By Brian Burke
HOU at BAL
The Texans outplayed the Ravens in almost every way except one--turnovers. Jacoby Jones' muffed punt was the costliest. With a 3-point lead in the 1st quarter, the HOU defense forced a 3-and-out. On the ensuing punt, Jones watched the ball bounce in front of him, but made a play for the ball to save field position. The Ravens recovered it at the HOU 6 and went on to score a TD. If you look at the WP graph, it was the signature play of the game, and HOU never fully recovered.
This game was supposed to feature two of the league's premier runners. Instead, it was all defense. Arian Foster had 132 yds on 27 carries (4.9 YPC), but netted -0.01 WPA and only 1.8 EPA. Why? Failures at critical plays. Foster was killed for a 7-yd loss by Ray Lewis on a flare pass forcing a 2nd and 17 when HOU only trailed by 4. On the next play, he was strung out of bounds for just a 1-yd gain, creating a 3rd and 16. On a 3rd and 1 at the BAL 21, Foster was stuffed for no gain. And so on.
Ray Rice did much worse. He was stuffed on several critical goal line plays. And on a 2nd and 1 to seal the win, he was stopped short of the marker. Rice finished with -0.15 WPA and -6.3 EPA. These lunatics at the Baltimore Sun who week-in and week-out clamor for more carries by Rice, who cite fallacious 'when Rice gets 25 carries the Ravens win' stats, need to get a clue. (I'm looking at you Mike Preston.) A long time ago I came to the conclusion that most sports desks at our major city papers don't have the first idea about the sport on which they claim to be so authoritative, but the Baltimore Sun is in a league of its own. Those guys seem like nice folks, but...they have a duty to educate themselves. It's their job. As it is, they're no better than the average fan with his harebrained opinions.
HOU has one of the league's best defenses, and they showed up. The BAL offensive line had an awful day. They allowed 3 sacks (plus 2 more from DBs), 3 QB Hits, 3 tackles for losses, and a bunch of critical stuffs (see above). On a 3rd and inches for the victory, they allowed a 4-yard penetration by a HOU defender, forcing a stop for no gain. Overall the BAL offensive line had a -0.20 WPA and -3.5 EPA, with just a 37.9 run SR.
With 1:59 to play in the 3rd and a 4-point lead, BAL went for it on 4th down at the goal line and failed. It was a good call. Slam dunk. They didn't get it, but the defense held, forcing a 3-and-out. The ordeal ended with excellent field position for the BAL offense and burned time off the clock along the way. The difference between a 4- and 7-point lead at that point in the game isn't very large anyway, but an 11-point lead would have been enormous, and made the 4th down attempt well worthwhile.
Your advanced stat tidbit for this game is the temperature at kickoff, which was 31 degrees. I just did some number crunching on weather effects on field goal attempts, which I'll post soon. With the numbers in hand, I had a feeling about Neil Rackers' 50-yd attempt on 4th and 6 with 5:59 to play in the 3rd quarter. As they lined up for the kick, I typed, "Too long," on the chat at the WP graph page. Sure enough, Rackers nailed it! Dead center. He got all of it. Boink. Off the crossbar. No good. 50-yd attempts are like 60-yd attempts in 30-degree weather.
Aaron Rodgers was the leading rusher, not only of his team, but of the entire game, with 66 yds. Eli Manning played masterfully, going 21/33 with 330 yds, 3 TDs, and 1 int. In more meaningful terms, Manning had 0.49 WPA and 16.6 EPA. He was on fire witha 61% SR.
The Manning to Hicks 66-yard pass was the big play of day, worth 0.16 WP. The Kuhn fumble in the 2nd quarter was devastating for GB. It was the last moment they had the upper hand in the game, never to go above 0.50 WP again.
The 23-yd run by Bradshaw just before the half looked like it set the Giants up for a long-shot FG attempt just before halftime. But the Hail Mary prayer was answered, dropping 7 points on NYG just before halftime.
Coming out of halftime, Rodgers was stripped by Umenyiora, good for 0.13 WPA. Although it feld like the Packers were never out of the game, they never really threatened again, and the Giants held on for the win.
Mr. Discount Double-Check had his worst EPA game and his 2nd-worst WPA game of the year Sunday. He totaled 0.02 WPA and -0.4 EPA, averaging just 3.9 AYPA with 264 net passing yds and an interception.
McCarthy's decision making is going to fall under scrutiny. His 4th and 5 attempt, although smart, was unsuccessful. His surprise onside attempt didn't work. Although the numbers say surprise onside attempts can be good in an expected value sense, the NYG return team appeared to be alert and ready for one.
With 4:52 to play, the Packers scored to make it a 10-point game. The Packers would need at least one onside recovery to have a prayer. McCarthy went for the onside at that point, rather than play defense for the stop, then hope to recover after a subsequent score. I thought that was smart, because you might as well find out now rather than later if the onside is going to work. You can adjust your strategy, however desperate it may be, with that knowledge in hand.