Coaching the analytically correct way

NFL coaches are smart guys but they desperately need some strategy tips

Updated: August 31, 2010, 12:12 PM ET
By Peter Keating | ESPN the Magazine
Getty ImagesBy the numbers, the Saints' onside kick to start the second half of Super Bowl XLIV was a no-brainer.

Former Bears QB Virgil Carter made the first serious attempt to statistically analyze NFL action in 1969. Carter, once a stats major at BYU, identified 53 variables for each play in a game, then fed 8,373 punch cards of data into an IBM 360. The mainframe needed nearly 20 minutes to analyze the information for each query Carter posed. Alas, the game hasn't gotten any simpler in the ensuing 41 years, but processing the info has certainly become faster.

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.