Running the Numbers: Why the Cowboys’ Onside Kick Was the Right Move
My latest “Running the Numbers” article is a look at Jason Garrett’s decision to attempt a surprise onside kick with a three-point lead and 2:51 to play in the first half. I absolutely loved the call, even though it didn’t work out.
In statistical terms, surprise onside kicks aren’t all that risky. Since 2000, teams that are leading games recover onside kicks around 55 percent of the time. With a lead, any onside kick is unexpected, and thus easily classified as a “surprise.”
Now, the question is whether or not a 55 percent recovery rate is worth the risk of giving up field position. When a team fails to recover an onside kick, they’re basically giving away about 30 yards of field position for free.
Well, it turns out that the value of possessing the football is far, far more valuable than 30 yards of field position (especially 30 yards on the opponent’s end of the field). Teams that return normal deep kickoffs (and thus start around the 20-yard line) typically score around 0.8 points-per-drive. That number jumps to around 2.0 points-per-drive if they recover an onside kick at midfield (i.e. the kicking team fails to recover their surprise attempt). That’s a pretty big jump.
Read more analysis at DallasCowboys.com.