Backfires are never a good thing, especially when it happens on live television to analysts that are supposed to be experts in their field. But that is exactly what happened this past Monday morning on ESPN’s Get Up with Marcus Spears, Mike Tannebaum, Kevin Negandi, and Kimberly A. Martin (as appeared across the screen).
Sports Show Backfires On Live Television
The topic was about Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill‘s comments in his podcast, “It Needed to Be Said.” In the podcast, Hill said that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had a stronger arm than Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, but that Tagovailoa was more accurate. When asked who he would rather have as a quarterback, Hill said he would rather have the more accurate, Tagovailoa.
After a sigh from Martin, Marcus Spears, a former NFL defensive end with the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens, began with a non-plausible narrative about Tagovailoa. “It don’t matter about accuracy in practice. It matters about practice when you got defensive linemen breathing down your neck and can you put it there…Tua is an accurate quarterback but Tua is throwing in OTAs right now,” Spears said.
Despite Spears’ comments, Tagovailoa was one of the most accurate quarterbacks when defensive linemen actually were breathing down his neck in real NFL games. For the 2021 season, Tagovailoa was in the top ten for accuracy, ranked seventh with a 67.8% completion percentage and fourth in on-target percentage at 80.1%.
Use of Graphic Appears To Backfire
Spears, who has never played with either Mahomes or Tagovailoa, said that the ESPN Get Up guests should be the ones comparing Mahomes to Tagovailoa. But that may have left some viewers wondering if Spears was a better judge to make comparisons than the one who actually caught passes from both players?
However, what appeared to be an unexpected backfire happened when a graphic was put on-screen by Kevin Negandi that refuted the narrative that Spears and Martin were presenting about Tagovailoa, “Our fantastic research squad brought in some context here. Let’s understand accuracy.”
The chart revealed two different stats from Mahomes and Tagovailoa on completion percentage. One was passes that were completion percentage of one-to-fifteen-yard passes and the other was passes over fifteen yards. Negandi said, “the different storyline here…is fiifteen yards or more…a completely different story here.” When the graph was revealed, Spears could be heard off-camera saying, “Aghh, Nah! Nah!”
It was evident that Spears was reacting to the stat, which proved Hill’s comments about Tagovailoa’s accuracy was correct and Spears’ narrative wasn’t. The stat revealed that Tagovailoa was more accurate on passes of fifteen or more yards at 48% to Mahomes’ 42%. The other stat of one to fifteen yards, Mahomes was better with 69% to Tagovailoa’s 66%. Tannebaum ignored the stats altogether so he could focus on his rant about Mahomes being the best quarterback on the planet.
Football Compared To Basketball Became A Moot Point
But Spears was quick to create another moot-point narrative about the stats since they debunked his first narrative. After a short rant about graphics on television, he said, “Do you see that it is 53 more attempts that Patrick Mahomes has? That matters.” He then began comparing football to basketball after he had been ranting about Hill comparing Tagovailoa to Mahomes. “If I’m shooting 100 threes and somebody else shoots four for four, they’re a 100% free throw shooter and I’m probably shooting 30%.”
Spears’ argument was that Tagovailoa would not be as accurate as Mahomes if he had as many passing attempts as Mahomes had. But Algebraic thinking of that construct actually is that if Tagovailoa completes 48% of 46 passes, then he will complete 48% of 99 passes.
Furthermore, football is played a lot differently than basketball and baseball, where the more you play the lower your percentage is. While a receiver is able to move around to catch a football, basketball goals are immobile and baseball sluggers are trying to hit 90-mph moving fastballs.
Surprisingly, Negandi butted in, trying to twist the conversation toward the side of Spears by defending the research team. Negandi suddenly wanted Spears to know that the reason the research team put the attempts on the graph was for a reason. According to Negandi, it was to paint the same narrative Spears was making. “I will come in defense of our research team. There was a reason we put attempts…to add that perspective, right? If you look at specifically the number of percentages, it can be skewed like you said.”
The Graphic Could Not Be Undone
Spears accepted Negandi’s reason behind the stats when he heard Negandi’s explanation of the research team’s stats lined up with his own narrative about those stats. But the damage had already been done. Spears had ranted with controlled anger about the stats and Negandi’s attempt to cover up the effort to discredit Tua with the graphic backfired. As much as he tried to talk his way out of it, everyone watching the program saw it on live television. They saw from a clip of Hill’s podcast that he was making a true statistical and accurate statement about Tagovailoa’s accuracy, despite the narrative that was presented about Tagovailoa.
For Spears’ and supposedly Negandi’s research team’s insinuation that Tagovailoa wouldn’t be as accurate if he had as many attempts as Tagovailoa, the numbers are not skewed. Tagovailoa threw 98 more passes in 2021 than he did in 2020, and his completion percentage went up, not down, from 64.1% to 67.8%. And his completion percentage went up every year in college with more attempts with the exception of the injured shortened 2019 season, although his completion percentage still increased. So, the argument is a moot point.
Sports Shows Overacted Over A Non-Story
ESPN’s Get Up did what every sports show did Monday morning. They all overreacted to something that was never said. In case you didn’t know about the podcast, Hill never said that Tagovailoa was better than Mahomes. If you heard otherwise, now you know.
In fact, Hill even said Mahomes had the stronger arm. But he did say that Tagovailoa was more accurate, which is a statistically true statement. If anyone wanted to know, Mahomes’ accuracy hasn’t been bad, but not great either. As far as accuracy, Mahomes has always been somewhere in the middle, ranked 15th in the league for completion percentage last season,14th in 2020, 11th in 2019, and 14th in 2018.
But everyone that watched the podcast knows that Hill wasn’t trying to discredit Mahomes. Hill knows that Mahomes is an outstanding quarterback. And Hill made that clear after he replied to Robert Griffin III’s tweet Tuesday with, “Finally someone gets the message,” and a smirking face emoji. Griffin’s original tweet was “Tyreek Hill has gone full Terrell Owens meme “That’s my quarterback” for his guy Tua. Tyreek knows Tua isn’t Mahomes. 2 different styles of play and Mahomes has certified greatness. Tua is accurate but @cheetah is just tired of people going in on his QB and I respect his support.”
Perhaps the next time ESPN’s Get Up decides to discredit any quarterback, they need to make sure that graphics won’t be used as something that backfires on them.