CHI RB Matt Forte was named the NFC offensive player of the week for his amazing 7-catch, 151-receiving yard, 2-receving TD game against the Lions. When I looked up the advanced stats for RBs, I expected to see him near the top of the list for WPA. I was surprised to find him more than halfway down, posting a net negative WPA. I thought there must be some bug in the system. There’s no way a guy with 151 receiving yards and 2 TDs could have a negative effect on his team’s chances of winning, especially in a victory.
I’m not suggesting that WPA should be the ultimate stat for handing out awards, but taking a closer look at Forte’s plays can reveal a lot about WPA and what kind of events truly affect a team’s chances of winning.
First, let’s look at his positive plays. The two TD catches were by far the biggest in terms of WPA. What wound up being the game-winner came with 1:40 to play on 2 and 18. Forte caught a 28-yd pass in the end zone to take the lead for good. This play was worth +0.25 WPA. The longer catch was actually worth less because the game's leverage was lower when it happened. Forte’s 89-yd catch and run late in the 2nd quarter was worth +0.17.
Forte had only 8 other positive plays, none worth more than +0.04 WPA, including one 17-yd rush, and some small gains toward the end of the game that helped run down the clock. In total, he registered +0.59 positive WPA.
Forte had a great day catching the ball, but he also ran 17 times for only 50 yards, and lost one fumble. Down by 1 point late in the 4th quarter, Forte was stuffed on a 1st and 10 from the DET 40 for a 1-yd gain. This cost -0.07 WPA, a relatively large effect for that kind of play primarily because it helped push CHI further from FG range.
His fumble came in the 2nd quarter on 1st and 10 at the DET 43. DET recovered, costing CHI -0.09 WPA.
But the most costly events occurred on the goal line. Forte was stuffed on 3rd and goal from the 1 in the 1st quarter, costing -0.09 WPA. Then in the 4th quarter, again down by a point, Forte was stuffed on the 1 twice more including once on 4th down. Each stuff cost CHI -0.14 WPA.
Forte had 8 other negative plays, mostly rushes for very short gains. In total, he posted a -0.68 negative WPA, for a net of -0.09 WPA.
This is not intended in any way to be a critique of Forte’s individual performance. It’s virtually impossible to separate individual performance from his teams’ and opponents’, at least quantitatively. Plus, Forte was put into circumstances of time and score beyond his control. But it is interesting that what really matters in games is not always what we think. Gobs of yards and even 2 touchdowns can’t make up for a fumble and a handful of stuffs that will never make a highlight real.