This is a guest column from BSMW member “rrsafety.” I should have one more post later today as well.

Borges and Felger: Lies My Radio Told Me

Ron Borges, football writer for the Boston Globe, must have a prodigiously large arse.
How else to explain his ability to pull so much out of it at a moment’s notice? Not to mention all the room he must have up there to house his many grudges, as well as the heads of his butt-kissing sycophants: most of the Boston sports writing corps and all of Borges’ editors at the Boston Globe.

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But most of all, we know that furthest up the Borges rear resides the formerly respectable Michael Felger of the Boston Herald and of Boston’s ESPN Radio whose new relationship with Borges reads more like Stephen King’s Apt Pupil than it does a professional relationship.

Take for instance this bit of bitter wisdom from the almighty Borges on the January 3rd edition of the Mike Felger radio show: I, dear reader, am a “cuckoo person.”

That’s right, but not only am I cuckoo person, but I am not objective and I don’t care to look at unpleasant truths. I know this because Ron Borges and Mike Felger told me so, and they are always correct, right? Good thing for us that such virtuous folks as Borges and Felger are here to be of right mind, objective, and brave enough to look the truth straight in the eye.

Here is the exchange:

Borges: I also don’t trust the kicker [rookie Patriot Kicker Stephen Gostkowski]. I think eventually the kicker is going to hurt them and he could very easily have hurt them in each of the last two games.

Felger
: Yeah, they… Belichick has done a great job keeping him out of harms way during the season….

Borges: … but eventually…

Felger: …I mean, the Patriots had more fourth down attempts… Did you know this? … They went on fourth down more than any other team in the league.

Borges: Yeah, and anybody who thinks that is not kicker related is a cuckoo person.

Felger: Right, or just not being objective or doesn’t care to look at it.

Borges: Right, they just don’t care to look at it.

Hmmmm. Lot’s going on here. But let’s sort it out by being “objective”.
First of all, let us see if they are correct regarding the most basic fact of their assertion. “[The Patriots] went on fourth down more than any other team in the league.”

Oh? Did they?

According to the NFL.com’s team statistics the Patriots “went for it” on fourth down 20 times. Was that “more than any other team in the league”? Sorry Ron and Mike, it was not. In fact, there were six other teams in the NFL that went for it on fourth down 20 or more times during the 2006 regular season. Put another way, of the 31 other teams in the NFL, almost 20% of them went for it on fourth down as many times or more than the Patriots.

So, did the Patriots lead the league in fourth down attempts? No.

Were their number of attempts completely out of step with all other NFL teams? No.

Simply put, Borges’ and Felger’s premise was wrong from the very start.

But let us not just leave it at that, okay? To the observer uninitiated in the ways of Ron Borges, one might simply see this as a mistaken criticism of a rookie kicker and the Patriots lack of faith in him. And that observer would be wrong.

Strange as this all sounds, this Borges and Felger exchange has nothing to do with the kicker Gostkowski and has everything to do with Borges deep animosity toward all-things Belichick. For Borges, this is about the “arrogant” Bill Belichick who believes that the team’s success is all attributable to “the Belichick system” and that “Xs and Os” are more important than the “Jimmys and Joes”.

You see, one of Borges favorite “Jimmys and Joes” was the Patriots’ former kicker Adam Vinatieri who the Patriots were unable to re-sign last year. The more Borges is able to tear down the Patriots’ kicker, the more he is able to peddle his anti-Belichick wares that Bill’s systematic arrogance is leading the team to certain failure.

(A quick timeout is necessary here for many a reader may wonder, “But how can the system be a failure if they won three Super Bowls? How can it be a failure when the team has again made the playoffs and were 12-4 this year? How can the Belichick system be cheap and arrogant if the team consistently made Adam Vinatieri the highest paid kicker in the history of the NFL?” All good questions, but I’m afraid that asking such questions only makes you a cuckoo person.)

But there is another issue to address besides the mere misstatement of statistical facts perpetrated by the brothers Grimm. That is the contention that the decision to go for it on fourth down is “kicker related” and that those of us who do not believe that the evidence suggests that it is “kicker related” are cuckoo, non-objective and don’t care to look at it.

Okay, let look at as scientifically as possible by setting up some givens.

Let us stipulate that Adam Vinatieri is the best kicker ever. I will stipulate this because of two things 1) the Patriots made him the highest paid kicker in history, and 2) the enemies of the people – Borges and Felger – continue to tell me so. Therefore, polar opposites – the Patriots and the two-headed Hydra – agree on one thing – Adam Vinatieri was an outstanding field goal kicker.

If that is a given, than let us set up a hypothesis (remember high school science?). Taking Ron’s lead, I will propose the Borges Hypothesis of Fourth Down Attempts, that is, “When the Patriots have a great field goal kicker that that they trust, they will attempt very few fourth downs, and, conversely, when the Patriots have a field kicker they seek to ‘keep out of harms way’ due to a lack of faith, they will have many fourth down attempts.”

Good news. We have information directly from the NFL to test our hypothesis.

  • 2005 Regular Season – great kicker A.V. – 17 fourth down attempts.
  • 2006 Regular Season – “out of harm’s way” kicker S.G. – 20 fourth down attempts.

Ouch.

Shouldn’t there be a much MUCH bigger difference between these two numbers? I mean, we are talking about the greatest kicker in the history of the league vs. the nerve-wracking ineptness of a rookie kicker.

I know, perhaps the A.V. team of 2005 had a lot of fourth down attempts because the team ran more plays that year in comparison to 2006.

  • 2005 Regular Season – A.V. – 1031 plays – 1.64% of plays were 4th down attempts
  • 2006 Regular Season – S.G. – 1055 plays – 1.89% of plays were 4th down attempts

Uh, oh…. That can’t be the reason, because the Patriots actually had more overall plays in 06 than in 05.

Okay, I’ve got it now, maybe the reason why the Patriots attempted so many 4th down plays even though they had the greatest kicker in the world was because it just so happened that in 2005 the Patriots were extra-special, double-luck good at converting those fourth downs.

  • 2005 Regular Season – A.V. – 76% success on 4th down conversion attempts
  • 2006 Regular Season – S.G. – 80% success on 4th down conversion attempts

What? You mean even though the Patriots had LESS success at converting 4th downs in 2005, they STILL had A.V. sitting on the sidelines? How can this be when Borges had told us that the number of 4th downs you go for is “kicker related”??

Perhaps if we look at it another way. What percentage of the Patriots plays were FAILED fourth down attempts. This is a great statistic because it goes to the heart of the matter “The willingness of a coach to tempt failure in the quest for a first down”.

  • 2005 Regular Season – A.V. – .387% of plays were failed 4th down conversion attempts
  • 2006 Regular Season – S.G. – .379% of plays were failed 4th down conversion attempts

YIKES! Statistics from the NFL demonstrate that the Patriots actually accepted a higher percentage of failed 4th downs with Adam Vinatieri than they did with Stephen Gostkowski.

If Borges and Felger are correct, and the number of fourth down attempts is “kicker-related” then that means the greatest kicker in the history of the NFL was kept “out of harms way” at a higher rate than even our current rookie kicker! Has the world just turned upside down?

But that can’t be, can it? There must be a more satisfying solution that that.

Here is a satisfying solution: Borges and Felger are (once again) wrong.

Despite what they claim, perhaps the number of 4th down attempts is NOT related to kicker talent or trust. In fact, the data shows that the number 4th downs is more closely related to the team’s ability to MAKE 4th down conversions (the Patriots were #2 in 2005 and #1 in 2006). I should mention that many of the teams that also went for it on fourth down at a high rate, also have quality, veteran kickers.

So, not only did we disprove that statement: “They went on fourth down more than any other team in the league.”, but we have trounced the contention that in the Patriots system a high rate of going for it on fourth down is in any way related to the quality of the kicker.

If something that is so easily verifiable and so basic as kicking statistics can be twisted into a lie by the likes of Borges and Felger, how is that we can ever trust them to be sincere and accurate in more complex analyses for which readers cannot easily check?

Is it possible that writers like Borges and Felger have become so brazen in their biases that they have no qualms at all to present untruths as fact?

I’ll leave you with a reminder of what they said:

Felger: Yeah, they… Belichick has done a great job keeping him out of harms way during the season….

Borges: … but eventually…

Felger: …I mean, the Patriots had more fourth down attempts… Did you know this? … They went on fourth down more than any other team in the league.

Borges: Yeah, and anybody who thinks that is not kicker related is a cuckoo person.

Felger: Right, or just not being objective or doesn’t care to look at it.

Borges: Right, they just don’t care to look at it.

And will leave it to you to decide:

Who is being objective?

Who cares to look at it?

And, most importantly, who are the cuckoos?

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