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EdjVarsity - Best and worst coaching decisions - Week 7

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For this week’s Best and Worst we’ll focusing on playing to win...

BEST Decision - TEN vs PIT

With 10:19 remaining in the 4th quarter and trailing the Steelers by 10 points, the Titans faced a 4th and 1 at the PIT 1-yard line. Coach Vrabel made the correct call by deciding to go for it. The decision increased the Titans (pre-snap) win probability by +6%.

Our EdjSports Power Indexes (EPIs) had this run-game match up as fairly even, with the Titans rush offense ranked above league average (#9) and the Steelers rush defense ranked as the league’s best (#1). Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that go for it, go on to win the game 18% of the time and teams that attempt the FG, go on to win the game 12% of the time.

Coach Vrabel is establishing himself as a very good strategist and this decision is just another example. Great call Coach Vrabel.

NOTABLE Execution - SEA @ ARZ

Just a quick note on the extraordinary effort of Seahawks WR D.K. Metcalf. With 9:08 remaining in the 2nd quarter and leading by 6 points, SEA faced a 1st and 3 and the ARZ 3-yard line. On that play, Cardinals DB Budda Baker intercepts QB Russell Wilson’s pass at the 2-yard line and appears to have a clear path to a 98-yard pick-six. However, WR D.K. Metcalf had other plans and ran down Baker at the SEA 8-yard line, preventing the TD.

So, instead of the Cardinals attempting a PAT (if Baker had scored the TD, the Seahawks win probability would have 65%), ARZ faced a 1st and 8 from the SEA 8-yard line (and the Seahawks win probability was 69%). In one of the greatest effort plays you’ll ever see, D.K. Metcalf saved the Seahawks 4% in win probability and this play is a big part of the reason his team made it to overtime.

Great play D.K. Metalf !!!

WORST Decision and Execution - CAR @ NO

With 2:00 remaining in the 4th quarter and trailing the Saints by 3 points, the Panthers faced a 4th and 19 at the NO 47-yard line. Coach Rhule made an error by deciding to attempt the 65-yard FG. This decision cost the Panthers -10% in (pre-snap) win probability.

Our EPIs had this pass-game match up as fairly even, with the Panthers pass offense ranked among the league average (#15) and the Saints pass defense ranked above league average (#11). Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that attempt the FG (it was a 65-yard attempt), only go on to win the game 2% of the time and teams that go for it, go on to win the game 12% of the time.

Let’s walk through this series from the start, using the proactive lens of analytics. From our 4th Down Forecast (below), based on the match up and game state, and using a standard threshold of 4%, on 1st down the Panthers are expected to view 4th and 4 or less as a “Go” situation.

4th-Forecast

After an incomplete pass on 1st down and a short pass for -1 yards on 2nd down, the Panthers faced a 3rd and 11 from the Saints 39-yard line, with 2:25 remaining in the game. However, from the perspective of analytics, the down and distance is actually a 3rd and 7, because if CAR get to 4th and 4 or less, they should go for it – not to mention the added benefit that gaining any yards has in terms increasing FG conversion rates.

From this field position, the personnel & play call, communication with players, and player execution should all be based on an understanding of the value of gaining 7 (or more) yards AND not losing any yards. Unfortunately for Coach Rhule, on this play CAR ended up taking a sack for -8 yard and the resulting game state made both a 4th and 19 “Go” and a FG attempt very unlikely - the sack also resulted in a (pre-snap) win probability drop of -25% (CAR went from 27% win probability on 3rd down to 2% win probability on 4th down).

Moral of the story is that with all that’s going on during a game, coaches can use analytics as a tool to help them coach proactively (i.e. quiet some of the noise) and to make decisions that give their team the best chance to win the game.

Notable High School Calls of the Week

Highschool-Best

Saguaro Sabercats (AZ) vs Hamilton Huskies (AZ)

Down 7 - 13 with 20 seconds remaining in the 3rd Quarter, the Saguaro Sabercats faced a 4th & 4 from the Hamilton 11-yard line. Coach Mohns made the decision to go for it instead of attempting the FG. Despite not converting on this play, his decision to “Go” was the correct one because it increased his team's (pre-snap) win probability by +7%.

Apopka Blue Darters (FL) vs. Jones Fightin' Tigers (FL)

With 9:07 remaining in the 3rd Quarter, Apopka trailed Jones by 9 points and faced a 4th & 2 at the Fightin’ Tigers 34-yard line. Coach Jeff Rolson and the Blue Darters elected to go for it, increasing their team's (pre-snap) win probability by +6%, over the next best option of attempting a FG. Great call by Apopka and Coach Rolson!

Great calls Coaches!

Submit your play of the week here

Bottom Line

Analytics can be used to evaluate decisions in terms of play calling and player execution, in all facets of the game (ie. offense, defense, and special teams). Every decision matters and it’s important for coaches and players to make the ones that give their team’s the best chance to win the game.

For more information about how coaches are using analytics to make better decisions, visit EdjVarsity.