MJD Taking a Knee

With just under two minutes remaining against the Jets, Jaguars RB Maurice Jones Drew broke free for a go-ahead TD. Instead of plunging into the end zone he took a knee at the one-yard line. This decision allowed the Jaguars to run out the clock before kicking a chip-shot FG for the win. A TD would have allowed the Jets almost two minutes to answer with a TD of their own. How important was MJD's decision?

The analysis was a little more complicated than I thought because had the Jaguars scored the TD, they would have gone for the 2-point conversion. With a single XP, a Jets TD wins. With a failed 2-pt conversion, a Jets TD also wins. But with a successful conversion, a Jets TD only ties, so there is nothing lost and a lot to gain for the Jags by going for the 2.

Two-point conversions are, on average, successful about 45% of the time.

For teams that need a single TD to win or tie (down by 4 through 8 points) with 1:50 +/-15 seconds and a 1st and 10 near their own 33 (the average kickoff result) teams have roughly a 30% chance of getting the TD they need. (See the first chart in this post.)

The Jets had no timeouts, so it must be a little lower but they still had enough time with 1:48 on the clock. Let's say they had a 25% chance of getting the TD. This may seem high, and in normal circumstances it would be, but the Jets could play with abandon. They've got 4 downs on every series and an interception is no more costly than a stop. Defenses also tend to play 'prevent' schemes.

So, given a successful 2-pt conversion and the prospect of overtime, the Jets' WP would be:

0.25 * 1/2 = 0.125 WP

An unsuccessful 2-pt conversion and the prospect of a win, would give the Jets simply:

0.25 * 1 = 0.25 WP

Because the 2-pt conversion is successful 45% of the time and unsuccessful 55% of the time, the Jets' total probability of winning would be:

(0.45 * 0.125) + (0.55 * 0.25) = 0.19 WP

Now, a FG attempt from inside the 5 is successful 98-99% of the time. Let's say 98% in case something went awry during the 2 kneel-downs the Jags would need to run out the clock, such as a fumbled snap. That would simply be the Jags' WP--0.98.

Comparing the two WPs, we can value Drew's decision to kneel at the 1 instead of scoring the TD:

0.98 - (1-0.19) = 0.17 WP

That's a really big play. It improved the Jaguars' chances of winning by 17 percentage points. To put it in perspective, the decision to kneel (not including the rest of the run) was comparable in importance to the Jaguars' 37-yard interception return to the Jets' 4-yd line in the 3rd quarter. Smart, selfless player and smart coaching.

I especially liked it because my fantasy opponent this week had MJD!

16 Responses to “MJD Taking a Knee”

1. Anonymous says:

I made this exact point to some people trashing the decision and was dumped all over :)

Nice to see some right thinking people out there.

2. Jeff Clarke says:

I just posted this comment on the Belichick thread. Its even more relevant here. The 45% number for 2 point conversions is the most misleading stat in the NFL. I'm not even sure coaches know how bad it is. Had the Jaguars gone for two, they would have had a significantly higher than 45% chance of making it.

Here are the facts:

In today's Cincinnati game, the Bengals lined up for an extra point. The snap got bobbled so there wasn't going to be a kick. The holder got up and tried to make a desperation throw. It didn't work.

That attempt was for all intents and purposes a failed 1 point conversion. The NFL disagrees. Nobody actually kicked a ball. The holder tried to throw the ball. So it goes into the record books as a failed 2 point try. Don't believe me. Look up the play-by-play on the Bengals game.

This is sort of bullshit. Plays like this are the reason why 1 point conversions are 99% and 2 point conversions are 44%. If you treated failed snap/desperation twos as missed extra points and not 2 point attempts, you would see that the actual 2 point conversion rate is well over 50%.

3. Mijbel says:

Could you please post similar analysis on the Patriots fourth and 2 play? I'm not sure if you have the data to find the probability of the Indianapolis 2 minute offense versus the New England 2 minute defense from IND 35, versus

the probability they make it (*) 30-second Indy offense from IND 30, assuming they run a further 90 seconds off the clock and advance 5 yards,
+
the probability they don't make it (*) Indy's 2 minute offense and New England's 2 minute defense from NE 21.

Bill Belichick took a beating but intuitively, and especially analyzing the WP graph from the previous post, I think he made the right call.

4. Mijbel says:

Just scrolled down to see the Belichick article. Thanks for that. I guess the availability of team-specific stats was a bit too much to ask for :)

5. Alchemist says:

I live in Jacksonville and, predictably, there are yahoos around here who are claiming that MJD's kneel-down was the the wrong play. Vic Ketchman, the Jags' in-house reporter, blogged during the game that it was a bad call. It amazes me how many people cling to the same old crap they've been hearing on TV for the last 40 years.

6. Chase says:

Good analysis. It was so obviously the right move that several plays earlier, on Lewis' catch at around the 15, I screamed out "don't tackle him!" There were a little over 2 minutes to go, and Jacksonville was trailing by 1. As soon as Lewis made that 33-yard catch, ensuring a first down, the game was pretty much over. I wish Kerry Rhodes had noticed that.

Brian, can you do a WP change of that play? I guess we need to compare the WP of the Jets if Jacksonville scores that TD with a little over 2 minutes left (and then tries for 2) vs. the other team having the ball, 1st and 10 at the 15, up by 1. I wouldn't be surprised if the delta from that "play" was higher.

7. Mark Kamal says:

Jeff (Clarke) - good point. Do you have any data on how many botched PAT's there are each year?

The reason this MJD play makes sense is the same reason New England should have let Addai score on his 13-yard run (to the 1) with 1:20 left. Letting him score would have given them the ball with 1:20 left only needing a FG to win.

8. EightZero says:

I agree Mark. I'm surprised we still haven't seen a situation in where the defense let's the opposing team score in order to get the ball back with time to score on their own.

9. penpen says:

except for that packers/broncos super bowl of course, right EightZero....

10. Happy says:

I was really impressed too with MJD's decision. Great analysis. I think it was intuitively huge, but its nice to see it broken down and compared the interception in the 3rd Quarter.

11. Jeff Clarke says:

I just saw Tom Jackson's "analysis" of this during halftime of MNF. His point: Score when you can. You never know...something could go wrong. You could bobble a snap and you could lose.

Why oh why does every piece of mainstream analysis seem to start with the implicit assumption that the probability of success with the alternative is 100%?

Nobody would argue that the probability of success with the last second kick is 100%. Things could go wrong, but more things could go wrong with the alternative....

12. Pete says:

I don't really dispute MJD taking a knee with 2 minutes left and a first down at the 1. I would like to know your analysis on the two subsequent kneeldowns to run out the clock and bring up the field goal, however. I would surmise that punching the ball in on 3rd down with <30 seconds left on the clock might be a bit safer of a play (you've greatly reduced that original 25% chance of a Jet's TD by taking 1:30 off the clock). What are the chances of a fumble at the 1 yard line when a touchdown is not desperately needed? (The qualifier complicates matters quite a bit - the ball would have been given to the safest running back in terms of ball protection, and he would not be doing anything risky - trying to stretch the ball over the goal line, for example).

It's not unheard of for game-tying or winning extra points or chip shot field goals to be blocked or missed. I think the percentage is lower than the 98% listed for total field goal attempts from inside the 5: When you kick a field goal from inside the 5 in the first quarter, not only is there no pressure on the kicker, the defense is also satisfied with having "held" your offense to a field goal. Plus it is not worth the extra risk of a roughing the kicker penalty to give that extra effort in trying to block a kick. It's a whole different situation than when that kick is as time expires in the 4th quarter and would give your team the win.

13. jason oliver says:

you should do an analysis on Pats chance of winning if they let addai score from the 14 yard line! that was the mistake. Belicheck shouldve taken a page from Del Rio and let Indy score.

14. jason oliver says:

nm you did it already! my new favorite blog.

15. duane biasi says:

I was wondering the same thing as Pete. Also say the Jags kick on 3rd down leaving enuff time for only a ko return or to kick again on a botched snap. What are the probabilities of a KO return for a TD vs a fg inside the 5?

16. Rob Eisler says:

Reading this post as well as the reports of MJD apologizing to fantasy players gives me an idea. You could make a deal with one of the fantasy sites to provide them with your in-game WP data, so they can offer it as a stat category in fantasy leagues.

One of the problems people have with fantasy scoring is that it doesn't reflect the actual values of plays: yards in garbage time are worth the same as they are in close games; a one-yard TD on first is worth the same as any other TD. Awarding fantasy points for the amount that plays move the team's WP could counteract this. MJD would get a fantasy bonus for kneeling, rather than a penalty for not scoring the TD.

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