Week 10 BEST & WORST Decisions (2020) - EdjVarsity

Week 10 BEST & WORST Decisions (2020)

For this week’s Best and Worst Decisions, we’ll focus on the concept of the “4-Minute Offense” and the ARI vs BUF game.

Conventional wisdom about a 4-Minute Offense revolves around the idea of using a play-calling strategy that focuses on protecting a lead by burning clock and moving the chains through a combination of runs and high completion percentage pass plays.  However, these strategies often overlook context (i.e. the importance of how the teams match-up and the game state, especially the number of timeouts).  

4-Minute Strategy (ARI)

With 4:30 remaining in the 4th quarter and leading the Bills by 3 points, the Cardinals faced a 1st and 10 at the ARI 41-yard line, with 2 timeouts (BUF had 3 timeouts).  Based on the game state and how these two teams matched-up (i.e. our Edj Power Indexes) and a conservative 4th down “GO” threshold, on this 1st down the Cardinals are in four-down territory if they end up facing 4th and 10 or less.

It was a quick series. On 1st down out of 12 personnel, the Cardinals attempted a relatively low completion percentage pass play that was incomplete and ran 7 seconds off the clock.  On 2nd down out of 11 personnel, despite high completion percentage route concepts, the play resulted in another incompletion and ran 5 seconds off the clock.  On 3rd and 10 out of 10 personnel, the Cardinals 4 receivers all ran routes beyond the 1st down marker, but ultimately QB Murray was sacked for a 6-yard loss that ran 30 seconds off the clock.  On 4th and 16 the Cardinals punted, and the Bills took possession after a Cardinals drive that only ran 56 seconds off the clock.    

At the very least, on 3rd down our analytics recommend ARI attempting to get to a 4th and 5 or less, and then going for it on 4th down, where all (pre-snap) win probability gains are 7% or higher.  But, facing a 4th and 16 the decision to punt was correct. And, (intentionally or not) the Cardinals also executed an unconventional 4-Minute Offense strategy that was correct, in this instance.  Here’s why… 

After the Cardinals 4th down punt, the Bills took possession at the BUF 22-yard line, with 3:35 remaining in the 4th quarter, trailing by 3 points, and with 3 timeouts (ARI had 2 timeouts). At this point in the game, the Bills win probability was 36.7% (conversely, the Cardinals win probability was 63.3%). 

Now, let’s look at win probabilities that assume the Cardinals executed a more traditional strategy.  For the sake of this example, let’s assume ARI had been able to run an additional 30 seconds off the clock on 1st and 2nd down. If the Bills had taken possession with 2:35 remaining in the 4th quarter (all other factors being the same), their win probability would have been 39.0% (conversely, the Cardinals win probability would have been 61.0%).

In other words, if the Cardinals had run an additional minute off the clock their win probability would have actually decreased -2.3%, despite having the lead.  Without getting too far into the weeds, a lot of this has to with our model’s ability to evaluate the Bills likelihood of scoring a TD to take the lead, and if so, the likelihood of the Cardinals mounting a comeback with whatever time remains – our model is recognizing (and pointing out) that if ARI had run more time off the clock there would have been less time for them to attempt a comeback, if necessary. 

This situation is similar to a basketball “2-for-1” where teams try to use the clock to ensure they get two possessions and their opponent only gets one.  Unknowingly or not, the quick series gave ARI a better chance of executing their own 2-for-1.

4-Minute Strategy (BUF)

The Bills did a good job executing a more traditional 4-Minute Offense.  In a 78-yard drive that ran 3:01 off the clock, the Bills scored the go-ahead TD.

Playing until the final whistle

With only 0:34 remaining in the 4th quarter and trailing the Bills by 4 points, the Cardinals faced a 1st and 10 at the ARI 25-yard line, with 2 timeouts (BUF also had 2 timeouts). 

Three plays later, with only 0:11 remaining and no timeouts, ARI faced a 1st and 10 from the BUF 43-yard line.  At this point, the Cardinals win probability was 7.2%.  But, after an incredible TD throw by QB Murray and catch by WR Hopkins, the Cardinals were back on top by 3 points, and a win probability of 99.1%.

Bottom line…

There is no such thing as one-size fits all analytics strategy that applies to 4-Minute Offense, 4th Down GO’s, Timeouts, PAT, Onside Kicks, or any other part of the game.  The correct decision in one situation can’t be applied to all decisions – each decision has to be considered in the context of how the teams match up and the game state.  And, by using analytics that can be customized, coaches gain a strategic advantage by identifying the best course of action for the situation in question…

Notable High School Calls of the Week

Kentucky Country Day BearCats (KY) at Bullitt East Chargers (KY)

With 10:33 left in regulation and trailing 7-20, Coach Jones and the BearCats faced a 4th and 2 at the Bullitt East 21-yard line. Coach Jones made the correct call by deciding to go for it and increased the BearCats (pre-snap) win probability by 6%.

Totino-Grace Eagles (MN) at Cretin-Derham Hall Raiders (MN)

With 2:41 remaining in the game and leading 29-21, the Eagles faced a 4th and 1 at the Cretin-Derham Hall 39-yard line. Instead of attempting a long field goal, the Eagles decided to go for it.  The decision increased their (pre-snap) win probability by 5%.  After a successful conversion they were able to run out the clock and win the game.

Great calls Coaches!

Submit your play of the week here

Extra Point…

Also, take a look at the analysis of our featured Game of the Week between Hoover (AL) vs Oak Mountain (AL). 

Bottom Line

Once again, analytics show that good calls aren’t always conventional and don’t always result in wins and bad calls don’t always result in loses.  The one sure thing is that every decision matters and it’s important to make the ones that give your team the best chance to win the game. 

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