Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has long had an analytics team in place. What was missing was a coach that also believed, adopted and inspired his players to become data-driven. With Doug Pederson on the sidelines guiding the team, analytics gave the Eagles a competitive advantage throughout the season and in Super Bowl LII. The Eagles are one of the NFL’s top turnaround stories this season after improving from 7-9 to 13-3.
The Eagles adopted an analytics-based approach for making key field decisions. That culture change required a confident, strong head coach who is committed to the process, several analytical gurus and an entire team of football players that would take numbers seriously. Everyone had to memorize stats. Everyone had to be able to cite those odds on demand. Pederson used simple shades of stoplight colors – green, yellow and red – to communicate the next action to take. That commitment to get everyone on board paid off dividends. It made Eagles Super Bowl Champion dreams a reality.
Moneyball for Football
In order to build a cost-effective team, the Eagles adapted a variation of Moneyball for football. Unlike Moneyball’s baseball salary rules, football has salary caps. Much like Moneyball’s infamous Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s, Philly fanatics criticized the Eagles every move. Philadelphia fans do have a reputation. They are an extremely passionate group that are not easy to please.
The Eagles also use real-time analytics on the sidelines. They aren’t the first team to do it and they certainly won’t be the last. What makes them unstoppable is the amount of aggressive, calculated high risk, fourth down gambles that played out in their favor.
Pederson is a fearless risk-taker who rejects football’s traditional thinking.
This season the Eagles offensive teams gambled on fourth downs regardless of time on the clock. They were successful 65.4 percent of the time. Only the Green Bay Packers attempted more fourth down drives. The results are revealing. The Eagles scored with a touchdown or a field goal on 13 out of the 18 tries, racking up 85 points. More shockingly, the Eagles didn’t give up even one point after they failed to convert on fourth downs, according to ESPN.
Analytics were also used by the defensive teams. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz studied econometrics, the application of statistical and mathematical techniques in solving problems, at Georgetown. His calculated approach to football is taught to his players.
While the Philly fanatics continue to celebrate this historic Super Bowl victory, rest assured more football team owners, coaches and players are going to be studying what the Eagles did this past year, try to reverse engineer the math and take analytics one step further. The winds of change have blown through the lucrative sports world. Gut instinct decisions will continue to fade in the face of modern data-driven decisions that are augmented by a machine.
Scenario planning by algorithms, formulas, figures and data with real-time data collected from sensors is the game of the future. Within modernized stadiums and practice fields around the world, professional players are monitored by video cameras and accessories such as accelerometers, heart rate sensors and even GPS-like location systems or RFID chips. Powerful GPU-databases such as Kinetica will process millions of combinations in milliseconds to deliver coaches on the sidelines the next competitive edge -when every moment counts.
*Moneyball is a Biographical movie on Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful attempt to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players.