Correlation and Causation in Football

While waiting for SteelyKid to stop bouncing off the walls long enough to be put to bed last night, I watched a bit of the Jets losing to the Ravens on Monday Night Football. I saw most of the first half, and the end of the fourth quarter, and I noticed the announcers talking a lot about two things:

  • Rex Ryan’s Jets blitzing all the time, especially on third-and-long, and
  • The Ravens converting an incredible number of third downs (11 of 19), especially long third downs

It was actually kind of amazing to me that none of them thought to connect the two. Because here’s what I saw: the Jets played pretty good defense on first and second down, stuffing Baltimore’s attempts to run the ball and holding their short passing to short gains. Then, on third down, they ran some wacky blitz scheme sending seven defenders and a couple of equipment managers after the quarterback, and Baltimore picked up the blitz that they knew was coming, and either completed a pass for the first down, or got the first down on a knucklehead penalty by one of the Jets DB’s who was forced into man-to-man coverage of the very good Ravens receivers.

It wasn’t an accident that they were talking about both of those things– the Ravens were completing third downs at a phenomenal rate because the Jets were blitzing like idiots in every passing situation. If Baltimore hadn’t turned the ball over a bunch of times on dumb plays, the game wouldn’t’ve been close. This is one of the very few areas where Gregg Easterbrook seems to know what he’s talking about.

I dunno. Maybe there was something in the third quarter, while I was putting SteelyKid to bed, that invalidates this hypothesis. But for the first half, at least, it seemed pretty obvious that there was a direct causal link between these two facts, and not just a correlation.

5 thoughts on “Correlation and Causation in Football

  1. Jesus, is Easterbrook still writing?

    He’s the classical Republican stereotype: the man who thinks that strong belief in opinion is more important than knowledge of the facts.

  2. Facts? This is football. We don’t need no stinkin’ facts!

    I live where waxing poetic about college football with or without any actual knowledge on the subject, new information, or interest by anyone in one’s immediate vicinity for the topic is pretty much the standard behavior (i.e. Tuscaloosa, AL), so I’m not surprised the commentators couldn’t connect A and B. Particularly if that connection would have invalidated their pet theory or made their darling team look bad.

  3. Connecting the dots would have ruined the preseason narrative of the Jets as trendy Super Bowl pick and Rex Ryan as aggressive defensive genius. Can’t throw away the narrative in the opening game of the season. The narrative is more important to broadcasters than the events on the field.

  4. Easterbrook on football = good insight.

    Easterbrook on science = maddening stubbornness.

    His writings about the LHC and the possible world ending black holes were annoying, and he wouldn’t listen to evidence. He knows what a black hole is. No one can tell him that he doesn’t.

    This year it will be all about the asteroids. Even today it was “OMG asteroids came close to earth!!! It was almost Armageddon the movie for realz! We didn’t see them soon enough! Why don’t we do something?!? Won’t someone think of the children!?!”

    He didn’t mention that they were two 10 to 20 m diameter asteroids and NASA points out in the press release that 10 m asteroid collisions are a once a decade event with no serious destruction.

    I wish he’d stick to football.

  5. There was one point where the broadcasters noticed the events on the field. Did you catch their reaction when the Ravens 350 pound DL bull rushed over/through that rookie in the 4th quarter? I thought they were going to fall out of the booth!

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