What If a Team Never Ran?

Discussion of technique and strategy.

What If a Team Never Ran?

What If a Team Never Ran?

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So how does our pass-happy team do? With a typical run/pass balance, they win a perfectly even 50% of the time. The pass-only strategy wins 54.0% of the time, turning a 50/50 contest into a 54/46 contest.

What if we allowed some wise exceptions to our pass-only rule? If we allow them to run only inside the opponent’s 10 yard line, they won 54.8% of the time. I bet if we could add some other common sense exceptions the pass-happy team would win even more often.

As you might expect, the effect is even stronger if our pass-happy team finds itself behind its conventional opponent. Starting the second quarter down by a TD, a conventional team wins 29.9% of the time while our pass happy team wins 34.7% of the time. At first that appears to be roughly the same effect size as for a game that begins tied, but remember a quarter of the game has already passed.

[Note: The sim was run 100,000 times for each variation, yielding a 95% confidence interval of 0.003.]

In case you think this is just a marginal improvement in win probability, consider that the odds go from 1:1 for the conventional run/pass balance to better than 1.2:1 for the passing strategy. This is with the same exact team—same players, same talent levels, just a different mindset. I'm not claiming a typical team would win exactly 54.3452345% of the time, but I would submit that a typical team would win significantly more often if they reserved most of their runs for particular situations.

But San Diego is not a typical team. Because they are a much better passing team than running team, their benefit of forgoing the run entirely might be considerably better than 54/46. Our earlier back-of-the-envelope analysis conservatively estimated their running costs them 10% win probability per game, so a pass-only policy might buy that 10% back while adding more than the 4% benefit a typical team would enjoy.
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