Icing the Kicker: Provable Advantage… or Football Voodoo?

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When Mason Crosby’s gorgeous 51 yard field goal attempt on his first swing in Dallas was waved off by the dreaded “icing the kicker” timeout, all of Packer Nation had to feel agonized and sick.

Crosby had to do it again.

And he did, with the ugliest “beautiful” kick in Packer history. A driving, weaving, wobble-three-ways before cutting-into-the-fairway history maker. Hell, I’ve seen drunks walk home in a straighter line than that!

This launched us into another discussion of whether the move to “ice” a kicker with a last second timeout before the snap actually “works.”

The answer, is, well… complicated. Let’s say… “yes+.” Or, “maybe^” or just “depends#”.

The boys at Freakonomics have posited that not only does “icing” a kicker not work, but it actually HELPS a kicker make his kick. But there are many ways to cook the statistical stew of so-called “pressure” kicks and also to define what “icing” actually is.

The latest run at the numbers is from a site called Mixpanel, and cutting to the chase, they say that icing “works”…. for about a 0.1% statistical advantage. Not much juice, for all of that squeezing.

But… wait a minute. There’s a flag on the number crunching. When they look at length of field goal as well, then the “advantage” margin of calling that timeout appears to zoom up considerably. What gives?

My theory is that – yeah, I bet icing a guy helps induce a miss on LONGER field goals – for one simple reason: you are asking the kicker to make a hard field goal TWICE, and not just once.

A great kicker will make a 50-yarder twice without blinking (Dan Bailey’s stroke on his was so effortless and money!) while a sketchy kicker (say, Roberto Aguayo) is unlikely to make even one, much less two. Therefore, if he LUCKS into the first FG, chances are that he will miss the second – BUT NOT BECAUSE HE HAS BEEN ICED! – but because that’s a kick he is statistically not supposed to make very often.

I think it’s a stat that reveals itself out of correlation, and not causation.

But then again, I am famously and admittedly as dense at Britney Spears when it comes to math. So I’ll let smarter people than me, take a stab at it.

FROZEN

8 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t pretend to know if it works or doesn’t. What I do know is how big of a horses a$$ a coach looks when he calls a TO a millisecond before the kick only to have the kicker miss, get a do over and then nail it down the pipe. HA!!
    Dan Baileys kicking form is reminiscent of Freddy Couples swing. Fluidity.

  2. Czabe – I think you might be caught in the “past results do not change future odds” mistake. If you flip a coin and get heads 9 times in a row – it’s still 50% the next flip. The data suggests icing creates an edge. Almost negligible for shorter kicks – but, expands with the distance. Makes sense if you think of the angles to hit the uprights and how margin of error narrows as you back up. Situational – but, I’m taking that 5% if I’m a coach (sorry audience).

  3. It sure worked against the Redskins kicker in London. Ended in a tie with Cincy b/c he couldn’t hit two 34-yarders in a row after Lewis iced him.

  4. I’d love to see more stats on this. I’ve always thought it was a bad idea. Missing the kick just before the timeout is called gives kicker a chance to make adjustments (wind, turf conditions, ballsack, whatever..). If you make the first one you’re likely dialed in for the second.

  5. It’d be interesting to bring in a stat on how many of the ‘iced’ field goals were kicked and missed, then the real one made… Imagine if Crosby’s first attempt had sailed wide right, then he made the real one. Cowboy nation would be pissed…or more pissed than they already are.

  6. rough day. i live in tucson and have been listening to 980 5-6 years (not long compared to most). always liked andy. radio is a tough ass biz.

  7. I’d try a different strategy. I’d try my best to make the kicker fully believe that I’m going to call a time out, but then not call it. Hopefully, that could mess with his pre-kick routine. The timeouts are dumb nowadays, in my opionion, because smart teams are ordering their center to snap a practice kick when the timeout whistle blows.

  8. I maintain I read a WSJ article with real numbers about this in the 2000’s. I tried to find it once, but could not locate it with searches. Verdict: icing kickers works. About a 2% advantage in that article.

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