Super Bowl LIV - BEST & WORST Decisions - EdjVarsity

Super Bowl LIV – BEST & WORST Decisions

Each week coaches around the country are faced with real-time critical calls. By evaluating how teams manage their win probability, you can learn how to optimize future decisions and give your team the best chance to win.

Let’s a take a look at one of the best and worst decisions from Super Bowl LIV.

Sunday’s game gave us one of the most exciting comebacks in Super Bowl history. With just over 7 minutes remaining in the game the Chiefs win probability had reached its lowest point of the game, at 6%. However, in just over 4 minutes of action, the Chiefs scored the go-ahead TD as their win probability skyrocketed to 64%.

As a result of this comeback, for KC a lot of the game recap commentary is around the 4th quarter pass by Mahomes to Hill on 3rd and 15, that gained 44-yards, flipped the field, and increased the Chiefs win probability by +15% (as a result of that play, KC went from 6% win probably to 21% win probability). For SF, a lot of the commentary is around Coach Shanahan’s perceived clock mismanagement at the end of the 1st half.

While these series of plays are definitely important, for this week’s best and worst recap we’ll take a closer look at some of the less noticeable plays that also had significant impacts on the game’s final outcome.

Best Decisions – CHIEFS

There are two plays we consider among the best decisions from this game.

With 1:57 remaining in the 1st quarter, 3 timeouts, and trailing by 3, KC faced a 4th and 1 at the SF 5-yard line. While conventional wisdom suggests attempting a FG, in an effort to tie the game and “come away with something”, Coach Reid made the correct call by deciding to go-for it. The decision increased the Chiefs’ (pre-snap) win probability by +5%. Our Edj Power Indexes (EPIs) had the KC rush offense ranked among the league’s best (#4) versus a SF rush defense that also ranked very highly (#7). Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that go-for-it, go on to win the game 54% of the time and teams that attempt a FG, go on to win the game 49% of the time.The Chiefs successfully converted this attempt, went on to score at TD on this drive, and took the lead in the game.

On the Chiefs very next drive, with 11:04 remaining in the 2nd quarter, 3 timeouts, and leading by 4, KC faced a 4th and 1 at the SF 19. Once again, Coach Reid made the correct call by deciding to go-for-it. The decision increased the Chiefs (pre-snap) win probability by +3%.  Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that go-for-it, go on to win the game 70% of the time and teams that attempt a FG, go on to win the game 67% of the time. The Chiefs successfully converted this attempt, went on to convert a FG on this drive, and increased their lead to 7 points.

The combined result of these early back-to-back decisions to go-for-it, is that Coach Reid increased the Chiefs (pre-snap) win probability by +9%. While not quite the 15% generated by the Mahomes to Hill play, it’s clear that these two decisions had a significant impact on the game. They also show that Coach Reid understands the value of advanced analytics and was going to make decisions that gave his team the best chance to win the game.

Worst Decisions – 49ERS

There are two plays we consider among the worst decisions from this game.

With 5:18 left in the 4th quarter, 3 timeouts, and leading by 3, the 49ers faced a 4th and 5 from the SF 25. By deciding to punt, Coach Shanahan made an error that cost the 49ers -6% in (pre-snap) win probability. Our EPIs had the SF pass offense ranked very high (#7) versus a KC pass defense that also ranked very high (#8). Based on our EPI’s and the game state, teams that go-for-it, go on to win the game 64% of the time and teams that punt, go on to win the game 58% of the time.

During Super Bowl LIV, we were in the production trucks at Hard Rock Stadium, providing live in-game analytics for the Fox Sports broadcast team. As a result of our advanced analytics, on the 1st down in this series, we announced “4th and 10 or less is a GO”, letting everyone know that if the 49ers ended up facing a 4th and 10 or less, they needed to go-for-it.  And, while this may seem somewhat counter intuitive based purely on the 49ers field position, our analytics take all possible outcomes and factors into consideration (i.e. the likelihood of SF converting a 4th down attempt and running more time off the clock and/or closing out the game by going on to score a FG or TD, in the event of an unsuccessful conversion we also evaluate the strength of the KC offense versus the strength of the SF defense and the likelihood of KC successfully converting a FG to tie the game or scoring a TD to take the lead, etc). Advanced analytics provide actionable information based on a comprehensive analysis.

One of the biggest advantages of advanced analytics, that often gets overlooked, is how they can help coaches proactively make better decisions. In this case, on 1st down Coach Shanahan would have understood that his team was in 4-down territory (and had communicated this to his players). At the very least, knowing he had 2 plays when facing 3rd and 5 would have impacted his play calling decisions and Garoppolo’s execution.

Coach Shanahan also made another error worthy of further analysis. With 9:34 left in the 3rd quarter, 3 timeouts, and the game tied, the 49ers faced a 4th and 2 from the KC 24. By deciding to attempt a FG, Coach Shanahan made an error that cost the 49ers -5% in (pre-snap) win probability. Our EPIs had the SF rushing offense ranked among the league’s best (#5) versus a KC rush defense that ranked fairy low (#24).  Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that go-for-it, go on to win the game 55% of the time and teams that attempt a FG, go on to win the game 50% of the time.

The combined cost of these two decisions was -11% in (pre-snap) win probability. Like the KC decisions, it’s not quite the 15% generated by the Mahomes to Hill play, but in this context it’s clear that these decisions had a significant impact on the game’s final outcome. These decisions also suggest that as opposed to making decisions to win, Coach Shanahan was making decisions not to lose the game.

Bottom Line – Every Decision Matters

Coach Reid and the Chiefs use advanced analytics to make decisions that give them the best chance to win the game and the Chiefs are Super Bowl LIV Champions!

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Images via USA Today Sports.

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