If there was a word to describe Chip Kelly's methods, it would be "unconventional." He's been called a mad genius, an aggressive play caller, and a calculated risk-taker. People have been speculating about everything and anything that he might do on the professional level and it hasn't helped that he's been extremely vague with his plans. And while most of the speculation has gone to his offensive scheme, his game management strategies have also gotten some attention as well.
Which brings us to overtime.
Overtime could prove to be one of the more interesting aspect's of Chip Kelly's game plan, simply because NFL overtime is a huge departure from the sudden death employed by the NCAA. And even then, the new overtime rules completely overhauled how it's approached. A few short years ago, the overtime strategy was simple: if you won the coin toss, you received the kick and went for the field goal. In fact, it was so simple that the NFL decided to change all that after the 2009 NFC Championship Game (even though it probably didn't have to). Now if you kick the field goal, the opponent gets an opportunity to counter. If the first possession results in a touchdown, the game is over.
So what will Kelly do? As I mentioned above, Kelly doesn't take risks - he takes calculated ones. What is the calculated risk in the new overtime rules?
If my two cents is worth, well, two cents, don't be surprised if Kelly departs from his normal aggressive stance and chooses to kick during overtimes. There are a lot of things that might factor into that decision, but the simplest might also be the biggest: logic.
Any given possession in football has three outcomes. You can turn the ball over to your opponent (via a lost fumble, interception, missed field goal, downs, or punt), you can kick a field goal, or you can score a touchdown. Of those three outcomes, it is more likely that you will turn the ball over by an incredibly vast margin. Every new set of downs brings with it the possibility of a punt, missed field goal (depending on field position, of course), or turnover on downs. There is a possibility of losing a fumble or throwing a pick on every play. Conversely, the sustained success required for a field goal is unlikely for one specific drive, which is all that matters in overtime. And that's not even considering touchdowns.
All of these things are true for both teams, so what does it matter who gets the ball first? Well, there are seven possible scenarios for a drive, as discussed above: lost fumble, interception, missed field goal, turnover on downs, punt, successful field goal, and a touchdown. Of those seven, only one ends the game and one will give you similar field position to your opponent. In the other five, however, you are almost guaranteed to get better field position, unless the opponent has a good punt or turns the ball over deep in your territory. Additionally, it is a fact that in those five scenarios you have a shorter distance to travel in order to win, since all you need at this point is a field goal.
Weighing all of this, whoever gets the ball second in overtime has a very clear advantage over their opponent. Anyone who watched the Lions game Week 6 last year probably realized this a long time ago. Of course, there are a lot of other factors involved: if your opponent has a lot of offensive momentum going into overtime, you might want the ball just because your defense is on its heels. Likewise, if your defense has played lights-out and shut the opponent down in the fourth quarter so your offense could tie, kicking the ball looks like the more attractive option (although I can see the argument for receiving there too).
But if the game is a slug fest where neither team really ever gained an advantage, I would kick every time and I think that Kelly would, too. Or he could be classic Chip Kelly and do something so out of the ordinary that nobody could have predicted it. That would make discussing this rather pointless, but we're in the slow season, and it's fun to think that our new head coach could be keeping us on our toes about everything.
What do you think? Which strategy gives the biggest advantage in overtime? Or is there one at all?