Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Computer declares Fox way too conservative

On Super Bowl Sunday, The New York Times published an interesting series of stories and charts based on the work of a computer program called Zeus. It's complicated stuff, and if you want to get more into it, check out the site pigskinrevolution.com or else this FAQ that was in the Times.

An alert reader named Larry -- a former resident of N.C., currently of Tampa and still, he says, a PSL holder -- pointed it out to me.

After running through millions of scenarios, Zeus decided among other things that teams should go for it far more often on fourth down, because a good offense generally can convert that from short distances and that the onside kick is severely under-utilized. It advocates aggressiveness in play-calling -- not just because of a gut feeling, but because of science.

So how does Panthers coach John Fox rate on this scale?

You probably won't be surprised that Zeus judged Fox to be dead last -- No.32 out of 32 -- on how often he made a decision that would agree with what the Zeus computer program would have said he should do. Zeus's rankings aren't far off the NFL's 2008 stats for teams that went for it on fourth down most vs. least often -- Carolina went for it the fewest times (8) and Jacksonville the most (24).

Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio finished first in Zeus's rankings -- he's notoriously aggressive on play-calling -- and yet the Jaguars didn't make the playoffs. (Zeus would likely say this is because the human execution part of the play-call cannot be accounted for). Pittsburgh, the Super Bowl champion, was 10th.

Of course, the Panthers still managed to go 12-4, secure a first-round bye and finish 7th in the NFL in scoring. So it's way, way off the mark for any human (or computer program) to call Fox the No.32 coach in the NFL. For all his flaws, I'd label him a top 10 NFL head coach.

But this does back up a lot of anecdotal evidence I've gathered over the years: Fox may well be the most conservative coach in the entire NFL. If Fox could just curb that conservative impulse a bit, he might turn into a Top 5 NFL coach and the Panthers might well win a Super Bowl one day.

But as I've written a number of times, Fox said in our first long interview way back in 2002 shortly after he was hired: "A punt is not a bad play." And, for better and for worse, the coach has never strayed far from that philosophy.


hellfish said...

WOW!!! no sh** Sherlock that's an old one on here!

Anonymous said...

Scott, maybe you'll understand this. 'Tis a simple point, but one that exactly no one using the 12-4 metric seems to understand.

The Panthers were MUCH closer to a 10-6 or 9-7 team once you correct for the historical awfulness of OAK, DET, and KC -- only one of which Carolina blew out! The Panthers did NOT have a great regular season, just a good one, one that was wiped away by the ARIZ toasting.

That's it. No great accomplishment. This team will struggle to hit .500 next year given the 1st sked because -- as Foxy always tells us -- it is what it is -- not very good.


Fleiter said...

The computer can't account for last minute miracle plays like in San Diego and against NO in the last game of the season. John Fox plays not to lose. It's that simple. That, in and of itself, has led to terrible decision making by his QB. Jake believes that he can force the ball into any situation and come away with a good result. The reason he believes that is that's the only way that John Fox can win a game. He has to have a hugely lucky break to compensate for his idiot Prevent Offense in the fourth quarter. He plays not to lose. Great coaches play to win.

Michael said...

Good call, kids. Firstly, the 1st-place schedule changes exactly THREE games, and we were playing against a 2nd-place schedule this year. And hell...if a coach who has his team play not to lose can win 57% of his games and 65% of them with his starter at QB (Delhomme), I'd like you to find the availible coach who has his team play to win and does better. As FOR Delhomme, he plays the way he does because both he and the team BELIVE IN HIM. Why do they do that? Are they crazy? No. They've seen him lead the team to fourth quarter comebacks time and time again, more than ANY OTHER QB IN THE NFL since he became a starter in 2003. If ya'll are ready to jump off the bandwagon of a team that has been a top 10 franchise in the NFL since Fox arrived, feel free. I'm sure the Bengals and Lions have a lot of room on the bandwagon.

J. Gore said...

Finally someone calls it like it is. Thank you Michael. You guys should take notes on how to support your local franchise from this guy. Jake's our starter next season whether you like it or not. As long as he's healthy he's gonna win games for us. I know the loss hurts right now but you all are making to much out of one game. I wonder if the fans in Indianapolis give Peyton as much grief when he threw six pics against San Diego. Trade Peppers for Cassel has gotta be the most bone headed suggestion I've heard. Why so we can end up with another Frank Reich or so we can help propel New England's defense back to the top of the heap? Come on people. We need to focus on either rejuvinating his want to play for us or get some good draft pics for him. Maybe Meek's style of playing to your players strengths will inspire him to stay. If not get a 1st and 2nd or 1st and 3rd round set of pics for him. He's worth that if Jarred Allen is. Then get ourselves a young DE , a CB to challenge Lucas for his spot, and a WR to come in and make an impact. Either put Jarrett in the starting lineup to let him prove himself or draft a young guy that's got a little spark. How about Brandon Tate or even better Hakim Nicks. Both of these guy are outstanding playmakers lets try to keep at least one in NC. Both Tate or Jarrett could make a good replacement for Moose with their size and run blocking abilities. Thank God we have Moose for one more year but we need someone to come in and be the man the defense isn't looking for on 3rd down. Someone like Proehl. In closing I hope every fan out there keeps their head held high and wears their NFC South Division Championship gear this off season because that's what they are. In the toughest division in football. Go Panthers!!!

bill said...

WINNING A SUPER BOWL......This has got to be what it's about. If going 12-4 is acceptable to you then you got what you wanted. Some of us watched the parade in Pittsburgh yesterday and wondered WOW!!! WOULDN'T THIS BE GREAT IN CHARLOTTE. This was the year and Fox blew it. No excuses, everyone was healthy,relatively, home game, two weeks off. The city needed it bad, could have been the last game for the owner, the fans, My God, the fans. Fox decides to get lazy on the defensive game plan and just xerox the one from week 8, despite the fact that Drew Brees torched your butt the two weeks before. This article just goes to show that Fox this not the man for the job. Inability to make staff changes when necessary(Crossman, 3 blocked punts in 6 games, hello). Inability to adjust game plan(Cardinals based on Saints). 12-4 whatever, how about 0-8 in winning a Super Bowl.

Carolina Connection said...

What is wrong if you play not to lose, would you rather play to lose? If you play not to lose, then don't you play to win? I don't understand that comment. I do believe Fox should get more aggressive from time to time. But not carelessly aggressive.
As far as Pep, his statement that he will not way sign a long term contract with the Pathers is very damaging. I have not problem with someone wanting to improve himself, but this statement creates a wedge between him and the fans. His agent is a moron and should be fired, unless that is what Pep feels, if that is the case we should franchise and trade him. He was a higher draft choice than Jared, so we should get more for him. I wish he would stay but only if he wants it and appologizes to the fans.

Michael said...

Yeah, Danny Crossman...HOW DARE YOU:
* Coach the NFL leader in touchbacks (gross and percentage)
* Coach the 9th-ranked kick return coverage unit in the NFL
* Coach the NFL's 5th most accurate kicker
* Coach the NFL's 5th-ranked punt return unit
* Coach one of seven NFL teams not to fumble a kickoff return, one of seven not to fumble a punt return, and one of just TWO NFL TEAMS not to fumble a single return of any kind
* Coach a punter who was 4th in the NFL in both punts downed inside the 20 and punts I20 to touchback ratio.

Get rid of that guy...QUICK!

bill said...

If your benchmark for success is the Lions and Bengals then you should be tickled with this years team. Maybe being Super Bowl Champs is something we are just not cut out for, maybe we should just be satisfied with being 12-4. If it works for you, blessed are the meek. Some of us though would like to attend a ticker tape parade in Charlotte one day.

bamafan said...

As I was walking down the ramp after a late loss, an opposing team fan told me the Panther would never win the Super Bowl. Reason Fox alway keep the other team in the game.

Vikram said...

I totally agree with the computer rankings that scott presented. Fox is way too conservative. We went after Dan Henning and Trgovac but in reality they were the victims of their boss's play calling. Look at Dan in Miami.

Fox's style of coaching ("playing not to lose") requires a Baltimore/Pittsburgh style of defence which when coupled with our rushing attack can work wonders. Playing a prevent defence will not get it done and it didnt.

I hate to say this but Carolina Panthers lack the killer instinct that is expected of champions. We take solace in 12-4, 4th quarter comebacks against losing record teams, all the garbage stats from history (read Michael's posts) and what not. Bottom line is we have never won the Super Bowl and probably will never be there again if this current mindset persists.

What seperates a champion is the "HEART" and that is something this team lacks (except for a handful of players like Smith and DeAngelo). We will be well served in the offseason to draft players with heart, not records.

And last but not the least, a good QB plays with his composure. They don't pump chests when they get sacked or hit. Its high time we look into the future (sorry Michael no stats there) in this aspect