Super Bowl XVLXVLVLIIICDMVXXXIII Analysis

First of all, I'm getting tired of the Roman numerals. It was cool up until maybe Super Bowl XXV, but now it just hurts my brain.

Secondly, although my numbers pointed to a SEA edge I did not see that coming. The game notched a 1.5 on the Excitement Index, the lowest of any SB in the data (since '99). The next lowest were the TB-OAK 2002 game and the BAL-NYG 2000 game, each at 2.7. There weren't many decisions to analyze because the game got out of hand so quickly, but I'll go over the little we can learn from last night.

Overall, the game hinged on the fundamentals. SEA's defense was faster, bigger, stronger. Even a layman like myself could tell SEA won because of lots and lots of individual matchup victories. They made tackles at first contact. Guys shook their blocks lightning fast. They swarmed to the screens, caved the pocket, and covered the receivers in stride. There weren't many blitzes or scheming contrivances. Instead it was plain old physical football. The only wrinkle I noticed was that SEA played more cover/man 2 than we expected, but that's not exactly something Manning shouldn't normally be able to handle.

The Challenges


Pete Carroll challenged a first down ruling on SEA's first drive. A 1st down at that point of the game at the opponent 13 is worth .76 WP. A 4th and 1, assuming the FG, is worth .66 WP. If a 3rd quarter timeout typically costs around .03 or .04 WP in a close game, a 1st half timeout is going to worth a fraction of that. The only other cost is the possible loss of one of the team's two challenges, and with the recent automatic replay rules for scoring plays and turnovers coaches rarely run out of challenges and cannot challenge a late critical play. So for the sake of argument, let's say the total cost of the timeout and challenge is .02 WP. With an outcome leverage of .10, SEA would only need a break-even success probability of 20% to make the challenge worthwhile. Call the total cost .03 WP, and the break-even is 30%. On tv it was pretty clear Wilson was short of the conversion, but the thing with ball-spot challenges is that even if you don't get the conversion the challenge is upheld and you can sweeten the spot for a possible 4th down attempt.

John Fox's challenge of a screen pass that was ruled an incomplete forward pass falls in the same category. A ruling of a turnover would give DEN a .31 WP, but upholding the call would give them a .22 WP, good for a .09 leverage value. The same math applies here. DEN would need just a 22% to 33% success probability to make the challenge worth it. The replay showed it was clearly a forward pass, so I wonder what kind of access to replays the coordinator staffs in the booths had.

4th Downs

The Bot had a slow night. Denver had a 4th and 2 on their own 43 early in the game which the numbers favored going for it, but it was very close to the point of indifference.

Both of SEA's early 4th downs resulted in FGs, and both were good decisions.

DEN went for it on 4th and 2 on the SEA 19 late in the second quarter. They were already down 22-0 by then, so going for it on 4th and forever would have been smart. With 2 yards to go it was an easy decision. It didn't work out in DEN's favor but it was a good call.

After that, things got out of hand. But as Josh Levin from Slate pointed out, why did DEN punt on 4th and 11 from the SEA 39 down 29 points with 10 minutes in the 3rd quarter, only to have to try an onside kick later in the quarter down 28.

My thought was, what about an onside kick to start the 2nd half, a la the Saints 4 years ago? Too expected these days, I suppose.

The Big Plays

In terms of WP swings, the 2nd biggest play of the game was the first snap of the game, which sailed over Manning's head for a safety. Safeties are bigger scores than many think--worth 3.3 Expected Points--because of the value of the subsequent possession. And that particular safety wasn't of the run-of-mill variety where the offense is backed up against its goal line. DEN was at the 14-yard line. In total it was worth .09 WPA.

The biggest play of the night was Wilson's deep floater to Baldwin for 37 yards, worth .10 WPA.

The next play was the Chancellor interception, worth .07 WPA. After that, Harvin's big sweep run was .06, and then a couple of Wilson's critical 3rd down completions round out the top plays. The stop DEN made on 3rd down that set up SEA's challenge discussed above was up there too. At the time, it kept the Broncos in the game behind by just 5.

MVP

Malcolm Smith was deserving. The SEA defense clearly won the night, and Smith led his squad with 14.6 +EPA and 9 'Success Plays'. He was also 3rd in +WPA and Tackle Factor.

Wilson would have been a defensible choice too. Overall he had .17 WPA and 15.0 EPA, no sacks, no interceptions, and an 8.2 AYPA. None of the RBs made a dent in the game on either side.

If you're wondering, Manning finished with -.19 WPA and -15.3 EPA. Brutal.

Clock/Game Management

Why was SEA snapping the ball with up to 7, 8, 9 seconds left on the play clock in the second half? Those seconds add up fast. I realize it didn't end up mattering, but we were all probably thinking the same thing before the lights went out in the Super Dome last year.

Not that it mattered, but I was a little surprised that SEA kept passing and scoring at the end of the game. Maybe there's still more than a little bit of the college coach left in Carroll.

Congratulations Seattle Fans

It's not often that the best team in the NFL is also the champion, but there's a pretty strong case that SEA lays claim to both in 2013. SEA's defensive ascendancy began 3 years ago, and they're still young. Most teams with all-world defenses have struggling offenses. In the zero-sum age of a hard salary cap, it's very hard to be good on both sides of the ball for more than a year. When you combine a great defense with even an average offense, you've got a championship contender. But when you've got an above-average offense you've got a juggernaut.

Oh, and the commercials sucked. Again. Except I kinda liked the Jaguar ad. But I'm a car nut.

92 days until the draft.

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14 Responses to “Super Bowl XVLXVLVLIIICDMVXXXIII Analysis”

  1. James says:

    If you're tired of Roman numerals I have good news for you: the 50th Super Bowl is only a few years away, and I doubt the NFL is excited about promoting Super Bowl "L".

    My bet is they go with Super Bowl "50", and then it's a toss-up whether they switch back or stick with the arabic numerals. If they do switch back then we can all look forward to the 88th game, aka Super Bowl LXXXVIII.

  2. Nate says:

    That was a pretty dominant performance by Seattle in all aspects of the game, and there are a number of worthy recipients other than Smith and Wilson. (To his credit, Smith pointed that out as well.)

    Completely unrelated to the super bowl: You've published expected points spreadsheets for first through third downs (http://www.advancednflstats.com/2009/12/expected-point-values.html). Do you plan to publish your numbers for fourth down as well?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Brian - one interesting footnote on Seattle's FG in the first quarter. After the unsuccessful challenge they had 4th and inches and lined up for the FG. Then a false start made it 4th and 5 on which they kicked. They did make the right decision on 4th and 5 but they did intend to make the wrong decision on 4th and inches.

  4. Andy says:

    the onside kick would have made way more sense. Even telling Prater to kick it out of the end zone which he can do pretty easily would have made sense. Kicking the ball short so Harvin had a running start just shows that John Fox is not a Pete Carroll caliber coach. But i think what we are going to start to see next year is a new style of pop up kick offs. try to send the ball to the other teams 30 and see if you can get it.

  5. ilikeflowers says:

    Thank God for the NFC West, I didn't think I'd see defenses like that anymore after the rule changes. They've restored the love of football in this old defensive-minded fan.

  6. Anonymous says:

    what's wrong with roman numerals? granted I wouldn't want to do a lot of arithmetic with them, but for simply enumerating things they work.

    I've been looking thru Euclid's work recently. Very interesting the hoops he jumps through to do everything with geometry. A*B*C is a box with side lengths A, B, and C... (and I don't think he ever goes to the extreme of dealing with A*B*C*D) One might imagine he liked Alexandrian numerals as much as you like Roman numerals.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Sorry to nitpick, but Wilson's first name has two L's: Russell.

    It's one of my pet peeves.

  8. Jordan Dietrich says:

    "but the thing with ball-spot challenges is that even if you don't get the conversion the challenge is upheld and you can sweeten the spot for a possible 4th down attempt"

    I'm not sure I understand this in the given context. The ref explained that the spot of the ball was moved, but since it didn't result in a first down, the challenge was lost?

    I would think if any change comes about as a challenge to the spot of the ball it would be considered a won challenge.

  9. Jordan Dietrich says:

    ilikeflowers: It's interesting that the NFC West is generally considered the best in the NFC, if not the whole NFL this year. Three, maybe four years ago, they were the laughing stock of the NFL and there were talks of reformatting the playoffs because no one in the west deserved a playoff spot.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I was having a discussion with a friend about 2-point conversion. Aikman stated the obvious thing to do was go for 2's after every TD. My friend think just taking the one every time except the last one (to tie) would be better - essentially from such a long odds comeback, playing for overtime would be the better chance to win. Any thoughts?

  11. Thomas McDermott says:

    One indication of how "unexciting" the game was (well, besides just what you saw watching it!) is that there was only 1 play over 0.10 WPA, Baldwin's catch for +0.10 as Brian noted. For comparison, last year's game had 7 plays over 0.10 (biggest play was Frank Gore's 4th quarter 33-yard run, +0.16), the year before that had 6 (biggest play being Manning-Manningham, +0.22).
    Kind of a bummer. There were some awesome plays in the game - Jermaine Kearse's TD, Demaryius Thomas' TD - that sadly had no signficant impact on the game.
    We've been spoiled by the last 5 or 6 Super Bowls...

  12. Nate says:

    Regarding the 2-point conversions:

    It basically comes down to how likely (relatively speaking) the catch up scenarios are. With a half left to play, the most likely ways to make up 36 points are probably:

    Five unanswered touchdowns with 1 two-point conversion.
    Five touchdowns with 4 two-point conversions against 1 field goal.
    Four unanswered touchdowns with four two point conversions and a field goal.

    These are the most likely because they require the fewest possessions. So the first 2-point attempt is almost certainly correct. (As soon as you're likely to need to take at least one two point conversion, you'll want to take it as early as possible.)

    I'm pretty sure that the bottom two scenarios (and the potential benefit of scoring the go-ahead points from a 2-point attempt) justify a 2-point attempt on the following TD, but it's a matter of contemplating the possible game scenarios, so things get quite complex.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Jordan-
    "I'm not sure I understand this in the given context. The ref explained that the spot of the ball was moved, but since it didn't result in a first down, the challenge was lost?"
    Yes. The challenge rules are slightly different when it involves the spot of the ball. A team can ONLY challenge the spot if it's relative to a first down or a touchdown. And they win the challenge ONLY if the call of 1st down/not a first down (or not a TD) is changed, even if the ball is moved. I saw one game where the refs re-spotted the ball, then had to bring out the chains and measure before declaring that the call on the field (fourth down) did not change and the team was to be charged a timeout (and lose their challenge).
    -Jason

  14. Anonymous says:

    So i guess we can confirm that 'statistics are for losers' and we can throw out that previous article about how much better the best offenses are than the best defenses?

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