Broncos' analytics director will be in Kubiak's headset


The NFL's "play it by the book" adage has taken on a different meaning in the age of analytics.

Ron Rivera learned the hard way. After being saddled with the NFL's worst record in close games early in his Panthers coaching career, Rivera saved his job with an epiphany that abandoned long-held, risk-averse gridiron axioms.

Top 10 lists:

Rivera ditched conventional wisdom after reviewing a study by a professor at his alma mater, UC Berkeley.

"There's a stats professor at Cal who did a study on fourth down and concluded you're more apt to make it on fourth down than on third down," Rivera told NFL Media columnist Michael Silver in 2013. "So is that the new book? My attitude is, forget 'The Book.'"

Armed with an expanded understanding of probability in determining the outcome of football games, Rivera began reeling off victories in close games by employing the enlightenment of analytics.

Rivera isn't the only coach investing in "calculated risk taking."

Recently hired director of analytics, Mitch Tanney, has been trailing coach Gary Kubiak during game-simulation portions of Broncos practice early in training camp.

"If we're moving the ball or we're doing formatting," Kubiak explained, via the team's official website, "I've got Mitch with me because he's going to be on the headset."

Tanney's role is to feed Kubiak quick reports on the statistical probabilities of key situations.

Rivera discovered that passively settling for field goals or punts rather than aggressively going for first downs and extended possessions was a losing philosophy.

Tanney will advise Kubiak on the risk-reward ratios that can be used to improve decision-making on fourth downs and at the goal line.

"Sometimes you play by the book and you miss opportunities," Rivera said of his 2013 conversion. "It's been an enlightening situation for me. One of the things that I want to try to do is to make sure we are in the best position to win. And the other realization is kicking field goals is obviously not good enough."

One can't help but wonder if Packers coach Mike McCarthy might have embraced a "fortune favors the bold" approach if he had a director of analytics in his ear in the NFC Championship Game.

For that matter, it's fair to ask if Pete Carroll would have put the ball in Marshawn Lynch's hands with the Super Bowl on the line.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast discusses Steve Smith's retirement news and predicts the training camp QB battles.