Mixpanel’s game theory: Does icing the kicker work? – Mixpanel

“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.”

—Jimmy Johnson

It ’ s a different classify of “ Hail Mary ”, but it ’ s what coaches and teams hope for : that slim chance that the kicker ’ south rhythm and mental cooking will be disrupted by a last-minute timeout, a tactic known as “ icing the kicker ” .
The impressive total of inquiry and number-crunching on the subject of “ icing the kicker ” has done fiddling to answer whether it ’ s actually an effective tactic or not. Both the results of this research and opinions vary wide :

  • Grantland and

    Freakonomics say icing doesn ’ thymine work

  • The American Statistical Association says icing credibly works, particularly for longer kicks
  • ESPN says icing has the antonym effect ; it actually increases the chances of a successful field goal

And yet, always since a 2004 rule variety that allows NFL coaches to call timeouts from the sidelines, the drill of “ icing ” persists. Whether for reasons rooted in bet on hypothesis or superstition, icing international relations and security network ’ thyroxine going anywhere – even if it doesn ’ t make a deviation. Heck, even Madden 17 added an ice-the-kicker have this year .
We know that icing the kicker has worked at least once this season. And deciding not to ice the kicker has failed at least once. But how frequently does this traditional tactic swing an NFL game ? Is the metaphorical mint flip a chance worth taking ?
We ’ ve already used Segmentation and JQL on fifteen years ’ worth of in-game NFL data to understand why the Patriots were favored to win the Super Bowl in the preseason and why Sunday nox games are so much better than Thursday night games. Could we use Mixpanel again to settle, once and for all, if icing the kicker ever makes a difference in a game’s outcome?

To ice or not to ice; let’s look at the data

To answer this doubt, star Support Engineer Brandon Skerda again took matters into his own code. He built a JQL question to see how successful icing the kicker has been in the twenty-first century :

We’re going to get technical for a minute and lay out how we built this query. If you want to skip to the results, just scroll on down.

To begin, we considered when a head coach might want to ice an opposing kicker. Timeouts in the NFL are fabulously valuable and as such, given the anecdotally minor gamble of the timeout impacting the kicker ’ mho performance, a passenger car would likely only consider an methamphetamine in desperate situations, with the game on the tune. These situations can be defined by the time on the clock and current score of the game :

  • The bet on must either be in the last moment of the one-fourth quarter or in overtime, where a plain goal is potentially a game-winning consequence
  • The pre-kick crippled score must see the crime anywhere between three points behind, and six points ahead of the department of defense
    • If the discourtesy is three points behind, a successful sphere goal would probably send the game to overtime
    • If the discourtesy is six points ahead, a successful field finish would likely seal the game by forcing the defense to score doubly ( at least nine points ) in identical inadequate orderliness

Next, we defined an “ice” in the context of our data. As discussed in our earlier NFL data explorations, our dataset consists of one datapoint per play, with each datapoint containing numerous properties of the act in motion. One of these properties is “ Timeouts Remaining for the Defense. ” If a site rebel with the plot on the line, where the department of defense took a timeout between the previous play and a field finish, we considered that timeout taken to be an ice .
Definitions in place, we constructed the query. “ First, having queried all 700,000 plays in our dataset, representing every gambling from the 2000-2015 NFL seasons, I then filtered down the datum to just those plays where the game is on the channel, ” Brandon says. The foremost trickle : retort events from the fourth quarter or overtime .
Next, for fourth quarter plays, only consider those in the last 80 seconds (enough for two full-40-second-play-clock plays, one of which being the field goal attempt). then, we filtered again to address familiarity of score, removing all plays where the result of the field goal would not decide the game .
Now we can dive into the real meat of the query. To start, we iterated over all the plays that passed through our filters, seeking out sequences of two plays in duration where the second turn is a field goal attempt. We tackled this task on a per team, per game, and per quarter basis ( as either team might have opportunities for a game deciding field goal in both the end of the fourth quarter and overtime ) .
Having identified these sequences, we saved the relevant details of the plays : their name ( “ Pass ”, “ Rush ”, “ Field Goal ”, etc. ), the time on the game clock, and the number of timeouts remaining for the defense mechanism .
Taking these details into account, we can check for the final condition that determines whether or not the field goal undertake was iced : if the defense had more timeouts remaining on the play prior to the kick, the kicker has indeed been iced. With that, we can determine whether or not each sequence contained an ice .
Next, we grouped up each sequence into four possible categories:

  1. Iced and Good – the kicker was iced, but made the airfield finish, earning three points for his team
  2. Iced and No Good – the kicker was iced, and much to the joy of the defense, missed the ensuing kick back
  3. Clean and Good – the kicker was not iced, and, possibly unsurprisingly, made his kick successfully
  4. Clean and No Good – despite not being iced, the kicker missed his playing field finish undertake, again a lot to the delight of the defense

Finally, it’s just a matter of math, counting the number of kicks in each class and performing some simple division to determine the average success rate of kicking a field goal in frost and clean situations. The results are…
…anticlimactic. Having crunched all that data, it seems kickers that have been iced are a whole 0.1 % less likely to make their kick successfully. While these results suggest that icing the kicker may not be effective in game on the line scenarios, there must be some reason why head coaches turn to the tactic.  
thus, we broadened our search to include all field goal attempts, at any period during a game. After all, the game need not be on the cable in order to necessitate an internal-combustion engine. Consider a last second sphere goal at the end of the first half : if the team on department of defense has a timeout to spare, with little possibility of a successful drive after the complain, why not burn that timeout in the hopes of saving three points ?
Having removed the game-on-the-line filters, the results began to shake out a snatch more :
Across all field goal attempts, the col between success rates widens to 5.4 %. Of run, though, we ’ ra comparing very different sample sizes for clean and ice kicks : 12,325 total field finish attempts to 541, respectively. Given the relatively humble number of ices, these results must be taken with a granulate of salt. however, since icing the kicker entirely became possible slightly more than a ten ago, we ’ re looking at all potential occurrences of icing the kicker .
If I ’ m a head coach, 5 % is not terribly compelling, specially given the questionable statistical meaning of the data. After all, my timeouts are precious, as they give me the ability to march my team down the field without taking excessively much fourth dimension off the clock. It ’ s therefore a careful balance wheel : do I want to give myself a small chance of sealing the game right now, or preserve more time for my team to work with on an ensuing drive?
Let ’ s think about this a small more. If the adversary scores a field finish, the ensuing kickoff will more than likely leave me behind my own 30 yard line. At that outdistance to the goal line, my chances of scoring are first gear. According to to Brian Burke of Advanced Football Analytics, I have a less than 20 % opportunity of getting a touchdown, and a less than 10 % of getting a field finish. That likelihood is foster reduced in time-pressure situations like the end of a half, but I would placid need more than 5 % from an ice .
Field goal success rate, of course, is heavily dependent on the distance of the kick. Until now, we ’ ve left that variable out of the equation, but it most surely could have an shock on the results. consequently, we grouped “ clean ” kick vs. “ iced ” kick success rates by the outdistance of the plain goal attack – a simpleton exchange to the JQL question .
Having run the question, we arrived at an exemplifying ocular :
These swerve lines tell an scheme narrative : icing the kicker starts being effective (meaning, the opposing kicker becomes more likely to miss their attempt) at 33.9 yards, and becomes increasingly more effective the larger the distance between the ball and the finish posts. At long ranges specially, the trend suggests that icing the kicker considerably increases the likelihood of that kicker missing the field goal attempt.

To sum it all up…

First off, let ’ s expect at the results that we expected : In non-critical situations, where the plot international relations and security network ’ t on the line, kickers are successful 82 % of the fourth dimension and do worse when they ’ re iced ( 82 % overall success rate for kicks vs. 77 % success rate for frost kicks ) .
In game-critical situations, kickers have a 76 % success pace ; mean, the increase pressure makes them worse overall. But, as Grantland concluded five years ago, icing actually seems to have no effect on a kicker’s success rate, overall.
But, if the distance of the playing field goal is 34 yards or greater, icing at any luff in the game – including critical game-on-the-line situations – does, in fact, make it less likely the kicker will succeed. not amazingly, the greater the distance, the higher the odds of a kicker miss :
therefore, depending on the site, there are a few conclusions a head coach should make based on this data :

  1. If there is enough time to make a reasonable attempt at a drive, the decision comes down to some slightly more complicated math

    . With the results above, we can determine how likely an ice is to cause the kicker to miss their attempt. The probability of scoring on the ensuing drive is highly team-dependent. But if the chance to save the field goal is larger than the chance to score, a head coach should ice away.

  2. If there’s not enough time to make a reasonable attempt at a drive following the kick-potentially-to-be-iced, and at least one timeout remains, the decision comes down to the distance of the kick entirely. Any more than 34 yards and the methamphetamine is, statistically speaking, likely to reduce the opposing kicker ’ s opportunity of making that field goal .

The Vikings faced the latter situation against the Lions in workweek 9. Up three, a Lions field finish sends the game to overtime. There would be no time for a last infinitesimal Vikings repel – entirely five seconds remained on the clock. The Vikings had one timeout left as Matt Prater readied for a 58-yard undertake .
“ Brandon Skerda, head passenger car of the Minnesota Vikings, ices the bejeezus out of Matt Prater in that situation, ” says Brandon. “ A 58-yard field goal has a 24.5 % opportunity of succeeding if not iced and 10.0 % find if it is. The Vikings would have been 59.5 % more probable to win the game, avoiding overtime raw, if Mike Zimmer had iced the complain. ”
If football is a crippled of inches, that 59.5 % increase in the find of winning sounds like a sea mile .

The article was co-authored by Brandon Skerda, who really is a rock star Support Engineer at Mixpanel and our resident NFL & NBA analytics expert. Connect with Brandon on Twitter: @bskerda
Artwork courtesy of Jack Kurzenknabe, and is in the public world .

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