AFC Championship Analysis: Steelers Beat Jets

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Ben Roethlisberger had a rough day passing the ball yesterday, posting just 1.5 Adjusted Yards Per Attempt (AYPA). But he made critical completions when it mattered most, and he made a big difference on his 4 scrambles, converting 3 first downs and a TD.

Ultimately, BR put the game away with his final two throws, each for 14 yds and each converting first downs. Those throws were worth 0.06 WPA and 0.08 WPA alone. BR ended up with a 0.29 WPA for the game, 5.0 EPA, and a 51.6% SR. 5.0 EPA doesn’t exactly scream MVP, but then again, when the final whistle blew, PIT won by exactly 5 points.

One big reason for the win was the Steelers’ rushing attack. Rashard Mendenhall ran at a 4.5 YPC pace, accumulating 0.13 WPA, and 3.9 EPA. A better job of tackling would have really changed the complexion of the game, as Rex Ryan lamented in his postgame press conference. Removing BR’s scrambles, the Steelers only had a 42% SR on their running plays, which is right at league-average. Contrary to conventional wisdom, PIT is not a great running team, but the Jets allowed Mendenhall to gain too many yards after getting through the first level of defenders.

Should the Jets have attempted an onside kick after scoring to make it a 5-point game with 2:56 left to play and all 3 timeouts remaining? The Steelers were clearly expecting it, so we need to go with the 20% success rate rather than a 60% success rate for unexpected onside attempts. A success is worth 0.31 WP. A failure is worth 0.10 WP, which was adjusted for the fact that the Jets had 3 TOs. That makes the break-even probability of success 24%, which is more than the Jets could expect. Kicking deep was the right call, and having all 3 TOs is what tips the scales.

Mark Sanchez played well with a 6.3 AYPA, only 2 sacks, and no interceptions, but he couldn't make the plays when they counted most. He had only 0.04 WPA and 3.2 EPA.

Could the Jets have been more aggressive on their 4th downs? Not really. My numbers show only one bad decision, on which only a crazy person would agree with me. In the 2nd quarter, down by 10, they had a 4th and 7 from their own 43, which would have net the Jets only an additional 0.016 WPA.

The stop on 4th down at the goal line didn’t turn out so bad for the Jets. It actually turned into 9 points. The safety gave them 2, and on the subsequent possession, they ended up scoring 7 more. It’s a good case study of why coaches overlook the value of 4th down conversion attempts. Sure the Jets would have preferred a TD in that situation because they were down by 14 well into the 4th quarter, but generally speaking, it’s a good example of why handing the ball over deep in opponent territory isn’t always such a bad thing.

Another point about 4th downs in the game is that one of BR's interceptions came on a 4th and 1 at the NYJ 32. On 4th down, turnovers aren't such a big deal. You've got very little to lose by forcing a pass if necessary and giving a receiver a chance to make a play. It's partly why I think coaches underestimate how successful 4th and long attempts can be. It's also one reason why BR's WPA was so high despite having a very poor AYPA.