The use of analytics in football is nowhere close to that of baseball, but more and more NFL teams are starting to pay attention to it now as technology has advanced over the years. New Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt was asked to give his thoughts on the use of analytics in a Tuesday morning interview on 104.5 The Zone and the former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator explained that while he respects analytics, he really doesn’t pay much attention to them.
“This is the way to look at it from a perspective of play calling,” started Whisenhunt,” as quoted by Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com. “I can’t tell you thousands and thousands of plays that you’ve gone in there and you’ve prepared to see a defense and you can run all the analytics that you want but there is no guarantee on third-and-1 in a critical situation in the game that they are going to play the defense they’ve shown 99 out of 100 times. It just doesn’t happen.
“There is always the human element in there, I think. Listen, you’re right, I’m an engineer. I understand the trends, I understand the probabilities, I understand all that. But if you get so wrapped up in analytics sometimes, you lose a feel for the game. And to me, there is an emotional side of the game and there is also a feel for the game. When you see a guy like [Frank] Wycheck make a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone with the guy draped all over him, how do you put an analytic on that? ”
Steelers team president Art Rooney II was asked to give his thoughts on the use of analytics in an interview with David Todd of ESPN 970 shortly after the 2013 season ended.
“It’s definitely something that we are doing and plan to and pay attention to, and I think it’s going to be something that every team has the capacity now to dig deeper,” said Rooney. “I think to some extent we have been doing it for a long time, because anybody that’s been around a coaching staff knows how much time they study different down and distance situations.
“So now, I think with computer research and all the information that can get stored, there is an ability now to call up more information, more quickly, which I think that every team going to want to take advantage of and I think we’re no exception. We’ve got to be able to provide our coaches and our scouts that kind of information, so its definitely something that we’re looking at and are going to continue to try to make sure we have that ability.”
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has stated in the past that many of his in-game decisions are based on feel as well as the ebb and flow of the game, and it appears as though Whisenhunt generally does the same. On the flip side, Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey admitted last season that they use a tech platform, created by Virginia-based Decision Lens Inc., to help them with draft preparation and the decision-making process.
“In the 21st century today, you should always do your due diligence with an organization to explore whatever resources can make you more competitive within your industry,” Dorsey said, according to the Kansas City Business Journal.
We are starting to see more and more teams add analytic departments. The Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills announced such additions just last year, and several others have had them in place for a while now.
As far as the Steelers adding an analytics department, Rooney makes it sound like it’s in the plans. Even if it is used as a quick reference and opinion as opposed to it being the law, it certainly can’t hurt. It’s time for them to start playing some Moneyball as well.