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Eagles Win is a Victory for Analytics

2018 February 5
by Skip Sauer

Bill Belechick and the Patriots are well known for eschewing traditional choice modes both on the field and in the draft.  But their opponent, and victor in yesterday’s Super Bowl, the Eagles, have apparently gone whole hog incorporating statistical concepts into their game strategies. Here’s a very interesting account from Ben Shpigel in The New York Times (written before the outcome of the game):

The Eagles’ shrewd application of analytics to everything from roster management to in-game strategy helped propel them to a 13-3 record and a berth in Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Analyzing every team’s risk-management style, EdjSports determined that Philadelphia optimizes decisions — on fourth down, especially — better than its peers by a substantial margin.

“The Eagles capture value at every turn,” said Tony DeFeo, the president of EdjSports, “because they understand where the value lies.”

That understanding saturates an organization that not only accepts counterintuitive thinking but encourages it. The approach pervades every layer, from ownership to the football operations department, and from its analytics team to a coaching staff comfortable with mining statistical analysis for advantages. Philadelphia’s defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, who earned an economics degree at Georgetown, has long been one of the league’s leading devotees of statistical analysis — Frigo has known him for more than a decade — and some of his players said this week that they preferred studying probabilities and tendencies even before studying situations or receivers’ routes.

“We’re into the analytics as much as he is,” defensive back Jaylen Watkins said.

The Eagles have empowered Pederson to make decisions rooted in instinct or math, or both. They understand that what may seem a foolish move in the short term may enhance their chances of winning — as that fourth-down call against the Giants did. In a call that was likely to fail, Pederson identified that the upside of going for it outweighed the downside of failing.

That’s just a snip.  The entire story is worth reading.

Strategic adjustment in the NFL is just a fascinating story.

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