Browns drama: Paul DePodesta, Jimmy Haslam conspiracy theories abound
There are plenty of conspiracy theories concerning Paul DePodesta and Jimmy Haslam of the Browns; some are believable and some not so much.
It really doesn’t take a conspiracy theory to explain why the Cleveland Browns had a 7-10 record last season. They were just not very good.
Nevertheless, there are two things that Dawg Pounds reeks of and one of them is conspiracy theories. Our favorite conspiracy theory is that the Browns’ losing ways were a result of co-owner Jimmy Haslam III and advisor Paul DePodesta crunching out nonsense calculations and then forcing them into coach Kevin Stefanski’s playbook.
This narrative comes from (among other places) “secret sources” of Tony Grossi in The Land on Demand, who claimed that DePodesta came up with a faulty pass-laden game plan for the frigid New Orleans game in minus-16 wind chill. DePodesta’s faulty analytics, it’s alleged, caused the Browns to rely too much on deep passes from Deshaun Watson.
People who understand the workings of a football organization best understand that analytics (we used to call them stats) is simply a tool. Scouting reports are a tool. Film study is a tool.
What’s wrong with using these tools to create game plans? Should the Browns go back to the 1930s and not use stats or look at the game film when creating game plans? Would that make the anti-analytics crowd happy? Should the Browns fire the scouts and use only the coach’s intuition to create game plans? Is that how Belichick does it?
A normal organization uses all the stats that it has available, uses scouting reports and film studies, and looks for interesting trends. That’s not a conspiracy. The idea that a numbers guy in San Diego is dictating game plans to the coaching staff with the support of an authoritarian owner (who is no longer the CEO of Haslam Sports Group, by the way) is a little far-fetched and likely to be the product of a disgruntled fired ex-employees fertile imagination. That’s why the sources are secret. If they were out in the open, we would all laugh at them.
Let’s address two major concerns about Stefanski’s supposedly unorthodox playcalling that some observers believe are overly influenced by math geeks.
So what about going for it on fourth down?
So what about going for it on fourth down instead of kicking the field goal inside the 10-yard line? Secret sources allege that ruthless Paul DePodesta is forcing the coaching staff to go for it on fourth down instead of taking the field goal, despite the fact that they know this is the wrong decision.
Look, analytics is present in every sport. In basketball, it took years for the geeks to convince the coaches, “three points are worth more than two.” The coaches kept whining, “yeah, but you miss threes more often.”
Okay, but sometimes you get the rebound, and when you make it, three points are worth more than two. Three points are worth more than two. Honest, we wouldn’t lie about something like that! Finally, people started to shoot three-pointers, and lo and behold they scored more points. Perhaps the game has room for players like Steph Curry after all. Now everybody does it.
In baseball, it took 50 years to quit listening to the old-school purists who wanted power hitters to sacrifice bunt to move a runner from first base to second base. It’s usually a dumb play and it costs runs rather than generating runs. Yes, sometimes it does work. But more often you give up a valuable out which could have been used to generate hits and long balls, purists be hanged.
Without going through mountains of data, one reason why going for it on fourth down and short yardage inside the 10 makes sense is that even if you miss, the other team has 90 yards plus to score and that is very difficult to do. The stats show that your team is still more likely to score even if you miss the first down and have to go on defense.
Sometimes, the other team will march down the field 65 yards or more and kick a field goal or score a touchdown, but the odds do not favor that. Field position does matter, so your team has a good chance of getting the ball back and making the next score. So if you have a reasonable fourth down play down by the goal line, seven points are more than three. And if you miss, you will probably get the ball back and score anyway. So go for it.
By the way, in case you didn’t notice, almost everybody in the league does this now, not just the team that employs Paul DePodesta. So the conspiracy theory just does not wash.