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 Week 14 in the NFL.
For this week’s recap of the NFL’s BEST and WORST decisions, we’ll focus on the Steelers vs Cardinals game.
Best Decision – CARDINALS
With 12:33 remaining in the 4th quarter, 2 timeouts, and trailing by 10, the Cardinals faced a 4th and 2 from at the PIT 6-yard line. By deciding to go-for-it, Coach Kingsbury made the correct call and increased the Cardinals (pre-snap) win probability by +6%. Our Edj Power Indexes had the ARI rush offense ranked as one of the best in the league (#3), and the PIT rush defense ranked highly, as well (#6). Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that go-for-it, go on to win the game 20% of the time and teams that attempt a FG, only go on to win the game 14% of the time.
While conventional wisdom suggests attempting a FG, in an effort to cut the deficit to -7, advanced analytics evaluate all outcomes in terms of their likelihoods and impacts on a team’s chances of winning the game. For example, in addition to evaluating the most common expectation (ARI makes the FG), we also consider all other possibilities (i.e. ARI misses the FG, ARI goes for it and fails to convert the 4th and 2, ARI gains 2-yards earns a 1st down at the PIT 4, ARI gains 6-yards and scores TD and now has an extra point attempt to cut their deficit to -3, etc…).
In fact, if the Cardinals had attempted (and made) the FG, they still would have had to score at least 7 more points than the Steelers in the game’s remaining drives. And, it’s fair to assume that ARI would have considered themselves fortunate to face another 4th and 2 and the PIT 6, with an opportunity to tie the game, especially considering the strength of the PIT defense (our EPIs have PIT ranked #6 in rush defense and #3 in pass defense).
The Cardinals recognized they were at a field position that they were unlikely to get back too and made the correct decision by going for it. And, despite not converting it was still the correct call because it gave the Cardinals the best chance (highest pre-snap win probability) to win the game.
Worst Decision – PITTSBURGH
With 1:46 remaining in the 4th quarter, 3 timeouts (ARI had 0 timeouts), and leading by 3, the Steelers faced a 4th and 7 from the ARI 7-yard line. By deciding to attempt a FG, Coach Tomlin made an error that cost the Steelers -6% in (pre-snap) win probability. Our EPIs had the PIT pass offense ranked well below league average (26th) and the ARI pass defense ranked among the worst in the league (30th). Based on our EPIs and the game state, teams that go-for-it, go on to win the game 89% of the time and teams the attempt a FG, go on to win the game 83% of the time.
There are several underlying reasons as to why, in this case, attempting the FG is an error (many of them are often overlooked). If PIT successfully converts the FG, ARI is likely to take over at their own-25 with a very aggressive mindset (they need a TD to win, otherwise they lose). If PIT fails to convert on a 4th down “GO” attempt, ARI will take possession at around their own 7-yard line (much deeper in their own territory). In either case, ARI will face long odds of getting within scoring range – if ARI gets within FG range a successful attempt will only tie the game but if ARI is able to put themselves in position to score a TD, the PIT FG won’t matter because ARI will have the opportunity to win the game.
Good calls don’t always produce great results (i.e. you won’t convert every 4th down attempt) and bad calls can produce deceivingly good results (i.e. making a FG may seem good, but not improve your chances of winning the game as much as you think). The one sure thing is that better decisions makers will give their teams more opportunities to win games.
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Images via USA Today Sports.