagles use it to help decide when to be aggressive and go for it on 4th down. I think Analytics definitely can help teams. but you have to apply common sense to it unlike the Browns.

  8. Chris Hogan and Rex Burkhead are on the team in large part due to analytics. I think the difference is Belichick uses them to support the case for a player he already likes, whereas teams like the Browns use them to filter players up front and then leave the final decision to a homeless guy.

  9. Analytics is both good and bad. It doesn’t tell you what many thinks it does. It’s a guess, based on trends, none of which mean the next action follows whatever pattern it thinks it sees.

    But it can help.

    Rely on is really a bad word. You don’t rely on analytics. You use them as ways to find things your MIND can think about. Oh I didn’t know this, I’ll look into it. Or that trend really sticks out, ok. I didn’t know they run 100 percent of the time when Carr is under center.

    There’s ways it can help, but it always takes some good grey matter to understand, apply or reject what it is saying.

    That’s always the key.

    You can’t trust it. You have to trust yourself to know whether or not its best to throw it out as garbage.

    Too many people think it’s blueprint to follow. It’s not. That’s what Wall Street crashes and Sashi Brown failures reside.

  10. Duh … if a team has a weak secondary obviously you are going to pass more. Playing against good teams analytics don’t work.

  11. Yes, Belichick has been known to toss around the line, “stats are for losers.”
    ——————–
    That’s the point; stats are not analytics. Stats often belie true performance, real analytics seeks to neutralize the discrepancies that stats alone ignore or even amplify. Analytics are also a tool like anything else, not a silver bullet. Having, oh let’s say, a coach with a lifetime winning percentage under 20% and an owner that forces the front office to draft a QB with as many red flags as touchdowns will overwhelm any analytical model.

    On the other hand, pair analytics with a coach/gm who has an open mind and a teaching mentality and you can wind up gunning for your sixth ring with 18 UDFA’s on the roster.

  12. elmerbrownelmerbrown says:
    February 1, 2018 at 12:04 pm
    Vince Lombardi relied on the power sweep

    Thanks for confirming the rudimentary level of the game in that era.

  13. well, some people don’t need data upfront if you already know what to do.

    the media only thinks this is a big deal for the pats when it is more of a secondary/supportive element to what they do.

    pats managemen secrets vol 1 and vol 2 have been out for over 10 years now. there are your analytics.

    the “why” something the way it is cannot always be derived from the analytics

  14. randy8123 says:
    February 1, 2018 at 12:28 pm
    Yes, Belichick has been known to toss around the line, “stats are for losers.”
    ——————–
    That’s the point; stats are not analytics. Stats often belie true performance, real analytics seeks to neutralize the discrepancies that stats alone ignore or even amplify. Analytics are also a tool like anything else, not a silver bullet. Having, oh let’s say, a coach with a lifetime winning percentage under 20% and an owner that forces the front office to draft a QB with as many red flags as touchdowns will overwhelm any analytical model.

    On the other hand, pair analytics with a coach/gm who has an open mind and a teaching mentality and you can wind up gunning for your sixth ring with 18 UDFA’s on the roster.

    1 0 Rate This

    ————————

    correct. i can have all the data at my disposal, but if you read the analytics wrong whiff on the why the numbers are the why you are, the meaningless.

    obviously the browns have no idea what they are doing, never read pats management secrets vol 1 and vol 2 like most teams who simply refuse to cooy the pats blueprint.

    in fact, i am sure all teams use analytics and in no way should this be a thing.

    our company is obsessed with analytics, over analyze the data and make bad choices, so what good are the analytics if humans misread them?

  15. You don’t need a background in analytics to analyze that fourth and two call.

    Who do you want deciding the football game? Tom Brady and the Patriots future Hall of Famers against the Colts’ scrubs on defense, or Peyton Manning and the Colts’ future Hall of Famers against the Patriots defense, who clearly had nothing left?

  16. Sashi Brown and Co were the right people for Cleveland in building a team. Haslam just needed a GM who could unite analyses with guts. It was Haslam and his ne’er-do-well coach Huey Jackson who ruined the beginning of a special team. As well as the constant dinning and droning of Cleveland’s constantly unhappy football fans, who always wanted what they had not.

  17. Sabermetrics like analytics have no place in a team sport like football.

    Unlike baseball which is a sport of 1v1 matchups disguised as a team sport. Then it works well.

  18. trevor190 says:
    February 1, 2018 at 12:36 pm
    Belichick has expressed his disdain for analytics when it’s done with incomplete information or guesswork (pff). That’s all.

    0 0 Rate This

    ———————-

    i think the disdain is more about bb thinking the numbers do not give you all the answers

  19. The Patriots use analytics to formulate their strategic plans, particularly when it comes to identify players with upside in their system and ensuring ROI on salary cap investments.

    Not to pick on the Steelers or Lev Bell (he is a beast), but the Pats 4-headed running back rotation of Lewis, White, Burkhead and Gilleslie cost them about half of what Bell alone cost the Steelers.

    I think what Belichick bristles at is the misconception that analytics should be relied on to make tactical, in game decisions.

  20. Rodney Harrison said the following about Brady:

    “He’s such a crybaby in practice,”

    “Tom, he’s a very competitive guy, but we used to kick his butt in practice. That’s why I know how to defend him.”

    That’s Belichick’s defense for you. Interesting Brady struggled against Belichick’s defense but Manning had some success against it.

  21. weepingjebus says:
    February 1, 2018 at 12:20 pm
    Chris Hogan and Rex Burkhead are on the team in large part due to analytics. I think the difference is Belichick uses them to support the case for a player he already likes, whereas teams like the Browns use them to filter players up front and then leave the final decision to a homeless guy.
    —–
    Actually I think you meant to say Gilislle and Burkhead. They were the top two productive RB’s in the NFL on a per snap basis last year (2016.)

  22. mmack66 says:
    February 1, 2018 at 12:04 pm
    That call in the Colts game was the right call. It didn’t take a lot of statistical analysis to know that giving the ball to Manning, either by punt or on downs, usually meant a touchdown.
    ————————————————

    This is going to sound like I am a total Pats homer….and I am…BUT…

    It was the right call, and with a correct spot, it WAS a first down.

  23. weepingjebus says:
    February 1, 2018 at 12:20 pm
    Chris Hogan and Rex Burkhead are on the team in large part due to analytics. I think the difference is Belichick uses them to support the case for a player he already likes, whereas teams like the Browns use them to filter players up front and then leave the final decision to a homeless guy.
    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
    Hey don’t blame the homeless guy in Cleveland. Jimmy Haslam wanted to draft Johnny Manziel, instructed his GM to do it and the poor homeless guy was just the fall guy for Jimmy’s bad decision making.

  24. elmerbrownelmerbrown says:
    February 1, 2018 at 12:04 pm
    Vince Lombardi relied on the power sweep

    ————–

    Yeah and your average lineman weighed 200lbs

  25. mayfieldroadboy says:
    February 1, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Sashi Brown and Co were the right people for Cleveland in building a team.
    ——————–

    It remains to be seen if passing on likely franchise quarterbacks and amassing a ton of draft picks is the way to build a team, or not. I think what was missing was someone with some actual football experience that could help make the right decisions.

  26. dodgerlakerfan1969 says:
    February 1, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    Peyton Manning had 1 TD, 2 INTs and 2 lost fumbles in his two Super Bowl winning games. He played great. Stats don’t tell the truth says the Peyton faithful. LOL. It those two playoff runs he had 5 TDS and 11 turnovers. He earned those rings. The stats are irrelevant says the Peyton faithful. LOL.
    ———————

    Everyone knows that Peyton Manning was a playoff choker, but in the regular season, the guy was money.

  27. giving the ball to Manning, either by punt or on downs, usually meant a touchdown

    And that’s true, but because of the way his career ended, when I think of Manning now I only remember hobbled old bum Manning with his wife getting plain brown wrapper packages in the mail.

    Funny how things like that can work.

  28. The Cleveland guys made a mistake in not understanding the weighting of value in certain positions as well as intangibles given that Football is affected more by things like a cohesive team and strong locker room than baseball tends to be.

  29. No, the WINNERS don’t RELY on analytics. They USE analytics as one small part of an overall strategy. The Browns RELIED on analytics and it killed them. IIRC, Chip Kelly did much the same thing and it killed him too.

    There’s a big difference between RELYING and USING.

  30. You have to give Belichik credit – he has found a lot of players on the trash heap and turned them into gold. I may not like him but that is a fact.

  31. “From a guy coordinating video taped oppents walk-throughs…of course he likes analytics. Any possible advantage”

    I also believe the earth is flat. We should be friends.

  32. “Rodney Harrison said the following about Brady:

    “He’s such a crybaby in practice,”

    “Tom, he’s a very competitive guy, but we used to kick his butt in practice. That’s why I know how to defend him.”

    That’s Belichick’s defense for you. Interesting Brady struggled against Belichick’s defense but Manning had some success against it.”

    Not one thing in this post is true. Take a lap, chief.

  33. nhpats says:
    February 1, 2018 at 1:30 pm
    elmerbrownelmerbrown says:
    February 1, 2018 at 12:04 pm
    Vince Lombardi relied on the power sweep

    ————–

    Yeah and your average lineman weighed 200lbs
    ————————–

    Gee, you’re only off on that average by 50 lbs. OL during that time averaged nearly 250, DL even a bit higher as tackles were in 260-270 range. Even most linebackers were in the 220-230 lb range. Pro Football reference makes it quite easy to look up information. You should look into that.

  34. “Rodney Harrison said the following about Brady:

    “He’s such a crybaby in practice,”

    “Tom, he’s a very competitive guy, but we used to kick his butt in practice. That’s why I know how to defend him.”

    Rodney never said any such things. Look at yourself in the mirror dude. You spend your days masauerading as a Pats fan telling blatant lies and spouting disproven drivel. You need psychiatric help. One of my clients is an organization of psychiatrists who would probably love to have you as a subject in a sports psychoses study.

  35. popcherrycoke says:
    February 1, 2018 at 2:23 pm

    Not one thing in this post is true. Take a lap, chief.
    ———————-

    Which parts aren’t true? It’s veracity of both quotes is easily found with even a rudimentary understanding of internet searches.

  36. harrisonhits2 says:
    February 1, 2018 at 2:38 pm

    “Rodney Harrison said the following about Brady:

    “He’s such a crybaby in practice,”

    “Tom, he’s a very competitive guy, but we used to kick his butt in practice. That’s why I know how to defend him.”

    Rodney never said any such things.
    ——————-

    Of course he did, though not in the context that the bozos want to believe.

  37. belichick was years ahead of the pack in using statistical analysis for decision making.

    but he also has an instinctive feel for the flow of a game, guts, and ice water in his veins. it’s one thing to say you use analytics or “rely on my gut” (ala tomlin) and quite another to calmly tell everyone on your staff “no, i got it” when they are begging to call time out with 30 secs. left in the super bowl and the opponent on your 2 yard line. not to mention 100% of media experts and 10 million second guessing couch potatoes ready to proclaim him an idiot if it doesn’t work.

  38. mmack66 says:
    February 1, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    Of course he did, though not in the context that the bozos want to believe.
    ————-

    “He’s such a crybaby in practice,” Harrison said with a laugh. “He is. I remember in a Super Bowl [practice] I picked him off, and I’m running, high-stepping, doing my little Deion [Sanders], and he was mad. He didn’t talk to me for three days. He’s yelling, screaming, cussing at me.

    “He’s such a crybaby because anytime he doesn’t complete a pass he says, ‘Oh you guys are holding.’ And I asked Devin McCourty the same thing and he just starting laughing and he says, ‘Yeah, that’s Tom. He’s always screaming about holding and penalties and things like that.’

  39. Any Steeler Nation fans out there think that Mike Tomlin could use a good dose of analytics. Of course even for our least favorite linguist I realize that ‘analytics’ is a pretty big word that’s not often used when yo speaks ebonix. Mike probably thinks that it’s ‘anal”lipstick’, which of course may have some use post game locker room but no place on draft day or game planning. Sorry Mike!

  40. bentedges says:
    February 1, 2018 at 2:33 pm
    nhpats says:
    February 1, 2018 at 1:30 pm
    elmerbrownelmerbrown says:
    February 1, 2018 at 12:04 pm
    Vince Lombardi relied on the power sweep

    ————–

    Yeah and your average lineman weighed 200lbs
    ————————–

    Gee, you’re only off on that average by 50 lbs. OL during that time averaged nearly 250, DL even a bit higher as tackles were in 260-270 range. Even most linebackers were in the 220-230 lb range. Pro Football reference makes it quite easy to look up information. You should look into that.

    Well I did look it up,
    Jerry – 6’3″ 245#
    Fuzzy 6’1″ 247#
    Skor – 6’3″ 249#
    Kos & Wax – 260
    No one over 260 on the entire team.
    vs
    2016 Pats
    Andrews 294
    Cannon 360
    Thuney 304
    Solder 314

    Boys vs men. No comparison at all. Think any of those 67 guys would have been able to stand up to Alan Branch or Vince Wilfork? Pancake. We can also talk about speed. Aside from Bob ayes, the next 24 fastest ever in the are all 1980’s or later.

  41. well for all the trading down we’ve seen, how did the hyperbolic discounting work out with those extra draft picks? still way too many holes on both sides of the ball….

    sometimes its better not to be too smart.

  42. “well for all the trading down we’ve seen, how did the hyperbolic discounting work out with those extra draft picks? still way too many holes on both sides of the ball….”

    Yeah, so many holes the Pats are in the Super Bowl for the 8th time in 16 years. And 12 times to the AFCCG and only twice missing the playoffs.

    But no, all those holes, things have just worked out horribly for the Pats SMH

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