NFCCG SF-SEA Observations

As expected, this was a real defensive slugfest. The winning QB had -3.4 EPA. Kaepernick posted -0.28 WPA and 2.2 AYPA. Both offensive lines were beaten soundly. SF's notched -5.4 EPA and SEA's had -2.6 EPA.

Unlike the AFC game, this one was all about 4th downs. HUGE leverage throughout the game. I know I can be a broken record on this stuff, but this game really hinged on some very interesting strategic decisions.

-SF 4th and 2 on the SEA 7, 1st qtr. They punted. Probably should have gone for it.

-SF 4th and goal on the SEA 1. They went for it. Great call.

-SF 4th and 6 on the SEA 46, 1st qtr. They punted. Probably should have gone for it.

-SEA 4th and 6 on SF 38, 26 sec in 2nd qtr. They went for it, converted then kicked a FG to end the half.

-SEA 4th and 7 on the SF 35, 4th qtr 14 min to play, down by 4. They went for it. Great call except SEA burned a timeout that they were reasonably likely to need in order to think things over. Here's the thing: Timeouts are very valuable. If you can't decide between going for it or kicking or punting, you're probably very close to the point of indifference anyway. You may be better off making any quick decision and saving the timeout than you are making an optimum decision but wasting a timeout.

-SEA 4th and goal from the 1, 4th qtr 8:39 to play, up by 1. The went for it. Great call. Why? First, because they'll probably make it and virtually put the game away. And if they don't they're likely to leave the ball on the SF 1-yd line. That's not exactly a good place to be for an offense. I heard someone say that despite the math you can't take a chance like that against the SF defense. But as I noted last week, over the past 2 seasons SF has faced 15 (now 17) plays from the 1-yd line and allowed TDs on 10 of them. That's worse than league average. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the SF defense is below average. Instead, the point is that good and bad teams aren't that different on any one given play. It's just that good or bad teams show up that way after accumulating very small advantages over several dozen individual plays in a game.

-Here's a weird one. SEA 4th and 11 on the SF 29, 4th qtr 3:43 to play, up by 3. My numbers say...punt? Yes, punt. Here's why:


First, it's a long FG attempt.

Second, a FG doesn't buy SEA very much. In fact making the FG only improved their WP by .02. Being up by 6 points only forces SF into playing more aggressively and closer to the optimum risk-reward balance. It forces them into playing for the TD and the win. Being up by 3 suckers SF into playing for a FG attempt to tie. And even if they're successful getting into FG range and making a long kick, SEA would still have OT and a 50/50 chance to win.

Third, punting (in my model) assumes you can get the ball near the 10-yard line. That's a tough place for SF because it essentially requires them to get one additional first down conversion, consuming that much more time, on their way to a possible score. That's one more bite at the apple for the SEA defense to make a stop than had they made their FG.

Strange, I realize. But all those factors considered, the numbers do slightly favor punting. Not that I'd ever expect a coach to consider it.

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16 Responses to “NFCCG SF-SEA Observations”

  1. noedne says:

    On the first 4th down decision SF 4th and 2 on the SEA 7 I'm pretty sure SF kicked the FG and did not punt.

  2. Wez says:

    Also, SF's 4th and 6 was initially a 4th and 1 that they took a Delay of Game penalty on, so even worse. They did punt it to the 1, and Andy Lee is an asset to consider, but still: 4th and 1 on the OPP 41...

  3. Anonymous says:

    I dont remember them converting a 4sibgle and 6discreteful and getting a fg immediately before halftime. I thought they didnt convert and got a penalty that was enforced after the play.

  4. Anonymous says:

    SF went for it on 4th and goal and got a td. I'm surprised yoi didnt mention that one

  5. Xavier Weisenreder says:

    "It forces them into playing for the TD and the win. Being up by 3 suckers SF into playing for a FG attempt to tie."

    Like I definitely agree with this statement, but like how can you possible have your model factor this in?

  6. Sampo says:

    Xavier,

    The beauty of the WP-model is that the data is collected from played games. The numbers are just observations of what has happened before.

  7. Anonymous says:

    @Xavier

    If I remember correctly, the models on this site are based on the data from real games, and not abstract things. So, teams historically have won almost as many games when down by 6 than down by 3 in that particular situation.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Being pure numbers guy how can you say that being up 3 or 6 doesn't matter? That doesn't mean that the offense has to play ultra conservative and just try to get fg, that means that offense can choose to try for the td as well therefore complicating life for the defense.

    Also what do your numbers say about offensive play after timeout? In that case offense has time to choose the best possible play. Maybe it is worth to take to before crucial 4th down therefore hypothetically increasing odds of making it.

  9. Jonathan says:

    As was mentioned before, punting from the opponent's 7 yard line is probably not the optimal decision. :)

  10. Adam H says:

    I don't know if I watch too much college ball, or read too much football analytics, or what, but I thought the SEA 4th and 11 on the SF 29 was an OBVIOUS punt. Pushing the lead to 6 points is next to worthless. To answer some of the above questions: you can look for yourself at all the teams historically who have been down 3 in the fourth vs. all the teams historically who have been down 6 in the fourth. There's very little difference in the probability of winning.

  11. James says:

    Regarding the timeout before Seattle's 4th and 7 conversion attempt, apparently Carroll called for a field goal but the kicker looked at the wind tell tales on the uprights and told him it was a bad idea to try the field goal. By that point the rest of the field goal unit was already on the field and it was too late the change the play, so Carroll eventually called timeout.

  12. Anonymous says:

    If you are willing to punt why not dial up a pass play if it isn't open throw an intentional pic, much better odds of getting inside the 10 and a possibility of a TD.

  13. J.D. Krull says:

    Interesting how in recent years the NFC title game has always been more exciting than the AFC game. I'd say this has held true for 7 straight years now, with only 2008-09 (ARZ-PHI, PIT-BAL) and 2011-12 (NYG-SF, NE-BAL) being close.

  14. Independent George says:

    What's the EPA on Crabtree driving forward for an extra 3 yards versus running out-of-bounds on that final Niners drive? I thought that had a huge hidden effect on the outcome - they effectively traded 3 yards for 25 seconds or a timeout. My friend argued that time didn't matter from that field position, but my gut says that an extra timeout/25 seconds gives you insurance against a sack, and opens up a running play if you get tackled short of the end zone.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Some interesting comments over at Tangotiger's blog:
    http://tangotiger.com/index.php/site/comments/lulling-your-opposition#comments
    Brian, I think you should comment on the observed glitches in your WP estimator and the other critique over there.

  16. MaddenDude says:

    Never underestimate the power of numbers. Out of all coaches in the league, I think only Belichick would do something like that, and it would probably pay off. I feel like in the upcoming decade, we're going to see statistics come into play alot more. They've already taken over baseball, and they're well on their way to taking over basketball. Football is next.

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