Polian vs Statistics: Defensiveness Wins Championships?

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Polian vs Statistics: Defensiveness Wins Championships?
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Bill Polian, Jim Irsay, and Peyton Manning

"Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything. 14% of people know that." - Homer Simpson

Friends, football fans, sports media...why so defensive this morning? Everybody is up in arms about yet another radio interview in which Bill Polian, the master-puppeteer of the Indianapolis Colts (and the Buffalo Bills when they were good, and the Carolina Panthers when they were good) declares that he does not utilize the same statistical information as people that do not make football decisions professionally to make his professional football decisions.  Shocking.

Here's a segment of Bill Polian's interview on an Indianapolis radio station, courtesy of Paul Kuharsky's AFC South Blog:

“Well first of all let me say that I think the discussion about the running game is way off base. This is stat geeks looking at a stat and saying ‘oh gee Indianapolis has a problem’. We finished first in the conference and I believe second in the league in total offense. We’re always among the top four or five in scoring every year. The object of the game is to score. It’s not to make stat geeks happy in terms of yards per carry. I’m criticizing people, make no bones about it, who deal only in statistics. The object of our running game because we are high scoring, high powered, offense is to run effectively, i.e. run in the red zone, which we do very, very effectively. And run in four minutes and short yardage, which we have not done effectively. The improvement there I believe has to come from the back. That’s not the responsibility of the offensive line. You get a body on a body and a back has to either make somebody miss or more likely in short yardage you as know Joe run through a tackle. You know the idea of the idea of the statistical analysis of the running game is about as far off base as it possibly could be, in my opinion.”

Stampede Blue is extremely offended by thisMike Florio of ProFootballTalk doesn't seem particularly pleased either.  And poor Aaron Schatz, who's entire career is based on creatively using statistics to analyze the National Football League...he always takes Bill Polian's radio interviews too seriously

But why? This isn't a Matt Millen interview.  The Colts win their division nearly every year.  Polian's track record deserves quite a bit of credit.  When a successful general manager of an NFL franchise offers some insight into his general strategy for building a team and competing in games, football fans and media pundits shouldn't be offended.  They should adapt and utilize that information to differentiate between the statistics that are actually valuable to NFL teams and those that are simply pleasurable to fans.  Or, if they think they know better, get hired by an NFL team.

Bill Polian isn't anti-statistics.  He takes two stats very seriously: Pass yards per attempt and turnovers.  Bill Polian was asked what the Colts two first round draft picks would add to the running game, and in the quote above he advised his faithful football followers that perhaps the primary reason the team chose two offensive linemen early in the draft was actually to improve the passing game. 

If an improved running game is a side effect of the Colts' priority to give Manning an extra split second in the pocket, then I am very optimistic. Adding size and youth to the offensive line certainly won't hurt.  The Colts also drafted a running back in the forth round of the NFL draft, and perhaps this addition will help the team improve in short yardage situations as Polian alluded to in the radio interview above.  At this point though, I really do trust Bill Polian.  Few fans get to enjoy such extended success of a team in a sports league with a salary cap balancing the competition so effectively.

The biggest improvement for the Colts this year may not be their draft picks: Click here to read more.

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