How to Win in Football

Be Aggressive
By: Paul Bessire, WhatIfSports.com
January 15th, 2009

1. Be aggressive: B-e A-g-g R-e-s-s-i-v-e (this chant also perfectly fits my name). How do the cheerleaders have this right, but not the coaches? Well, cheerleaders, poker players, successful business people, Mike Leach, chess masters, Mike D'Antoni and others have this right. Put the pressure on. By now, this should be the relatively obvious theme to this article. Be smart and efficient, while going for it all and keeping the other team on its toes and forcing mistakes.

The most fascinating thing that we have discovered while comparing teams of different eras through our simulation technology is that, when teams appear to be otherwise even, the more aggressive team wins more often than not. The best example of this is our analysis on the Top Ten Super Bowl Champions of All-Time, where the 1999 St. Louis Rams win over the 1985 Chicago Bears and others. Why is this true? Conservative teams have minimal margin for error. Aggressive teams can make mistakes and survive, while increasing the likelihood of both scoring and forcing the opposition into costly mistakes.

Another good example from a different sport is the San Diego Padres. It is very difficult to win consistently in a ballpark that minimizes the amount of scoring opportunities because the team cannot make any mistakes. The Padres have to win every close game. A good, well-crafted team can do it, but it's easier to build a successful team for more offensive ballparks.

In football, surface and playing conditions can play a role, but it's mostly up to the team to create its aggression. There is a saying that "defense wins championships." I would disagree and say that aggression (if efficient) wins championships. In actuality, it's just much easier to run an aggressive defense and escape the fans' wrath when a defensive mistake is made as opposed to hiding a seemingly costly mistake on offense.

Coordinators like Jim Johnson (Eagles) and Dick LeBeau (Steelers) have figured out that aggression wins. Offenses need to follow suit. Try to gain as many (expected) yards on every play as possible and score on every possession and the team will succeed far more often than not.

Someone recently asked me if we factor in "clutch" stats after a college player led his team through a game-winning "two-minute drill" in the waning seconds of a big game. The answer is "no" because this was a situation in which the player was finally given the ability from the coaching staff to run plays that maximized the team's expected output. Players and teams can do this whenever they want and should.

Because coaches are scared of any negative, they only allow for this mentality during desperate situations. If they would stop trying not to lose, they may actually win.

Go back to the Introduction for more.

Paul Bessire is the Senior Quantitative Analyst and Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Paul can be reached at btb@whatifsports.com. Thanks!

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