Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Deferring To The Second Half A Powerful Tool In The Hands Of Belichick, Patriots

To defer or not to defer, that's not even a question.

At least not in New England, where Patriots' head ball coach Bill Belichick takes every little competitive advantage he can get into consideration, including his time-tested habit of sending his defense out on the field to start a football game nearly every single time he has had a choice in the matter.

The coin flip at the start of every football game - regardless of level, from Pop Warner all the way up to the professional game - is not only the first official act between two opposing teams, but since 2008, it has provided a way for coaches to control not only how a football game begins, but also to guide his strategy throughout the first half of those games.

Since a rule change in 2008 gave coaches the option of either receiving the ball to start the game or to defer that option to the second half, Belichick has taken the latter 59 times out of 61 opportunities - the only two times that he elected to take the opening kickoff was the ill-fated season opener in 2008 when quarterback Tom Brady got his knee-guts scrambled by Kansas City's Bernard Pollard, and in Week 5 of the 2013 season, when his Patriots were preparing to play in a torrential downpour in Cincinnati.

The advantage, of course, is something known as "Doubling Down", a tactic that in a perfect world would see his Patriots score points just as the first half expires, then receive the second half kickoff to hopefully put up more points without the opposition getting their turn with the ball in between.

It doesn't always turn out the way Belichick would envision it, but it does often enough to keep doing it.

Case in point, during the 2014 Super Bowl winning season, the Patriots won the coin toss an amazing 14 times in 19 games, going just 3-2 in the games that they lost the coin toss (each of their opponents deferred to the second half) while going 12-2 in games in which they won the coin toss, the only losses being to Miami in the season opener and to Buffalo in the season finale in which most of the starters were being rested in preparation for the playoffs.

That statistic in itself represents a most compelling argument for deferring to the second half, but simply deferring doesn't guarantee success, as the Miami Dolphins found out last Thursday night.

Winning the coin toss and electing to defer to the second half, the Dolphins saw their advantage dwindle to nothing as they had an opportunity with just over five minutes remaining in the first half to turn to what is called the "Four-minute offense", a tactic in which the goal of the offense is to convert first downs and slowly grind the clock down before scoring, leaving the opponent with little or no time to respond...

....but the Dolphins became impatient, being down 9-0 at the time, and tried to score quickly, but a first down out-route destined for receiver Rishard Matthews was picked off by Patriots' corner Logan Ryan - which Tom Brady and the Patriots offense turned into a field goal - then went three-and-out on their ensuing possession, giving the ball up to New England, who marched right down the field and scored a touchdown.

So instead of being patient and cutting into a slim Patriots' lead, the Dolphins whiffed on three straight possessions - on their last possession they tried a ridiculous looking 63 yard field goal as time expired - while New England turned a nine-point lead into an insurmountable total.

And what makes that even worse, is that the Dolphins scored a touchdown on their opening possession of the second half, and quite possibly could have taken a lead had they run their four-minute offense and not tried to push the ball downfield too quickly.

So far this season, New England has won the coin toss in five of their seven games, deferring each time and doubling down in each instance with the exception of the season opener against Pittsburgh, and scoring on their first possession of the second half each time.

The two times that they lost the coin toss? The Cowboys won the toss in Dallas and took the ball to start the game, and the Dolphins won the toss last Thursday and deferred - both times it was the Patriots that ended up doubling down, turning relatively close games into blowouts by virtue of scoring to end each first half and scoring to start the second half.

In the right hands, deferring to the second half is a powerful tool, but in the wrong hands, it's still advantage, Patriots

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