NFL Analysis: Seahawks-Saints, Jets-Colts, Ravens-Chiefs, Packers-Eagles

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Everyone is going to remember the incredible Marshawn Lynch TD run, but the play that tilted the game outcome most was thanks to the Seahawks defense. With 9:59 to play, down by a TD, NO threw the ball on 3rd and goal from the 3. The SEA defense stopped Devery Henderson on the 1-yard line, forcing a NO FG. That play dropped the Saints' WP from 0.36 to 0.23, the biggest swing of the 4th quarter.

It seems to be the biggest reasons for the upset were some inventive plays run by SEA. The fake block, fall down, spit out left wide open for the TD play by John Carlson was clever. But more importantly, all game long the SEA offense invited the NO defense to jump short routes then double-move deep.

The NO defense gambled and lost. They were heavy favorites and should have been doing everything except gambling. Low variance is the friend of the favorite.

The NO decision to go for the conversion on 4th and less than 1 on their own 37 late in the 3rd quarter was smart. By this point they were no longer the favorite and needed to take some risks, but it's probably a good decision in almost any situation. It's the percentage play for the typical drive, but it's especially smart when down by two TDs well into the 2nd half.

A lot of people are shocked by this upset, a 7-9 division winner defeating the reigning champs. But the efficiency prediction model saw this as a much closer game (59% to 41%) than most (10.5 point favorites, equivalent to about 85% to 15%), but not because it thought Seattle was any good. It's actually because NO has been ranked ranked near 20th in the league for most of the season.


Why didn't Rex Ryan call a timeout with 1:42 left in the 4th quarter? The Colts had just completed a 12-yard pass for a 1st down to the NYJ 36-yard line. The Jets had all 3 TOs left. The next snap was with 1:10 remaining. At wost for the Jets, IND was in range for a 53-yard FG attempt, so the Jets should have been thinking about getting the ball back with as much time as they could. Huge mistake.

Some critics don't like the call to pass the ball on 3rd down. But IND was not content with a 50-yard FG attempt. A completion and conversion would have made the FG much easier and taken more time off the clock. It was a gamble, yes, but probably a good one with the ball in Manning's hands.

Caldwell is getting criticism for his timeout with 29 sec left. The Jets had a 2nd and 8 at the IND 32 and had just run for a 2-yard gain. The clock was running. Perhaps Caldwell was thinking it was possible to stop the drive there, and if the Jets made a FG, have enough seconds for a desperation FG drive. But the way things worked out, it didn't make much of a difference. The Jets ran only one more play, and still had a timeout of their own remaining. 29 seconds was more than enough time to call a play, run it, and have at least a second left to call a timeout before a FG.

That one play happened to be a huge one. The 18-yard pass to Braylon Edwards meant the difference between a 50-yard FG attempt and a 32-yard attempt. The baseline percentages for each kick are about 55% and 85%, respectively, effectively making that pass a +0.30 WPA play.


Can someone explain to me why Jamaal Charles only got 9 carries in this game, and only 1 in the 2nd half? BAL came out of halftime with only a 3-point lead. Was KC already in desperation mode? Charles was gashing the BAL defense at 9.1 YPC. And while we're at it, why did Charles only get 13 carries per game all season when he was hammering defenses at 6.2 YPC?

The one Charles carry in the 2nd half did not end well for KC. On 4th and 1 from the BAL 33, Charles was stuffed for a 4-yd loss. On the outer edge of FG range in cold weather, it was a good decision to go for it, and would have been in any game situation. It was a turning point in the game, and the Chiefs would never threaten again.

I think offenses need to go deep periodically on these 3rd and short and 4th and short situations. These stack-the-line-with-extra-linemen-and-plunge plays are too predictable. Just run a normal set of plays you would on 2nd and 5. The average play in the NFL gains 5 yards. The median is 3. Force the defense to defend the entire field and teams will see their success rates improve, overall, in short yardage situations. I think they have this goal line mindset, where there is no deep pass option. With 40 yards of field ahead of you, use it every now and then.

Baltimore was up 23-7 with under 5 minutes to play and faced a 4th and 1 on the KC 25. They smartly went for it. A simple 1-yard gain ends the game. Willis McGahee cut through the KC defense for a TD. It wasn't terribly critical to the game outcome, but it shows that the strategy of relying on an offense to pick up an easy yard or two to seal a win, rather than kick and cross your fingers your defense can hold up, does work.


Andy Reid is the Advanced NFL Stats Coach of the Week thanks to his call on 4th and goal from the 1. Down by 11 with about 4 minutes to play, Vick dove forward for the TD. It was smart for a couple reasons. First it's the percentage play. Second, the Eagles were down by 11 and needed two scores. They could have relied on the FG plus TD plus 2-point conversion to tie the game. But remember that only ties it. Further, the TD allows you to go for the 2-point conversion now rather than at the end of the game. It pulls the outcome of the conversion forward in time. So on the subsequent drive, you know whether or not you need a FG or TD.

It's hard to explain, and this is a very tricky concept. But think of it this way: Either the 2-point conversion is going to be good or not, whether you try it now or at the end of the regulation. You might as well know as soon as possible in the game if it will be successful. With that knowledge, you can adjust your strategy going forward. This knowledge has tremendous value, and makes the option to go for it on 4th and goal from the 1 that much more lucrative because it makes the TD now more lucrative.

Aaron Rodgers' 8-yd sack on 3rd down with 2:16 to play may have been a blessing in disguise for GB. Had Rodgers thrown the ball away for an incomplete pass, PHI, who had no timeouts remaining, would get the ball back ahead of the 2-min warning. As it happened, the sack allowed the clock to run, and PHI didn't get their first snap until 1:45 left.

Vick's interception to end the game was especially egregious because it was so unnecessary. It was 1st down on the GB 27, and there were 44 seconds remaining. There was absolutely no reason to force a jump ball into the end zone. They had enough time left to leave the entire field in play. In other words GB didn't only have to worry about the sidelines and end zone. Vick should have had options underneath the coverage.

Top offensive players of the weekend were Hasselbeck, Tomlinson, Garcon, and Heap.

Top defensive players of the weekend were Tramon Williams, Raheem Brock, Brodney Pool, and Eric Berry. In terms of EPA, you can throw in Tamba Hali, David Hawthorne, and Dawan Landry.