October 1, 2015


N.F.L. Announcers Are Bad at Math, Too (Gregg Easterbrook, 9/29/15, TUESDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK)

It's not that coaches don't know the math -- rather, it seems they don't want to be criticized. If a coach does the expected and sends out the punt unit on fourth down, and then his team goes on to lose, players are blamed for the defeat. If the coach orders a conversion attempt that fails, the coach is blamed for subsequent defeat.

What surer barometer of this psychology than network announcers?

Trailing, 20-0, late in the third quarter at Seattle, the Bears reached fourth-and-inches at midfield. Chicago Coach John Fox faced this option: try for a first down or concede the game. When the punt team trotted out, the CBS booth denizen Phil Simms said: "I agree with the decision. I think I would punt it here and just go ahead and see if your defense can make a play." In other words, shift blame to the players, in this case the defenders.

Later, when the Bears were down, 23-0, in the fourth quarter and punted on fourth-and-2, announcers said nothing about the decision. That's because they have to punt, right? Washington at Jersey/A on Thursday night, the visitors, mired in a three-season slump, faced fourth-and-inches. The CBS play-by-play voice Jim Nantz declared, "Now the Redskins have to punt."

That teams facing fourth-and-short "have to" punt is what N.F.L. coaches want everyone to think: This takes the onus off them. Eagles at Jets scoreless, Jersey/B was stopped inches shy of a first. "It's a three-and-out for the Jets," the Fox announcer Kevin Burkhardt said cheerily, seeming never to contemplate the possibility of going for it.

Because network booth crews interpret the football universe for the mainstream fan, if broadcasters criticized timid punting tactics, coaches would be embarrassed. But coaches know there is almost no chance this will occur. In N.F.L. sociology, players are labor and coaches are management. Network announcers side psychologically with management. The booth guys scoff at dropped passes or missed tackles, criticizing labor, but back up tactical decisions, validating management.

San Diego at Minnesota scoreless, the Chargers faced fourth-and-inches in Vikings territory. As the punt team trotted out, the CBS announcers Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts said not a critical word. "Knowing Mike McCoy, he wants to play a field position game," Fouts observed, as though this were like using a Nimzo-Indian opening defense. The announcers thought a punt on fourth-and-inches in opposition territory was a good idea. And of course the Chargers went on to lose.

Posted by at October 1, 2015 1:15 PM

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