Wednesday, April 20, 2011

the 2 minute offense

I was once watching a game with a friend who was new to (American) football who overheard the commentator use the phrase "2 minute offense" and wondered what it was. Being more interested in the game, I brushed it off with the quick explanation: it's an offensive play scheme designed to move the ball down the field as fast as possible so you can score before the end of the quarter.

My friend waited for the play to run and then asked, "So why wouldn't you do that for the other 13 minutes in the quarter? Isn't the point of the game to score the most points?"

On the surface, it's a good question, but when the theory is reduced to application we find that it's a bad idea because it's resting on some very, critically, super star-level bad assumptions that you made when trying to think about the problem in the abstract.

The truth is that the 2 minute offense can be a wise gamble, but it's a poor standard operating procedure for the same reasons that "crunch time" is a bad thing for software development.

The first killer assumption is: Every 2 minute offense will result in a score.

This is obviously not true. Ask Peyton Manning if being under time pressure prevents throwing interceptions. Moving fast and throwing for big yardage doesn't come with a guarantee that a receiver won't drop the ball. There are a lot of things that can happen to stop the momentum of an offensive drive and can result in you losing the chance to score.

The second killer assumption is: Plays run during a 2 minute offense cost the same as plays run "normally".

Also not true. In a 2MO, you are emphasizing speed over safety. Your players are rushing to try and claw out as much yardage on each play as they can possibly get. At the very least, they are going to tire out much, much quicker. In the best case, your linemen aren't paying attention and accidentally jump offsides costing you both a down and yardage. Worse than that, the quarterback could make a poor decision and accidentally lob the ball straight into the waiting arms of the other team's safety. Maybe the offensive line starts dragging a little bit, and all of a sudden defensive linemen are able to start sacking your quarterback. The end result is you are increasing your chance for failure by stupid mistakes made due to fatigue.

Worst of all is that someone could get hurt: maybe a sneaky defensive lineman finds the hole that your offensive linemen are too tired to cover, or maybe your all star receiver doesn't see the cornerback coming at him so he ends up taking the blow standing straight up. Either way, not only have you failed to score, but you've also potentially lost a multi-million dollar employee because you made a reckless strategic decision.

The third and worst killer assumption is: Everything will be ok.

When the game moves into the high intensity phase of a 2MO, the chances for people getting hurt go up dramatically. Tired players do unsafe things or put themselves into dangerous positions. Receivers stand up when they make the catch and leave themselves exposed to bone shattering hits from the secondary. Running backs plant their feet and try to cut upfield in the wrong way, wrenching their ankles and knees. Even if the players don't sustain an injury that immediately takes them off the field, they can rack up micro injuries (hairline fractures, sprains, etc) that will impact their performance for the majority of the season.

In short, you can't use the 2MO for all 15 minutes of a quarter because 1) the penalty for making a mistake is magnified, 2) the chance of making any mistake is magnified, and 3) people are going to burnout under the load.

I bring all this up because I've recently tried to explain to someone why, as a manager, you should absolutely loathe "crunch time" development. It's usually a better idea to spend the other 13 minutes of a quarter slowly and steadily racking up points than it is to try and rush to cram them all into the last 2 minutes.

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