Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Video Games and Goal-Line Stands

I don't know if anyone outside of televangelists and Luddites still claim that video games warp the human brain. But in a way, all that fear-mongering of the 1980s was correct: Video games have warped my brain, because they've completely changed the way I think about sports. Today's example: The goal-line stand.

Sunday night, Jets-Dolphins: Rex Ryan's squad of drunkards and clowns has the ball at the Miami 1-yard line, and a one-point lead. Under two minutes to play. Dolphins with two time outs. And like many, I'm thinking: Don't score. Waste as much time as possible. (This is, of course, a strategy born of video games, because in EA Sports' version of college football, anything more than four seconds is enough time for an opponent to run Four Verticals and complete an 89-yard touchdown pass, somehow bypassing every safety backed off in a Cover Three prevent.) Which is what Rex Ryan tried to do, challenging a 12-men on the field call (something I was unaware you could even do), a challenge which, if successful, would have essentially enabled the Jets to run out the clock. The challenge failed. The Jets could have downed the ball, or dropped a foot short of the goal line, on the next two plays. Instead, they chose to score on the next play. And given the way the Miami offense had shredded the Jets' secondary all night, you just knew this was too much time. Miami drove downfield, and the Jets somehow stopped them on their own goal line, but it would have been much easier if Ryan had chosen to futz around for two plays, forced the Dolphins to burn their time-outs, and then punched it in. By embracing conventional wisdom, the Jets nearly lost the game.  

Monday night, Bears-Packers: Bears, tied 17-17, possess the ball on the Packers' doorstep, under two minutes to play. And I'm thinking: Let them score. Because this is what you do in the video game. Because this is always the best strategy in a pixelated world where offense can be generated in a matter of seconds. But as video game offenses have increasingly converged with real-life offenses, this is now the obvious choice in humanoid football, as well. The Packers have one of the four best quarterbacks in football. The Packers have five excellent ball-catching men. The Packers, with one minute and 45 seconds, had at least a 30 percent chance of driving downfield and scoring a touchdown. Whereas the Bears' kicker, Robbie Gould, had at best a 5 percent chance of missing a glorified extra point. This concept is now so simple, even a lunatic (or an insightful pro football writer like my friend Seth Wickersham) can see the logic. Video games no longer warp the way we think. Video games dictate the way we think.


Eric P said...

They ain't done learned their lessons since the Patriots, pre-annoying version, spurned conventional wisdom and instead used 90 seconds to set up Super Bowl XXXVI's game-wining field goal.

WarningTrack said...

I tend to think that this thinking has always been smart, but that it took video games to help us realize it. In the past, we'd all just nod as some crappy former QB would spit out some platitude about not taking points off the board, or "playing to win," or something else that playing football in no way actually qualifies him to say about football strategy in general.

Video games allowed us to step into these roles. It also allowed us to do it hundreds or thousands of times more often than actual coaches and players, which gives us the opportunity to see patterns and trends. A simulator gave us the self-confidence as a fan base to know that when Jon Gruden says something, we have repeated simulations to judge it against with some degree of (semi) authority.

I suspect, in another 5-6 years, teams will be letting each other score on goal line plays like that with regularity. Because, as you say, it's just the smart thing to do in many instances. And the smart thing almost invariably wins out, no matter how sacrilegious it seems at first.