Following Sunday’s loss to the New England Patriots, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett was interviewed on Dallas’ 105.3 The Fan. His normally scheduled Monday interview was going about as you’d expect, before Garrett dropped a quote on win probability that was almost unbelievable to hear.
After the hosts of the show, Shan and RJ, described in-game win probabilities and their usefulness to inform decision making, they asked if Garrett had consulted the numbers prior to his big fourth down decision. You know the one: fourth and seven in the red zone, final quarter, down seven.
Garrett’s response spoke volumes, and explained a lot about how the Cowboys play on Sundays.
“Yeah, we don’t use those stats within the game.”
Don’t use those stats within the game.
I cannot stress enough how infuriating this is. The head coach of the Dallas Cowboys actively ignores valuable information which could help maximize his team’s performance on Sundays. He then openly dismisses the idea of using these probabilities, stating that they don’t account for enough of the context of the game.
This is objectively false, by the way, but we’ll leave it be for now.
Owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, a billion dollar franchise dubbed as America’s Team and once considered an industry leader, then defended his head coach’s quotes.
“I happen to agree with him. The analytics aspect of it is a history of how these decisions have worked out. That’s probably good to know. But the momentum of the game, the situation of the game, the, if you will in the other night’s game, the conditions of the game. All of that are more important in my mind than the success history of a similar decision. You’re dealing with averages, you’re dealing with almost theory. And you’re certainly dealing with a result but it doesn’t take into account really the kinds of times when you’ve gone against every odds and made it work. I’ve had my biggest success when I’m sure analytics would have said make the other decision the other way” – Jerry Jones
As a stats nerd who’s entire college thesis was on win probabilities and the lack of a between game momentum effect, I cannot believe an NFL franchise operates this way.
But, it’s true. This is how the Dallas Cowboys operate, and it’s a major reason behind why they continue to underachieve despite their roster talent.
Rather than considering any and all available information before making potentially season changing discussions, Jason Garrett relies on his “gut” and perceived momentum. Rather than consulting with cold-hard facts, he operates based off a feeling.
“I’ve had my biggest success when I’m sure analytics would have said make the other decision the other way.”
This is simply untrue. Yes, making decisions which go against analytics will be ultimately correct sometimes. Even a 70% win probability means that you lose games with similar circumstances 30% of the time. But the process is more important than the results.
If your process is right, the results will come more often than not.
The Cowboys don’t care about this process. Instead, they are operating as arrogantly as any team in professional sports.
And it’s earned them a 6-5 record.