Fox making right decision on kickoffs, but for wrong reason

Jim Trotter posted a thought-provoking column today on kickoff deferrals:

Since the start of the 2010 season, flip-winning clubs that have opted to receive first are 185-209 (.470), versus 140-115 (.549) for those deferring.

"Six and a half-dozen," said Broncos coach John Fox. "You don't know how it's going to go."..."There are two principals that apply to coaching," Fox says. "One is, If it ain't broke don't fix it. Two is, Don't get caught up in the same old stuff."
Because the Broncos have scored touchdowns three of the last four games after receiving the second-half kickoff, look for Fox to stay with the same old stuff and not fix what ain't broke.

We've been heartened by John Fox's recent choices to defer possession until the second half kickoff in recent weeks, but it's just as disappointing to learn he's been doing so thanks to some sort of gut feeling.

Back when Bill Belichick started to regularly defer kickoffs, he cited the (slight) possibility of gaining an extra possession as his reasoning. It was another in a long line of coaching innovations he'd picked up from the college game, as quoted in a column from our own TJ from three years ago.

Of course, another supportive point is that getting the ball to start the second half allows a team to immediately act upon the strategic adjustments they've made at halftime.

As for the data cited above, they're quite surprising for the vast differential between winning percentages. And as Jason Lisk points out in a response to Trotter, the statistics that ignore deferral decisions say teams that receive the opening kickoff win at an even lesser rate (46.2% versus the 47% figure from Trotter).

Now, it's important to not see too much in these figures.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that the winning percentages should have a much smaller gap, and in this case, the CW is likely correct.

According to Lisk, teams that received the opening kickoff have gone 300-349 (46.2%) since the beginning of the 2010 season. Bill Belichick's Patriots, alone, have gone 33-8 during that span. Obviously, they haven't won every coin flip, and thus haven't been making the deferral decision weekly, but New England undoubteely has been a big part of that 49-game deficit for teams taking the opening possession.

Our point? It's likely the smarter coaches who have been choosing to defer, and since they're already wiser/better informed to begin with, they're also more likely to win each game.

And yet, it's surprising to see the Lions, who are coached by stats whiz Jim Schwartz, among the teams opting to receive whenever they win the coin toss. Likewise, one wouldn't expect to find a Marvin Lewis-coached team always deferring, what with Lewis's frequent math-challenged fourth-down decisions.

But also notable is that two coaches who have chosen to defer whenever given the choice this season - Seattle's Pete Carroll and Tampa Bay's Greg Schiano - are both recent college coaches.

Without more specific data on the topic (which teams have deferred how many times), we're going to wildly guess that the edge to deferring is actually a slight one, and that the larger discrepancy in Trotter and Lisk's data has more to do with which coaches are doing the deferring.

Yet, even if it is only a slim edge, we'd submit that halftime adjustments alone - which favor a team led by a quarterback as cerebral as Peyton Manning - should be enough reason for the Broncos to defer every time they win a coin toss.

Doug is IAOFM’s resident newsman and spelling czar. Follow him on Twitter @IAOFM

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