"Pulling An Orlovsky"

With 7:39 left in the 4th quarter and a 3 point lead, the Baltimore Ravens faced a 3rd and 10 from their own 1 yard line. Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco dropped back to pass, then dropped back a little more. He very nearly stepped out of the back of the end zone for a safety, much like Lions QB Dan Orlovski did against the Vikings this year. In that game, the safety was the difference as the Vikings won 12-10. In the post-game press conference, Flacco even remarked that he almost "pulled a Dan Orlovsky." Flacco was only inches from doing the same thing. How costly would that have been?

At that point in the game, a safety would have reduced the Ravens' lead to a single point, making the score 10-9. Plus, it would have given the ball right back to the Titans, on average at the Tennessee 44 yard line. A Titans field goal now would have given them a late 4th quarter lead, instead of merely tying the game. According to my win probability model, the Titans would have a 0.56 probability of winning following a safety.

In reality, Baltimore was able to punt the ball, giving the Titans field position on the Ravens' 42 yard line. This gave the Titans a 0.39 win probability. The difference between the almost-safety and the actual punt is 0.17. That's a lot for a few inches and a single play. Although it wouldn't have been fatal, it would have swung the advantage to Tennessee.

Fumble of the Year

The play of the game had to be the forced fumble by Baltimore safety Jim Leonard on Titans tight end Alge Crumpler near the Ravens' goal line. Prior to the snap the Titans had a 0.55 WP, but after the fumble they had only a 0.25 WP--a swing of 0.30. In fact, it was a little higher because had Crumpler held onto the ball and been tackled, the Titans would have been sitting first and goal from about the 5.

Go for TD or Kick the FG?

Another interesting wrinkle in the game came with 4:39 remaining in the 4th quarter. Facing 4th and inches on the Ravens' 9, the Titans elected to kick the field goal instead of going for the first down. PFR beats me to the punch in analyzing this decision, but I'll add my contribution here.

My WP model is useful, but it's generic. It does not consider things like weather, or the particular flow of an individual game. For example, there are no adjustments for how well one team has been able to move the ball, or that one team has a particularly stout run defense. But those sorts of considerations need a baseline around which to operate, and my model can provide that.

With 4:39 remaining, a 3-point deficit, a successful conversion would have resulted in a a 1st and goal on the Ravens' 9, giving the Titans a 0.57 WP. A failed conversion attempt would have resulted in a 0.25 WP for the Titans. The conversion attempt would have been highly likely. "And 1" conversions are successful 70% of the time, so an "and inches" would be expected to be at least that successful. Because of the strength of the Ravens run defense, a conservative estimate might be 75%. The net WP of the decision to go for the 1st down is therefore:

(0.57 * 0.75) + (0.25 * 0.25) = 0.49

A field goal from the 10 is successful 92% of the time. Tying the score at that point gives the ball back to Baltimore at their own 27. This would result in 0.42 WP for the Titans. A miss leaves the ball and the lead with the Ravens, resulting in a 0.22 WP for Tennessee. The net WP for the decision to kick the FG is:

(0.42* 0.92) + (0.22 * 0.08) = 0.40

Going for the first down is the clearly better call. However, this is a league-average baseline. Other considerations can modify this result. But in my opinion, coaches and analysts tend to overestimate the importance of these considerations.

For example, up to that point of the game, Baltimore only scored on 2 of its 10 possessions. So you could say, had Tennessee failed to convert the first down, they could count on getting the ball back with the score still tied. Or this might indicate Tennessee would have a significant advantage in overtime.

But as a league average, offenses score on 1 out of every 3 drives. Was Baltimore's 2 out of 10 that much different than 3 out of 9? Not at all. In fact, they went on to score on their next possession (making it 3 out of 11) to win the game.

The Delay of Game That Wasn't

The biggest play in Baltimore's game-winning field goal drive was a Flacco 23-yard pass completion to TE Todd Heap. But the snap took place a second after the play clock hit zero, and the refs did not see it in time to call it. Did this make the difference in the game?

I think the right way to look at this is to look at the game situation prior to the pass. Had the delay of game been called, the pass to Heap would never have happened. Baltimore would have been facing a 3rd and 7 instead of a 3rd and 2. The chance of converting a first down drops from 60% to 40%. This would have dropped Baltimore from a 0.66 to a 0.62 WP. That's a pretty big jump, but hardly game-changing. The Ravens still would have had the upper hand.

Edit: The Safety/Goal Line 3-And-Out That Wasn't

I just saw this pop up over at Pro Football Talk. It appears that the Titans were actually stuffed for a safety on their drive that started at their own 1. Plus, they may have been erroneously given an extra down on the next drive. The extra down turned out to be the play that topped the highlight reel in which Ray Lewis knocked the helmet off of Ahmard Hall. It gave the Titans a first down and some breathing room on their drive that ultimately ended as a Ravens interception on the Baltimore 10.

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2 Responses to “"Pulling An Orlovsky"”

  1. Brian Burke says:

    Looks like it was in fact a missed call on the safety. But the NFL says there was no extra down.

  2. nottom says:

    Yeah, the ref mistakenly called it 2nd down, but Johnson had the first down with his run. The 15 yard penalty is accessed after the play so its still a 1st down, just 15 yards further back.

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