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Jim Henneman: Analytics Taking The Foot Out Of Football

September 27, 2019
Coming at you off the cuff today, not that anybody asked, or cares ...

Thanks to The Baltimore Sun's excellent postgame analytics report, based on statistics provided by Five Thirty Eight and the New York Times' 4th Down Bot, neither on my must-read list, here's what I learned from the Ravens' loss to the Chiefs Sept. 22:

* Anytime it's fourth down-and-1, "go for it any place on the field where that is possible, starting at your own 9-yard line." (I'm thinking "where that is possible" are the key words here.)

* On fourth-and-3, "go for it almost everywhere beyond your 40." (Again, just guessing that "almost everywhere" is significant).

* On fourth-and-2, "go for it everywhere beyond your 28-yard line."(No if, ands or buts here, just go baby go).

* On fourth-and-5, "go for it between midfield and your opponent's 33." (Otherwise a rare punt or field goal attempt, again just guessing.)

* "More often than not it is advisable to go for two points rather than kick the extra point for one." (Based, I'm sure, on better than 50-50 percentages.)

Based strictly on those observations (not mine), I'm left with two conclusions:

* Analytics are trying to take the foot out of football.

* Sam Koch may be the best positional punter in the game and Justin Tucker the best field goal kicker in NFL history, but they are overpaid "extras" whose roster spots could be better utilized.

And you thought baseball was the only game being radically affected by analytics?


It's amazing the kind of stuff you can come up with in the Age of Google. And nobody does it better than the Elias Sports Bureau, which comes up with answers faster than you can think of questions. 

But you have to wonder if sometimes we don't take it too far. For instance, in the breakout game of his breakout month, Orioles outfielder Austin Hays became the first rookie EVER to drive in five runs in a game while also recording an assist and a stolen base, dating back to 1920, when the RBI became an official statistic. Really? Did somebody actually ask? Just guessing that the previous record was probably four RBIs.

Then, a day or so later, Diamondbacks infielder Ildemaro Vargas became the first player EVER to drive in the tying run in the ninth inning -- and a walkoff winning run in the 19th inning or later. Again, just guessing the previous record probably was the eighth and/or the 18th inning. 

Who held the record in each case? Again, just guessing but you probably have to ask Alexa.


Did you ever wonder, as I have often, why none of those 19- or 21-inning baseball games ever come during the first game of a split day-night doubleheader?


Am I the only one thinking it would be poetic justice if the Patriots get stuck for the $9 million bonus for Antonio Brown?

Jim Henneman can be reached at 

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox