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Titans-Raiders: Let’s talk about the onside kick

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NFL: Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously a lot has been made of the Titans opening the season with an onside kick yesterday. According to this post from the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, surprise onside kicks are successful 60% of the time. Those are pretty good odds, especially when you consider how big of a surprise this one was to everyone.

The surprise didn’t work, as you are aware. That led to this exchange between Mike Mularkey and Paul Kuharksy after the game about why the Titans weren’t able to recover the kick:

For the record, I like that Mularkey said he didn’t second guess the decision. He knew that play fails 40% of the time. If there is any doubt, don’t call it in the first place. Plus look at it this way, Mularkey felt like he needed to steal a possession to win the game. Which odds are better, a 60% chance you recover the kick, or that your defense is able to force a turnover?

Anyway, what did go wrong on the kick? We are going to have to speculate since Mularkey refused to name names in his press conference (which is absolutely the right decision). Take a look at this picture:

You have Tye Smith and Da’Norris Searcy in the same lane. We will be able to get a better look when the all-22 is available, but it sure looks like Smith didn’t stay in his lane. If he does, he is probably able to recover the kick and the conversation is completely different today.

You also have to take into account who the Raiders have back there returning kicks. Cordarelle Patterson is a Pro Bowl kick returner. He averaged over 31 yards per kick return last season and had a 41-yard return in this game. So unless Ryan Succop is able to kick the ball out of the back of the end zone, you probably aren’t giving up that much in field position.

I said on Twitter right after it happened that I loved the call. I am even more on board with it after factoring the success rate and the Patterson return factor. Does any of this information change your mind if you were against it yesterday?