Down by 14 with 10:39 to play in the 4th quarter Sunday, Ron Rivera decided to go for two after Antonio Gibson capped off a 12-play, 83-yard Commanders scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge. Why did he do that?
Why not have Joey Slye attempt an extra point to potentially cut the Detroit Lions' lead to seven points? “It’s in the math. It’s in the math. You guys should appreciate the analytics of it. Okay,” Rivera said after the game.
Well, that math never really made sense to former Washington head coach Jay Gruden.
"I've never believed in that," Gruden said during his weekly appearance on Russell & Medhurst. "That is what the analytics say. I know Doug Pederson does that all the time, he did it when he was in Philly and I'm sure he's [going to] do it in Jacksonville. There are certain coaches that believe in that. I don't believe in that. I believe in getting it back to seven and then making the decision on your next one to go for two for the win or not."
Gruden went on to say that the extra points moving back to 33-yard attempts may influence more coaches to go for it because the PAT is not the "gimmie" it once was.
"I personally don't agree with it, but some teams do," Gruden said on The Team 980.
At some point, just as the eye test can paralyze coaches, can the siren call of analytics paralyze a coach as well? For the former head coach, the answer is taking both the eye test, the math, and your gut all into consideration when making a decision.
"I think you have to [go with the] analytics in certain situations as a coach," Gruden told Russell & Medhurst. "I mean there are certain things where analytics can come in handy and there are certain things that I think you have to take the way the game is going and what your gut tells you. I don't think you can be paralyzed by analytics results, you have to coach the game based on your gut and your feel for the game, but you also have to utilize the analytics reports to some degree."
For Russell & Medhurst the decision to go for two makes less sense.
"I think there's still a large contingent of coaches, that if you make a decision based on your gut and it doesn't work you can live with that," Pete Medhurst said Monday. "If you make a decision based on some dude who puts together a chart and says, 'Hey! Here's a chart and if you do score eight points here, yes, you do get closer to the other team's total.' But nobody ever says, what if we don't get it?"
Co-host Chris Russell took it a step further.
"There's too much Football Outsiders in the media," Russell said in response to a tweet about analytics. "There's too much Football Outsiders in NFL organizations. And I'm not trying to beat up on Football Outsiders, they do good work... Here's what doesn't make common sense: is down 14 and to start chasing points. You're already chasing points. Now, the only way I can logically defend [Rivera's decision] is if you have no faith in your place kicker, which then he shouldn't be on the roster.
"And I have to believe at this point that Ron Rivera is very [sketical] of Joey Slye privately, he won't say it publicly, but he should be [skeptical]."
Russell said the only other way he would understand Rivera's decision: The Commanders would only need one defensive stop to win the game, instead of two. "If you're down eight after the touchdown, Pete, you get the two-point conversion, you're down six, you need one defensive stop and one touchdown, a traditional touchdown and the extra point, and you win," Russell said. "If you kick the [first] extra point and make yourself down by seven, with 10:30 left to go, then you still need the one defensive stop the one traditional touchdown to tie it, and then you need another defensive stop and another score to win it. At whatever point [regulation or overtime] that sequence comes. That's the only way I can defend this. The only way I can rationalize it. Not that's what the numbers say. SCREW THE ANALYTICS! TELL FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS AND WHOEVER CAME UP WITH THIS ANALYTICS CHART TO GO KICK ALL THE ROCKS!"
(The complete Russell rant can be heard beginning at 22:09 here.)