Mark Schlereth Credit: Broncos Wire

The war against analytics has raged on in the aftermath of the San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl LVIII loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. No, Kyle Shanahan didn’t opt for it fourth down rather than kick a field goal, but his team elected to receive the football to start overtime, opting to let Patrick Mahomes have the football in his hands with the game on the line.

It appeared to be a pre-meditated, analytics-driven decision.

Following the game, as per ESPN, Shanahan cited pre-game data from the team’s analytics department as the basis for choosing to receive the ball first in overtime. Their analysis indicated this strategy offered an advantage if both teams scored on their opening drives. In such a scenario, the Niners would then possess the ball in the subsequent period where the first team to score wins, potentially giving them a crucial edge.

Elaborating further on Tuesday, Shanahan said their analytics discussion pre-dated the playoffs. Still, he prioritized flexibility based on the game’s flow. In a high-scoring affair, he admitted, receiving second would have shown the exact score needed to win before San Francisco’s turn.

Shanahan’s choice to receive first in overtime has faced backlash, particularly from the anti-analytics camp. On his Stinkin’ Truth podcast, Mark Schlereth took this opportunity to broadly criticize analytics, attributing Shanahan’s overtime mistakes to their influence.

“They had talked about their plan for overtime going into this thing,” began Schlereth, “and I’m thinking to myself, is this the problem with analytics; this is the problem with math. Because math takes the entirety of the league and makes it all equal.

“You know what’s not equal? Patrick Mahomes versus any other quarterback that you play against, it’s not. So, the fact that you allowed — and this is where I’d be critical of Kyle — your analytics team to influence you into not deferring the overtime kick but accepting the ball — taking the ball. The referee even said, ‘Are you sure? Like, are you sure?'”

“And so, my point being this: I have watched enough Mahomes to know that I don’t want to give him the opportunity to walk me off with the last possession. I’ve seen enough of that. There was a stat going around the other day; it was like: of all the quarterbacks who have faced a double-digit deficit and come back, he’s won 80 percent of the double-digit deficits that he has faced in the quarter of his playoff career. The only other guy to even come close to .500 — he’s like a game or two under. 500 — is Tom Brady at like 11-13 or something crazy; it’s insane.

“The point being is, once you get the ball and you’re in that walk-off situation, it doesn’t matter if you get the ball at the 2-yard line, you’re in four-down territory. And it just changes your perspective on the game. And unless you can get him with a sack earlier or whatever, it’s just something that you didn’t want to face and wasn’t well thought out, but the analytics team talked about, ‘Well, if it’s tied after each guy gets a possession, then the next possession wins.’ Well, I don’t want to give Patrick Mahomes the second possession.”

Schlereth further argued that over-reliance on analytics can lead coaches to envision unrealistic scenarios based on projections, potentially overlooking the unpredictable realities of the game.

“They get so caught up in the math that they lose sight of the game being played,” said Schlereth.

[Stinkin’ Truth]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.