FanPost

Zeus Computer Analysis

“What Was Coach Thinking?” is the lead article on a page in the Sports section of the today’s New York Times (2/1/09).  The focus of the entire page is a computer program (named “Zeus”) which is based upon proven game theory strategies.  Here are a few links to some of the articles contained on the page: here, here, here and here

“Zeus” analyzes “the relative merits of critical play choices – fourth downs, kickoffs and 2- point conversions.”  Of course this is a very limited number of scenarios in a game but it is still interesting.  I could not find a link to what was entitled “The 2008 Zeus Rankings” so I have replicated it below with the addition of the column called “NFL Rank.”  For this I used the team rank found at nfl.com.  The introduction to the “2008 Zeus Rankings” states as follows:

“Zeus assessed every critical call in the regular season and determined when more aggressive actions were warranted.  These rankings reflect the percentage of time each team concurred with the Zeus recommendation.”

The 2008 Zeus Rankings

Rank

Team

%Correct

NFL Rank

1

Jacksonville

59.6

25

2

Houston

54.8

18

3

St. Louis

52

31

4

Cincinnati

51.9

27

5

Dallas

50

14

6

Kansas City

50

30

7

Minnesota

39.8

10

8

New England

39

9

9

New Orleans

38.7

19

10

Pittsburgh

38.4

5

11

Cleveland

37.5

28

12

Seattle

37.5

29

13

Tampa

36.8

16

14

Buffalo

36.8

22

15

Indianapolis

36.3

3

16

Oakland

35.3

26

17

Detroit

34.8

32

18

Green Bay

34.2

24

19

Chicago

34

13

20

SanFrancisco

33.3

23

21

Jets

29.2

15

22

Giants

26.9

4

23

Arizona

25

12

24

San Diego

23.7

20

25

Washington

23.6

21

26

Baltimore

23.4

7

27

Tennessee

22.9

1

28

Miami

22.3

8

29

Denver

19.9

17

30

Atlanta

19.6

6

31

Philadelphia

19.4

11

32

Carolina

11.7

2

 

What immediately strikes you is that there is no correlation between a high “Zeus” rank and success in the NFL.  In fact you could argue just the opposite.   One of the FAQs accompanying the article states as follows:

“Q. How can some of the best N.F.L. teams score so low while some of the weakest teams top the list?

A.      A coach’s ability to make critical decisions is entirely independent of player talent. A number of important components comprise a successful N.F.L. team, and critical calls are just one facet. The average N.F.L. team cost itself nearly one game (0.98 to be exact) in aggregate Game Winning Chance errors during the 2008 regular season. The average N.F.L. team wins about eight games a season. Critical calls are an important and often overlooked factor, but they are by no means the most important factor determining success. Player personnel, execution, preparing for an opponent and, yes, luck all play into the prospects of making the postseason.”

So, bottom line, Zeus critical play calling is only meaningful if talent, execution and preparation are equal.  Extrapolating from the Zeus analysis, play calling in general takes a back seat to talent, execution and preparation.   

Just another great fan opinion shared on the pages of BuffaloRumblings.com.

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