The argument against analytics is an ever-evolving one. Coaches around the NFL are buying into what the data is telling them more and more.
On the internet, too many people feel as though it’s all or nothing when deciding on whether to do what your chart says. You can’t remove the human element in a game decided by humans.
As is the case with most coaches, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan routinely has his fourth down aggressiveness questioned. San Francisco only has two fourth down attempts this season — which says more about how the offense rarely makes it to fourth down.
Here’s Shanahan’s rant from his appearance on KNBR Thursday afternoon:
“I’ve gone to these meetings a lot in other buildings, and even here. You meet with an analytics department and they bring out this whole book and there’s two million numbers to memorize.
I’ve watched coaches try to do that, and you just melt during games. It’s too much info. And you realize, most of this stuff is pretty natural. And some of it is 50/50. Some of it is your preference.
I try to keep my mind on it and go with what’s natural. And whenever there are those obvious ones, like when to call timeout here with two minutes, or 2:30, you know, all of those things where analytics are 100 percent right with and the math is totally there. I don’t even want to waste the time to learn that stuff because ‘hey guys, when it’s that automatic, just tell me, and that’s when I’ll do it.’
But when it’s not that automatic. If it’s a 50/50 thing, just always let me go with my gut and my experience. Because I’m thinking about the 3-technique. I’m thinking about the weather. I’m thinking about the quarterback on the other side. I’m thinking about what play I have ready. What the fronts are doing. All that stuff.
I’m not just thinking of, ‘well, over 200 times in this situation it’s 58 percent to 42 percent. So, therefore, if you go for it you’ll win over time.’ Well, I’m not playing blackjack. I’m not going to sit at a table for an hour until the percentages even out. I got one shot. And so those ones, I don’t even want to talk about.
But there are some where it’s a no-brainer, and that’s when I want our guys to be decisive as possible. And that’s when I’ll Ron Burgundy it and call timeout without even thinking. There’s too many variables. And it’s one shot. All of those numbers are over time. It might happen over time. But that’s not about right now.
And this time, our guard can’t block that 3-tech. And this time, it’s a different type of weather. Or whatever. This time, the guy on the other side of the ball can’t run a 2-minute drive, so we’re not worried about it. That stuff doesn’t show.”
Let’s go back to Thursday night in Week 3. This is a Twitter account that provides analysis on when and when not to go for it on fourth down:
---> NYG (3) @ SF (3) <---— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) September 22, 2023
NYG has 4th & 8 at the NYG 12, Q2 14:20
Recommendation : Toss-up (+0.7 WP)
Actual play: J.Gillan punts 60 yards to SF 28, Center-C.Kreiter, fair catch by R.McCloud. pic.twitter.com/45sIv49Gg8
While an extreme example, that bot disregards the Giants not having their All-Pro left tackle or best offensive weapon. Not to mention how they hadn’t blocked the 49ers all night.
In years past, it felt like Shanahan’s conservative decision-making was due to the lack of confidence he had in his quarterback, and the utmost confidence he had in his defense.
My argument has always been that if you have a stout defensive unit, then that’s even more of a reason to use every opportunity that you have to put points on the board.
Shanahan’s thought process checks out, as every situation is independent of another. As the schedule ramps up, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to “trust his gut.” Those should come as soon as Sunday night against the Cowboys.