NFC Championship Analysis

One of the reasons I really like the real-time comment/chat feature on the WP graphs is that the analysis is written for me. Thanks, guys.

Cutler dug a deep hole in the first half. His accuracy was terrible, or he must have thought that Devin Hester was 8 feet tall the way he kept overthrowing him. Cutler’s interception was especially hurtful because it came on 1st down. First down ints are worse than on later downs because there is no reason to force a ball into coverage. You’ve got three more downs to do that if you need to. If a guy doesn’t have at least half a step, there’s no good reason to try to thread the needle. Cutler finished with a 43% completion rate, good for -0.10 WPA, -6.0 EPA, and only a 25% SR.

Collins was worse. He was 0 for 4 on his attempts, and clearly looked out of depth. Putting Hanie turned out to be the right call. He was 13 for 20 (65%), with a very respectable 45% SR. Unfortunately for the Bears, his two interceptions were extremely costly, and he finished the day with -0.16 WPA and -1.0 EPA.

Among the Chicago triple threat of Cutler, Collins, and Hanie, the Bears passing attack totaled -0.29 WPA and -9.9 EPA for the game.

Matt Forte was not a threat either. He finished with -0.06 WPA, -1.0 EPA, and a well-below average 37.5% SR. His 4.1 YPC average was ok, but it doesn’t help a team that starts the day down two TDs. ‘Buzz’ commented during the game that perhaps the Bears should have run on all 4 downs. If they could reliably average better than 2.5 YPC, they’d be unstoppable. If they threw the ball only occasionally, they could keep the GB defense honest. Who knows? It might have been a better strategy than putting your faith in the 3rd string QB.

Defending the decision to have Collins be the #2 QB and Hanie be #3 ‘emergency’ QB, I’ll suggest that if you’re winning, you’d rather have an experienced guy come into the game and ‘not lose it.’ But if you’re behind, you’d want the more dynamic but inexperienced guy. Either way, it’s very unlikely that either guy is going to be able to pull out a come from behind win, so it may make sense to bank on the scenario where you’re ahead and want experience.

Chicago made some bad 4th down decisions. Down 7 points in the 1st quarter on 4th and 7 from the GB 34, CHI elected to punt, netting just 24 yards. GB went on to score a TD. Down by 14 points in the 2nd quarter, CHI punted on 4th and 11 from the 31 yard-line. Evidently the footing and weather must have been bad enough that FGs were out of the question from that range. The punt was a touchback, netting only 11 yards which ironically enough was exactly the distance needed for the 1st down.

When FGs are not an option near the 30, teams should typically be going for the conversion on just about anything up to 4th and 15. It took the Packers all of a single play to get the ball back to the 31-yard line. Had the punt not been a touchback and been stopped near the 10, which is the typical outcome, it might have taken GB all of 2 plays to get back to the 31. As Carson pointed out during the game, at that point Aaron Rogers was averaging a first down per pass attempt.

But in total, Aaron Rodgers did not have the kind of day most fans expected, but he was ruthlessly consistent with a 57.5% SR. Even though he had two interceptions and a 4.7 AYPA, his total performance, including scrambles, was good for 0.12 WPA. One of his interceptions was just a freak bounce off of Donald Driver’s foot and into the hands of Lance Briggs. Rodgers did himself a big favor chasing down Brian Urlacher on his second interception, saving a potentially game-changing TD. Despite some bad luck, Rodgers still looked extremely effective. He moved in the pocket with ease, knowing where to move to give his blockers the angles they needed to hold their blocks.

The Packers running game made some key plays, totaling 0.11 WPA, but overall it was weak, amassing -2.3 EPA, 3.3 YPC, and a woeful 35% SR. The Packers' baseline run/pass ratio should be very heavy on the pass in two weeks against the Steelers defense.

Advanced Individual stats for
GB: offense and defense

CHI: offense and defense

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7 Responses to “NFC Championship Analysis”

  1. Anthony says:

    Brian, I wonder if you can analyze the Bears decision to punt from their own 1-yard line instead of taking an intentional safety. The Packers then drove 44 yards for the score. Considering the Packers offense didn't score again, taking 2 there might have made a difference.

  2. James says:

    Word is Cutler has a partially torn MCL in his plant leg, which might have a lot to do with his inaccuracy problems during the game.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Field position at the opponent's 37 yard line is worth about as much EPA as a safety, according to the WP calc. One other factor to consider is that the Packers were already leading by a TD and were in great shape to score next, so a higher variance play (in this case, the punt) becomes a little more attractive to the Bears.

    Of course, punting from 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage instead of the normal 15 makes punting less attractive.

  4. Anthony says:

    Just eyeballing the EP graph, it looks like starting from the Bears 40 yard line was worth about 2.5 to the Packers. If the Bears took the safety and forced a touchback on the ensuing free kick, Packers start their drive with 0.1 to 0.2 EP instead. 2.5 EP versus 2.2 EP.

    The free kick is such an odd-duck play, I'm not sure if there is enough data to figure out how far the ball travels on average.

    Here's Bellichick in the same situation against the Broncos back in 2003: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/wire?id=1653659

  5. Anonymous says:

    My impression on free kicks after a safety seem to give very good field position around midfield, so I don't think that it was a viable option.

  6. Brian Burke says:

    Last time I looked at it, about 2 yrs ago, free kicks put the ball, on average, pretty close to the receiving team's 40.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I disagree with your assessment of Forte. He was the only reliable weapon on the Bears offense throughout the entire day and did everything a running back could possibly do. Considering that the Bears had their backup QBs in for half the game, I will take 70 yards rushing and 90 yards receiving any day.

    In regards to Cutler, he had one bad read during the entire game when he threw to Olsen in double coverage instead of checking down to Bennett underneath. He missed a throw to Hester on the first drive which looked like a case of miscommunication more than anything. The other missed throws came later on in the second half when it was pretty obvious he was injured and was unable to plant his left foot. In terms of the interception, I thought it was a good read. By no means was it threading the needle: he had Knox behind single coverage -- any throw ahead of Knox would have been safe and a good chance at a touchdown -- a chance you take on any down. But because of his injury, he threw off of his right foot and couldn't get enough under it. In the second half he threw once and it was clear he was done.

    I don't think Rodgers had a good game. He missed a lot of throws, especially to the sidelines on hot reads when the Bears blitzed. The pick off his attempt to Driver was freakish, but it was a horrible throw, and bad throws cause unlucky picks. He also threw too far inside on a streak to Jennings which went right through Tillman's hands, so its not like luck worked against him all day. I thought he piled up most of his stats early when they were effective with play action, but once the Bears figured out the running game, Rodgers was infective. I give him credit though for fighting a tough defense and not making any critical mistakes on his side of the field.

    I agreed with the Bears decision to punt. After the game Robbie Gould indicated his range to the North was 47 yds at best, and the Bears punter is better than most at placing punts. The week before in similar positions, Maynard placed punts at the Seattle 5 and 1 yard line.

    I think the Packers are indeed the better team, but ultimately field position determined this game. The Packers scored their second touchdown starting at the Bears 45, and the Hanie interception came at the Bears 15. The Bears short-field opportunities were squandered by the two missed punts and the roughing penalty on Peppers deep in Green Bay territory. Luck went against the Bears this time, and they are not good enough to overcome bad luck against a team like Green Bay.

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