“Football Freakonomics”: Icing the Kicker

In the second segment of “Football Freakonomics,” Dubner examines the strategy of “icing the kicker,” a fairly recent trend in the NFL where an opposing coach will call a timeout just before a placekicker tries a field goal. The idea is to get inside the kicker’s head, make him nervous by giving him a few extra minutes to think about all the pressure he’s under. But does it work? Are kickers more likely to miss after being iced? The answer might surprise you.

In the first segment of “Football Freakonomics,” Dubner looked at whether momentum is a myth.

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  1. HDD says:

    Icing the kicker means trying to get in the kicker’s head. So the question isn’t ‘does it work?’; the questions is ‘does it work on this guy?’
    Wonder if there’s enough of a sample for individual kickers to determine if icing works against some better than others.

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  2. Saj says:

    Great topic, interesting answer. But I could have done without the ridiculous video. Your site usually provides great info without wasting a lot of our time, except when you roll out videos like this.

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  3. Mike says:

    Highly unsurprising. You give the kicker more time to set up and the holder more time to find the right spot to place the ball on the ground. The kicker has already been sitting on the bench for ~15-30 minutes. Thinking an additional minute is going to psych him out is ridiculous.

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  4. OneLeggedJ says:

    Conspiracy theroy: The networks are behind it. Any chance to stop the game and go to another commercial break! (kidding)… but not really

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  5. syskill says:

    The real question is, is it more or less effective than the alternative strategy of “icing the kicker” by handing him a Smirnoff Ice and forcing him to drink it?

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  6. S. Glazerman says:

    Let’s put the economics back in freakonomics here. The data are observational, which means that comparisons of “iced” kickers’ performance to non-iced kicks is confounded by selection bias.

    Imagine that all the non-iced kicks were made under conditions where icing would not have made a difference. The actual iced kicks we observed, however, are from situations where the coach thought the kicker was going to exceed typical (non-iced) performance, so he called the TO, which brought the performance back down to “average” completion rates. Under this scenario the true positive icing impact is masked by the downward bias.

    What we need is a way to observe kicks where icing was unavailable as an option for some reason that’s unrelated to the expected performance of the kicker. Maybe # of timeouts remaining could be used as an instrument.

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  7. Nick says:

    Icing the kicker has been around before 2007.

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  8. Jim A says:

    I’m disappointed that this segment did not cite any references for its conclusion. There have been several studies of icing the kicker published and the results are mixed. Part of the problem is defining which situations are considered “icing”. Often times the defense will call time out long before the kicker even comes on the field in order to stop the clock so more time will be remaining to move into position for a subsequent field goal attempt. It’s debatable whether this is truly icing or just only adds noise to the data.

    Here are some links to relevant studies:
    http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/5605/title/The_Iced_Foot_Effect
    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/writers/dr_z/01/21/mailbag.z/index.html
    http://skepticalsports.com/?p=791
    http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/aug/10/grusd-says-icing-causes-nfl-kicks-miss-field-goals/
    http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcwest/post/_/id/5650/ice-try-sizing-up-kickers-in-the-clutch
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704129204575506112194098670.html

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