Other side’s view

Colts’ Polian backs Belichick’s play-call

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / March 7, 2010

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Nearly four months later, there is still debate as to whether Patriots coach Bill Belichick should have gone for it on fourth and 2 at his own 28 in the waning minutes against the Indianapolis Colts Nov. 15.

Deep in enemy territory yesterday, Colts president Bill Polian offered attendees at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference all the reasons why it was the right decision. The one-day conference attracted an array of high-powered sports executives and former coaches, including Polian and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Both were on a panel called, “What Geeks Don’t Get: The Limits of Moneyball,’’ and Polian explained why Belichick made the right call, despite Kevin Faulk failing to reach the first-down marker after catching Tom Brady’s pass.

The Colts took advantage and punched in a touchdown for a 35-34 victory.

“Here’s what happened in that ball game,’’ he told the standing-room audience at the Boston Convention Center.

“We were hot offensively in the second half. The Pats had lost [Tully] Banta-Cain. I think they had lost Jarvis Green. They had another one of their rushers gimpy.

“They were playing with two corners who were not starters because both had been injured. It had been a passing game, so their rushers were worn out having to rush.

“It was fourth and 2, and if we get the ball back, there’s a pretty strong likelihood based on what we had done up to that point that we were going to have a good chance to win the game.

“And they had been very successful in the Tom Brady era going for it on fourth down, and their most successful play with Tom Brady was a quarterback sneak.’’

Polian said the Patriots inserted personnel to indicate a Brady sneak.

“To give [Colts coach] Jim Caldwell credit, our guys were prepared for them to go for it in that situation,’’ Polian said.

“Was it the right call? In my opinion, it was 100 percent the right call. He knew his team. He knew the tactics involved. He gave the ball to Faulk, which was the second-most-effective guy in short yardage.

“So it was the right decision from a football standpoint. All of the statistical analysis that’s done over the course of a season means nothing. The situation on the field at the time dictates the call.’’

Polian, Cuban, former NBA coach Avery Johnson, and major league manager Buck Showalter discussed how statistical analysis affected their philosophies, while Red Sox director of baseball information service Tom Tippett was on a panel discussing baseball analytics. Celtics managing partner Steve Pagliuca and president Rich Gotham also participated.

The afternoon session featuring Polian, Cuban, and Patriots president Jonathan Kraft drew the most attention.

Said Kraft, “It probably would have worked against 30 other teams because they would have assumed that Tom was running.

“We had Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk both healthy and both playing, who in short-down situations are about as good as it gets in the league.

“So are you going to take your odds on that or giving it to Peyton Manning at home against a defense that had been [ineffective].’’

After Polian defended Belichick’s decision, author Bill Simmons, a noted Patriots fan, responded, “Yeah, but the Pats were a mess on that drive.’’

And when asked what type of analysis he would like to see added to the NBA, Cuban retorted, predictably, “Referees.’’

Cuban suggested the NBA analyze which officials make what type of calls and how often. Cuban said the Las Vegas betting odds on certain games can be affected by just one or two missed calls.

“You have to do your homework with statistics,’’ Cuban said. “And it’s easy to tell which teams don’t because of the lineups they play. I don’t want to mention the teams because I want them to keep on doing it.’’

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