“Everyone’s looking for someone to blame.”
The lyrics from Tom Waits’ “Hold On” perfectly describe professional sports media and fandom in the 2000s. Nuance is difficult, takes time and doesn’t distill the problem down to one answer or simple answers.
Recently, fans and media of the Cleveland Browns have went back to an old faithful thing to blame: “Analytics!” This time, instead of focusing on Sashi Brown, the lawyer turned GM, the focus has been on chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta. DePodesta, who the character Peter Brand is based on in “Moneyball,” is the man behind the curtain for many.
Analytics, at a root level, is looking at what has worked in the past in a variety of situations and applying it to the current situation. In some fields it is called “best practice” or “research-based” but in professional sports, it is deemed “the nerds ruining the sport.”
While the Browns might be a highly analytical team, or at least the most public in using and hiring for it, they are far from the only ones. Most of the best teams use data to make most of their decisions. For example, it is why running backs haven’t been drafted very high lately including none in the first round last year and only three in the second.
We know that Cleveland is data-oriented but it is interesting to see that they are going against the data in one very important situation:
Updated the how often teams run on 2nd and 10 after an incompletion chart. Mike McDaniel and Zac Taylor do a good job not reverting to the run game after a failed 1st down throw. Kind of surprised to see Cowboys that high pic.twitter.com/WRVzmexpcT— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) December 28, 2022
Running the ball on 2nd and 10, unless you know it is four down territory when you do it, is generally not the best decision. There will be times to do it (light box, running out the clock, etc) but it should not be a regular occurrence.
With Nick Chubb in the backfield, the Browns are doing it almost 50% of the time and fourth most in the league. What might be tough to tell in the graph is that, unlike Baltimore, Tennesee and San Fransisco, Cleveland is also not very successful when they do run it on 2nd and 10.
While DePodesta and analytics are currently in the crosshairs of conversation, it is obvious that Stefanski’s play calling isn’t following some kind of data-driven script. If he was, the Browns would be down near the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles and the two Los Angeles teams.