- More SB 47 Analysis
By Brian Burke
Matt kindly sent his own analysis, using the 4th down and win probability calculators. This is exactly what those calculators are for...so I don't have to do all the work! Take it away, Matt:
In a Super Bowl with colossal storylines, including the impending retirement of Ray Lewis and a 34-minute blackout delay, the battle of the Harbaughs was arguably the biggest. Both coaches are considered among the league’s elite, and there won’t be much criticism of either of them following such a well-played season by both the Ravens and 49ers. In the Super Bowl, however, there were a few decisions made by the Harbaugh brothers on 4th down that significantly decreased their respective teams’ chances of winning.
There is no NFL head coach that will go for it on fourth down from inside their own 20 yard line in the first half of a game. Surprisingly, according to the 4th down calculator at advancednflstats.com, coaches are making a mistake by punting the ball away in many of these situations. With 2:07 left in the 2nd quarter, the Niners had a 4th and 4 from their own 12. Down just 14-3, there wasn’t too much desperation from the San Francisco coaching staff and they sent on the punt team without a second thought. In reality, going for it in this situation would not have been a desperate move. By punting the ball, the Niners actually decreased their chances of winning by 2 percent. Keeping the ball had tremendous value in this situation, and a punt would likely give the Ravens good field position and a decent chance at scoring anyway. That’s exactly what happened when Joe Flacco connected with Jacoby Jones for a touchdown just 22 seconds later.
Following the delay, the Niners stormed back into the game, cutting the lead to 28-20. They drove down the field, but eventually stalled at the Baltimore 16 yard line. 3:10 remained in the 3rd quarter, and the 49ers needed just 2 yards for a first down, but they settled for a David Akers field goal attempt. Forget the fact that Akers has been abysmal of late; this decision was an egregious mistake even with an ideal field goal kicker. A 4th and 2 is converted roughly 60 percent of the time, and that figure is likely higher with the Niners dominant rushing attack. If you merely assumed average circumstances, the Niners still decreased their odds of winning by about 4 percent by choosing to kick the field goal.
The biggest coaching blunder of this game was actually made by the winning coach, John Harbaugh, and it occurred with 4:19 remaining in the game. The Ravens held a 2-point lead, and were facing a 4th and 2 from the San Francisco 20 yard line. Conventional wisdom suggests that you kick a field goal to go up 5, forcing the other team to have to score a touchdown to beat you. However, the value of converting the first down and potentially going up by 9, which would essentially end the game, makes going for it on 4th down a no-brainer in this situation. On the field goal attempt, the Ravens had a 71 percent chance of winning, but if they had gone for it instead, that number would have increased to 78 percent. The Ravens gave up 7 percent of a win before the play even started.
This game also contained a monumental gaffe in terms of 2-point conversion decision-making. When Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers scored to cut the lead to 28-12 (pending the XP/2-pt attempt), it was an ideal time to attempt a 2-point conversion. The win probability calculations suggest that by going for 2, the Niners had a 5 percent chance of winning compared to 4 percent by kicking the extra point. This change is meaningful, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. If the Niners were to come back to tie from down 22, they would need 3 scores including one conversion. Coaches typically kick extra points in this scenario, delaying a 2-point attempt until the last score. But if San Francisco goes for 2 on the first score, they cut the deficit to 14, which means they don’t need any more conversions. So it doesn’t matter when they go for 2, right? Wrong. If the 49ers missed the 2-point attempt on the first touchdown, they still would have had roughly a 25% chance of converting back-to-back 2-point conversions to cut the lead from 16 to 8 to 0 (This assumes a 2-point attempt has about a 50 percent success rate, but with Kaepernick and the read-option, the odds were probably more in San Fran’s favor). This 25 percent increase is seen in the jump from a 4 percent win probability up to 5 percent.
In a total of 4 plays, the two coaches cost themselves 7 percent of a win each. This may not seem like much, but extrapolate that over a whole season and you get 112 percent of a win (16 x .07), or 1.12 wins, which is more than considerable. And remember, these are two of the best coaches in the NFL. Imagine how many wins the coaches at the bottom of the barrel are costing their teams.
(14-3) 4th and 4 for SF on own 12
2:07 2nd quarter
WP go for it: .12
WP punt: .10
Loss of .02
(28-20) 4th and 2 for SF on opp 16
3:10 3rd quarter
WP go for it: .30
WP fg attempt: .26
Loss of .04
(31-29) 4th and 2 for BAL on opp 20
4:19 4th quarter
WP go for it: .78
WP fg attempt: .71
Loss of .07
Niners TD (28-12) SF
WP go for it: .05
WP XP: .04
Loss of .01
published on 2/04/2013