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.