Sean Payton: Analytics have educated me, but some decisions I’d like back

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Saints coach Sean Payton is a believer in analytics, and has adopted the aggressive stance on fourth downs that analytics experts have been saying coaches should adopt for years. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few fourth-down decisions he’d like to have back.

Payton said on PFT Live that he regrets the Saints’ failed fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line against the Cowboys last week, even though the analytics said it was the right call.

“I do think that’s where analytics have changed in a positive way,” Payton said. “I think we’re more educated.”

So why does Payton wish he could have that fourth-and-goal decision back? Because each game is different, and in that Cowboys game, he knew points would be at a premium and went into the game thinking a field goal would be a positive result for any drive.

“I kick myself for two or three different situations in that game, not handling them the right way,” Payton said. “We have an opportunity to score, it’s fourth-and-1, I know our fourth down numbers are good, I felt like we had a good plan, and yet, in that game? Kick the field goal.”

Payton also said he doesn’t always want to use his best goal line plays early in a game because he might need them for later. And he said one reason he doesn’t go for two more often is that he doesn’t want to show opposing defenses his best goal line plays and would rather save them for when they might score a touchdown.

“The numbers are important,” he said. “But how do we feel like, with our play inventory, at that point in the game? So if I’m inside the 5-yard line, and I’ve got a section of two-point plays, and let’s say I love two of these. I love them. Certainly if I love this play I want to score six with it. So if I love this play for two, I might wait until the second half.”

Payton made a point of crediting the Cowboys and not shortchanging the way Dallas played, but he also believes he could have given his team a better chance to win. Perhaps even by going against what the chart on his clipboard told him to do.

27 responses to “Sean Payton: Analytics have educated me, but some decisions I’d like back

  1. Analytics should be a guide, but if the game situation is out of the ordinary then consider changing course. Its ok to take the 47% choice instead of the 53% choice if you think the opponents D or O is playing better/worse than expected.

  2. Coach Payton just picked up some new fans, because the science deniers here certainly don’t believe in analytics. Of course, they don’t believe in evolution or climate change either.

  3. arclight1972 says:
    December 7, 2018 at 8:59 am
    Analytics should be a guide, but if the game situation is out of the ordinary then consider changing course. Its ok to take the 47% choice instead of the 53% choice if you think the opponents D or O is playing better/worse than expected.

    ————-

    Agreed, and in addition, (using your example) the difference between a 47% choice and a 53% is irrelevant on one specific play. The situation is far more important. Those kinds of percentages play out over many events.

    It’s the same mistake people make with the two point conversion vs kicking the 1 point. If you went for two every time, on average you might end up with slightly more points that way at the end of the season. However, you may miss the two point conversion for 10 straight attempts and lose games because of it. Percentages matter differently in the moment.

  4. Happens to all the coaches working from analytics versus knowing points in some games are going to be hard to come by to begin with. Frank Reich would probably like those 3 points back he took off the board when the Colts played the Jaguars … As it turned out, the Colts scored no points at all.

  5. Analytics aren’t perfect. Just because the raw numbers say that this will work X% of the time, analytics fall drastically short in terms of context. What has the flow of the game been? What type of defense/offense is on the field? What types of in game adjustments have already been made? It only takes one bad call from a head coach to torpedo a game and then you end up with a L even though you had a 60% chance of converting that play.

  6. Another angle to this is that coaches seem to overvalue fooling/surprising the defense with the play call. If you have a good enough team, they can execute whatever you call against whatever defense is called. In that particular game, the Cowboys defense was insane but it was too early at that moment to know whether a sock in the mouth TD might deflate them. It wasn’t a bad call to go for it, and in retrospect the 3 points would have helped, but it didn’t work and very little did against the Cowboys that night.

  7. Sometimes I think we unfairly bash analytics. It has always been around. A decade ago, we called it “tendencies.” We would say something like “this team has the ‘tendency’ to run it on first down. “Analytics” merely breaks those tendencies down to account for variables such as left/right hashmark, running to the strong/weak side, location on the field and so forth.

    Ultimately, it’s always a smart decision when it works.

  8. Analytics or not, the flow of this game indicated that points were going to be premium. Knowing you have an improving defense and also knowing that the Cowboys don’t have an offense that’s going to light up the scoreboard should have told you take the guaranteed points by kicking the FG. Two more FGs would have won this game.

  9. As far as “saving” a play for the later, if you have 4th & 1, you better use your best play and not save it for a spot that may not come up. It might be (arguably) fine to not use it on 3rd down, but there is no option if you don’t convert 4th down, so don’t be saving any plays.

  10. The Cowboys beat the Saints, and it wasn’t even as close as the score implies. The Cowboys finished the game with 3x kneel downs at the 1 yard line. The score very easily could have been 20-10 on that alone.

    The Cowboys actually did the Saints a favor. They showed them that defense wins championships. All too often the hot shot offenses come to a screeching halt in the playoffs when facing formidable defenses. The Saints have a chance to try to prepare for that.

    Although, it may not be enough. The real key to their post season success will be the effectiveness of their own defense.

  11. twinfan24 says: “As far as “saving” a play for the later, if you have 4th & 1, you better use your best play and not save it for a spot that may not come up.”
    ======================

    No. what Payton said was he didn’t want to burn his best “goal line” plays early in the game. Belichick has said this before too, that they only have maybe 3-4 in the gameplan and only use it in critical situations in the fourth quarter.

  12. Fortune favors the bold. Just like life in general.
    I love when coaches are aggressive regarding 4th down and 2 pt. conversions.
    However, what I don’t like is the sometimes lack of boldness in some of the play calls.
    Too many times these opportunities are squandered by unoriginal play calling. I.e. running into the middle on 4th and <1 when the defense is clearly selling out to stop the run.

    Of course, there's the times when coaches seemingly outsmart themselves, too, so I realize it works both ways.

  13. Best goal-line plays? How about having more than one play that is equally effective. Do not completely buy the coach’s reticence to go for two early.

  14. Maybe the next step is the ability to model the game as it occurs, and then produce the analytics in real time. The current use of analytics is flawed in that it doesn’t account for the nuances of the current real-time game situations. But of course, even with real-time modeling and analytics, being able to adapt and translate it onto the field with the players is another challenge; it would still rely on canned plays.

  15. “No, what Payton said was he didn’t want to use his best “goal line” plays early in the game”.
    ________________

    No, that is not what Coach Payton said. Read the second to the last paragraph in the above story. Payton actually said the exact opposite of what you claimed he said.

  16. No, that is not what Coach Payton said. Read the second to the last paragraph in the above story. Payton actually said the exact opposite of what you claimed he said.
    =================================================
    What? Pay a little more attention and comprehension before commenting

  17. FACT: before they were called analytics and considered science they were called averages and fell under the MATH category = they’re NOTHING new, as a matter of fact they’re centuries old, but some people like to act as if they are some new and great thing, IT’S NOT!!!

  18. Analytics have replaced common sense in all sports. I have no doubt that one day a computer will be the NFL head coach, or baseball manager, or basketball coach, or hockey coach, and so on and so forth. Some computer nerd who got his education and experience at the Geek Squad will be doing those jobs. He won’t know a thing about any of those sports, but it won’t matter because he will be super fast and so will his computer.

  19. For all those Dallas fans who now think they can beat anyone now after beating the Saints. Just honestly ask yourself do you really think you would be the Saints in a potential rematch a month or so from now?
    It’s not going to happen.

  20. Analytics are calculated over an average of multiple games but when you’re in the game and in the moment, you are only concern about winning the current game. Situational football is about in the moment, not to satisfy a numbers game down the stretch.

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