Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

18 Sep 2015

Clutch Encounters: DEN-KC

by Scott Kacsmar

So does it take Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs to give us a compelling Thursday night contest? Last night's game was ugly and memorable, which might also be the way we describe Peyton Manning's 2015 season in the future. It was an unforgettable night for Manning as he became just the second quarterback in NFL history to reach 70,000 passing yards. It was the 19th time he led a team to a win after trailing by at least 12 points. This may have been the last time we watched him lead a game-tying drive in the closing moments on his way to a 42nd fourth-quarter comeback, extending his record. Most of Twitter was ready for Manning to retire in the first half, but that's why they play 60 minutes. This one took many twists and turns before a finish that we rarely ever witness in the NFL: the stunning game-winning return touchdown in the final minute.

We'll recap the rest of Week 2's close games in Clutch Encounters on Tuesday as usual, but here's a special look at a special game.

Denver Broncos 31 at Kansas City Chiefs 24

Type: 4QC and non-offensive game-winning score
Largest Fourth-Quarter Deficit: 7 (24-17)
Head Coach: Gary Kubiak (14-35 at 4QC and 20-36 overall 4QC/GWD record)
Quarterback: Peyton Manning (42-50 at 4QC and 54-55 overall 4QC/GWD record)

The Denver Story: The Sheriff Took a Shotgun to Gary Kubiak's Offense

The 2015 Broncos and 1992 Broncos (Hey, John Elway!) are the only teams in NFL history to start 2-0 despite not rushing for more than 70 yards in either game. Well, it sure helps to have a defense come up with timely turnovers. That 1992 Denver team only finished 8-8, by the way, including a shocking win over the Chiefs with two touchdowns in the final minutes.

Elway and Gary Kubiak wanted to give Manning a great running game so he would not have to throw the ball so much, keeping him fresh for the playoffs. That has failed miserably so far. Manning has thrown at least 40 passes in both games and is taking a lot more sacks (seven so far) and hits than usual due to the poor offensive line.

For this one not to get out of hand, the Broncos needed to run the ball much better. Despite some great pass-rushing talent, the 2014 Chiefs only ranked 26th in DVOA against the run, and ranked 17th in Week 1 against a Houston team without Arian Foster. C.J. Anderson had a toe injury, but started anyway. He picked up 14 yards on the first play of the game for a great start, but only gained 13 yards on his final 11 carries. Injured and completely ineffective? It's like Montee Ball switched faces with Anderson and is still starting for Denver. The running game never materialized for Denver, finishing with 61 yards on 22 carries. Only five carries gained more than 3 yards. The backs aren't even factoring into the passing game, with just one catch for 2 yards on two targets in this game.

Manning hasn't been sacked at least three times in consecutive games since his second (Atlanta) and third (Houston) games with Denver in 2012. If you read Ben Muth's piece and watched Denver's first game against Baltimore, you've seen that even left guard Evan Mathis is not up to par on this line, exacerbating the struggles of inexperienced players and right tackle Ryan Harris.

We detailed the differences between Manning's offense and Gary Kubiak's offense in Football Outsiders Almanac 2015. It only took until Week 2 for this to clash, with Manning seeming to win that argument. Oh, the game started in Kubiak fashion with Manning often under center, but the results were once again not there. Manning took two sacks in the first quarter from under center. Only five of Denver's 22 runs were from the shotgun, and those five plays gained 25 yards (three successes). Consider that under Kubiak, the 2014 Ravens had just nine shotgun runs all year (Denver had 212). He needs to budge on this as the Broncos need to be able to run more offense with Manning in shotgun. Manning does not seem to have the time to set his feet and throw properly when coming out from under center.

Denver was almost 50/50 on Manning dropbacks from center versus shotgun early, but after the pick-six by rookie Marcus Peters dropped Denver into a 14-0 hole in the second quarter, we saw the old Manning offense take over in the no-huddle. From that point, Manning had 31 of his last 37 dropbacks in shotgun and the offense was much more productive.

Without that change down 14-0, the Broncos may have been embarrassed the way the Patriots were at Arrowhead Stadium last season. While Manning still flirted with ugly passes and was lucky to not throw multiple interceptions, when he was running his own offense we still saw glimpses of what has made him so successful for so long. The Chiefs contested passes very well, but Manning had pinpoint accuracy on some of his throws with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders each catching eight passes.

Until the offensive line improves and/or Manning gets more control, this is the kind of offense Denver will have to play against any competent defense. The short throws are not gaining any yards after the catch (YAC). In Week 1, the Broncos were last in the league with 2.7 YAC per catch. That average was even worse in Kansas City at just 2.2 YAC per catch, the lowest yet in Manning's 55 games with Denver. One promising thing is Manning only had six failed completions on Thursday night, down from the 10 against Baltimore and absurd mark of 15 against the Colts in the playoffs.

Defenses will continue to cheat on the short throws the way Peters read the pick-six as long as Manning continues missing the long throws. He again overthrew just about every deep pass on Thursday night, which is what we saw against Baltimore on Sunday and against the Colts in January's playoff loss. In those three games, Manning is 1-of-17 on passes thrown more than 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, including a 0-for-8 mark this season. He seems to be putting all the strength he has left into his throws, which is sacrificing the accuracy. This does not sound like a promising formula for a long season at all, but Denver has time to fix things after a fortunate 2-0 start.

The Kansas City Story: So That's Why Your Wideouts Don't Score Touchdowns

You have to go back to 2013 to find the last time the Chiefs threw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver. Of course the 2014 Chiefs threw six touchdowns to players lined up in a wide receiver position, but those players were actually tight ends and running backs, so it does not technically count.

How does this happen? Just look at the Chiefs' opening drive that had the offense in first-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Alex Smith threw a low screen pass to Jamaal Charles for a 3-yard loss. He missed a wide-open Travis Kelce on second down in the end zone, choosing to throw a pass to Jeremy Maclin at the line of scrimmage that never had a shot to score. On third down, Smith hit a swing pass to Charles, hoping he could run it in from the 11-yard line. You know, it is legal to throw into the end zone here, or at least throw a pass that's not horizontal. Charles broke one tackle, but also fumbled the ball for the first huge turnover of the game.

Denver's defense was aggressive almost to the point of stupidity with four personal fouls in the first half, but the attacking style also led to a five-takeaway night (plus four sacks) that really helped win this game.

The Chiefs picked a silly time to get aggressive. Leading 14-7 with just 2:31 in the first half and Denver out of timeouts, the Chiefs threw a deep pass instead of running the clock to the two-minute warning. Did I mention the Chiefs deferred and were going to get the ball to start the third quarter? Smith then threw a worse pass that Aqib Talib read perfectly for an interception, setting up Manning at the 15 where he would cash in to tie the game. In classic Andy Reid fashion, he didn't even use his last timeout, allowing Manning to take the clock under 50 seconds after the touchdown. The Chiefs called two runs with 47 seconds left to go to halftime.

We know Smith is extremely conservative, so it's a real head-scratcher why the Chiefs got aggressive with throwing before the half. The second half was very tight, and the Chiefs were unable to convert a third down in the entire game (0-for-7). In fact, Kansas City is 3-of-20 on third down this season. Smith's unwillingness to even try throwing close to the first-down marker is again having an impact.

Discussing Smith in the Kansas City chapter of FOA 2015, we introduced a stat we called "Air Minus Need Differential." We have since dumped the convoluted name for something simpler: Air Less Expected, or ALEX for short. This metric looks at how far the quarterback is throwing the ball relative to how many yards he needs for a first down. When Smith threw that swing pass five yards behind the line of scrimmage on third-and-5, that is minus-10 ALEX. Here is a table we used in FOA 2015 to highlight just how ridiculously conservative Smith is on third down since 2011 compared to his peers. (This is the table that didn't print correctly in physical copies of the book; sorry about that.) Keep in mind Smith also has the highest sack rate on third down -- he took one on Thursday night, too -- so if he's not firing too short, he's afraid to even pull the trigger.

Figure 1. ALEX: Air Less Expected, Third Downs (2011-2014)

In the previous four seasons, Smith's average third-down pass was thrown 1.7 yards short of the first-down marker. The average quarterback is about 1.4 yards beyond the sticks. So far in 2015, Smith's ALEX is minus-10.2 on 13 passes. He has only thrown one pass at or beyond the sticks on third down.

There was a play in the fourth quarter that the Chiefs probably wish was thrown behind the line of scrimmage again. Tied at 17, Smith had the go-ahead field goal in his back pocket on third-and-10 at the Denver 17. Instead he tried to get off a deeper throw and was hit in motion, leading to an air ball that was easily intercepted by Chris Harris with 6:27 left.

Smith got the ball back and only had to make one throw to Kelce for 29 yards as the Denver defense had some issues with giving up YAC to the tight ends. Smith nearly fell after taking a snap, but got the ball to Knile Davis for an 8-yard touchdown run with 2:27 left. Kansas City led 24-17 and appeared to be in good shape in this sloppy affair.

The Game-Tying Drive

Manning had 2:27, a timeout and 80 yards to go for the game-tying touchdown. Of course CBS' Phil Simms had to remark that Manning has been in this situation "hundreds of times" in his career. Actually, if we are talking about starting a drive in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter in a touchdown-or-bust one-score game, then Manning has been in that situation 25 times now to be exact. That includes two drives where he had less than 20 seconds to create a miracle, but everything else was at least 55 seconds, including last year's historic drive in Seattle to force overtime after trailing 20-12.

Peyton Manning: Down 4-8 Points in Final 3:00 of Fourth Quarter
Team Date Opp Final Yds/Dr Start LOS Down Result
IND 9/6/1998 MIA L 24-15 0 1:32 Own 4 8 Interception
IND 11/1/1998 NE L 21-16 22 1:25 Own 9 5 Interception
IND 11/1/1998 NE L 21-16 1 2:31 Own 39 5 Interception
IND 11/28/1998 @ BAL L 38-31 58 2:49 Own 18 7 Interception
IND 12/20/1998 @ SEA L 27-23 66 1:57 Own 27 4 Downs
IND 12/27/1998 CAR L 27-19 0 0:55 Opp 43 8 Interception
IND 9/10/2000 OAK L 38-31 30 2:49 Own 36 7 Interception
IND 10/14/2001 OAK L 23-18 26 2:22 Own 20 5 Interception
IND 12/2/2001 @ BAL L 39-27 0 1:47 Own 26 4 Interception
IND 9/15/2002 MIA L 21-13 78 2:15 Own 16 8 End of Game
IND 10/27/2002 @ WAS L 26-21 8 0:18 Own 37 5 Fumble (T.Walters lateral attempt)
IND 11/3/2002 TEN L 23-15 7 1:29 Own 8 8 Downs
IND 10/6/2003 @ TB W 38-35 OT 85 1:41 Own 15 7 Touchdown
IND 11/9/2003 @ JAC L 28-23 28 1:08 Own 34 5 Interception
IND 11/30/2003 NE L 38-34 46 2:57 Opp 48 4 Downs
IND 1/18/2004 @ NE L 24-14 0 2:01 Own 20 7 Downs
IND 10/1/2006 @ NYJ W 31-28 61 2:20 Own 39 4 Touchdown
IND 1/13/2008 SD L 28-24 5 1:30 Own 32 4 Downs
IND 9/21/2008 JAC L 23-21 77 2:33 Own 23 6 Touchdown
IND 11/15/2009 NE W 35-34 29 2:00 Opp 29 6 Touchdown
IND 10/3/2010 @ JAC L 31-28 65 2:09 Own 35 7 Touchdown
IND 12/5/2010 DAL L 38-35 OT 81 2:38 Own 19 7 Touchdown
DEN 9/23/2012 HOU L 31-25 36 0:20 Own 14 6 Fumble (lateral-filled play)
DEN 9/21/2014 @ SEA L 26-20 OT 80 0:59 Own 20 8 Touchdown
DEN 9/17/2015 @ KC W 31-24 80 2:27 Own 20 7 Touchdown

Manning was intercepted on eight of his first nine attempts in this situation, all back in 1998-2001. Even though his team only went on to win four of these games, Manning engineered the touchdown drive eight times, including six of his last seven. The only recent failure was a hopeless situation against Houston in 2012 where a fumbled lateral ended the game.

These drives rarely work out even for the greats, but Manning looked vintage on this one. Thomas came up with three big catches, including one on third-and-8 where he looked like Shaq calling for the ball down low from Derek Fisher (also old). From the 19-yard line Denver got the look it wanted with a natural rub to free up Jordan Norwood, but the young receiver dropped the ball to bring up third-and-10. By the way, the fact that 2014 second-round pick Cody Latimer can't even see the field over Norwood is a pretty negative statement about Latimer.

Sanders, who was a machine on third down this week, beat Jamell Fleming with a little stutter move and Manning had the strike for the 19-yard touchdown with 36 seconds left. Brandon McManus made the 33-yard extra point and we started to think about overtime.

The Game-Deciding Fumble Touchdown

With 35 seconds and one timeout left at your own 20, you probably want to think about overtime when your quarterback isn't known to hit plays down the field. John Fox was basically crucified in Denver for having Manning take a knee in this situation in a certain playoff game years ago, but it's not very favorable to getting a score. The new overtime system is a lot fairer now too.

But before we could even process that the unthinkable happened. Charles, who had such a great rushing night, took the carry and was stripped for his second fumble of the night. Any fumble here is disastrous this deep in your own end, but Bradley Roby was able to pick up the ball, juke by Smith and return it for a go-ahead touchdown with 27 seconds left.

Is this the Miracle at the Meadowlands of our generation? This was a run that made more sense than that one, but it was also a star player doing it instead of a scrub like Joe Pisarcik botching a handoff. It's one thing to see Brian Westbrook or DeSean Jackson return late punts to win a game, but something about a fumble being returned that just enhances the craziness (and randomness) of the moment. It's something that's not planned like the Music City Miracle.

I wish I could provide everyone with a table of game-winning return touchdowns in the final two minutes, but time data is hard to come by for older games. Oddly enough, the closest thing that comes to mind so far is a 1995 game won by the Chiefs over Houston. With 28 seconds left in a 13-13 game, Todd McNair ripped off a 17-yard run, only to fumble at his own 32. Mark Collins picked the ball up and returned it for a 34-yard touchdown to win the game with 15 seconds left. I'll assume that wasn't played on SportsCenter last night.

It wouldn't be a true TNF recap without a great GIF. Here is Smith after the fumble:

Not the Final Chapter

The Broncos have set an NFL record with their 13th consecutive division road win. Peyton Manning teams improve to 14-1 against the Chiefs, 8-1 against Andy Reid and 7-0 against Alex Smith. Offenses led by Smith have only scored more than 17 points in one of those games. This may have been the wildest chapter yet, but it is unlikely to be the last as the Chiefs play in Denver in Week 10. However, if the Chiefs couldn't finish with a 14-point lead at home on a short week with Denver still working out the kinks offensively, then it is hard to see this team overtaking the Broncos as long as Manning is there.

Like a great horror villain, Manning doesn't stay dead even when you think you've killed any chance of a sequel. On Thursday night that gloved hand rose out of the ground once again, and no matter how hard Kubiak tried to pull him back to the center, this 39-year-old corpse proved why he is the master of the no-huddle offense.

With a great defense in place, Denver is a consistent offense away from restoring the faith that this team can reach its goal of a championship. The Chiefs continue to be left wanting -- a team just good enough to break your heart.

Season Summary

Fourth-quarter comeback wins: 6
Game-winning drives: 4 (plus two non-offensive game-winning scores)
Games with 4QC opportunity: 10/17 (58.8 percent)
10+ point comeback wins (any point in the game): 4

Historic data on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives can be found at Pro-Football-Reference. Screen caps come from NFL Game Pass.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 18 Sep 2015

27 comments, Last at 22 Sep 2015, 9:22pm by Led

Comments

1
by WhoDeyluke :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 11:45am

"When Smith threw that swing pass five yards behind the line of scrimmage on third-and-5 that is minus-5 ALEX"

Isn't it minus-10 ALEX? Or am I not understanding the stat?

2
by Aaron Schatz :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 11:49am

Oops! Yes, it's minus-10. We'll fix that error.

3
by Independent George :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 12:44pm

So... was ALEX just a happy accident, or did you in fact name it after Smith?

5
by Scott Kacsmar :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 1:30pm

Threw out some ideas. A reader had something pretty close to it, so I just changed the last word and we arrived at ALEX.

KUBIAK vs. ALEX, it's a hell of a thing. And yeah, in my late-night grind I messed up the first ALEX stat here. 5 yards behind the LOS on 3rd-and-5 is indeed -10 ALEX.

4
by David C :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 1:09pm

I'm surprised how closely ALEX tracks QB quality. The only bad quarterback in that top 10 is Cam Newton, and the only good quarterback in that bottom 10 is Carson Palmer. I suppose a case could be made that Alex Smith is also a good quarterback, but I would say it's more that coordinators have figured out how to work around his weird idiosyncrasies and that his teammates have bailed him out than that he's gotten good.

9
by tuluse :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 2:32pm

I wouldn't call Newton bad.

6
by tunesmith :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 1:59pm

This article is pretty balanced but a lot of the twitter people and commenters on other boards are trying to paint this as some sort of power struggle between Manning and Kubiak. And yet, the team was actually able to *play* in shotgun yesterday... Owen Daniels seemed to know how to do it and he's new... Manning hasn't been holding an entire second secret training camp for "his" offense... the conclusion has got to be that Kubiak/Dennison/Manning have all been collaborating - they're trying to establish their running game to help them later in the season, but they're all more than willing to work on and do the Manning-specialized stuff too. That Manning VERSUS Kubiak stuff can be taken out and shot.

7
by Scott Kacsmar :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 2:25pm

To be clear on something, I'm saying the Music City Miracle was a planned play. Last night was just random craziness.

8
by RickD :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 2:28pm

Amazed that 28 of Denver's 31 points were scored with 2:31 or less left in a half. Really underscores that a team needs to play 60 minutes something that Andy Reid teams are notorious for not doing.

10
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 2:56pm

On late game fumbles ... I'm reminded of Marcus Allen's fumble in OT against the Eagles back in 1986 as he was meant to be setting up position for a game-winning field goal. Instead he fumbled and Andre Waters returned it to the Raiders 4-yd line and went on to score a TD. To me, that was the moment that the Raiders franchise turned from being a perennial winner to an also-ran.

11
by Scott Kacsmar :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 3:02pm

That's a good one. Definitely one of the highest win probability swings we'd ever find. In today's game I think most coaches would be content to send out the kicker at the 16-yard line on second down.

12
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 3:03pm

My favorite was Philip Rivers fumble on a kneel-down when setting up a game-winning field goal attempt.

If he kneels correctly (and Kaeding hits the kick), the Chargers may have won the division in 2010.

13
by Perfundle :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 3:07pm

Worst day ever indeed.

14
by Travis :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 3:47pm

I wish I could provide everyone with a table of game-winning return touchdowns in the final two minutes, but time data is hard to come by for older games.

I may be missing a game or two here, but ...

Game-winning return touchdowns, final 2 minutes of 4th quarter, 1970-2015:

10/8/1973: Redskins 14, Cowboys 7 - Brig Owens 26-yard interception return with 1:27 left.

11/25/1973: Bills 24, Baltimore Colts 17 - Dwight Harrison 31-yard interception return with 1:11 left.

12/11/1977: Lions 13, Baltimore Colts 10 - Leonard Thompson 2-yard blocked punt return with 0:09 left. The Colts decided against taking the intentional safety against an 11-man rush.

9/10/1978: Raiders 21, Chargers 20 - Dave Casper 0-yard fumble return with no time left. The Holy Roller play.

9/18/1978: Baltimore Colts 34, Patriots 27 - Joe Washington 90-yard kickoff return with 1:18 left. Joe Washington also caught and threw for a TD in the Colts' 27-point 4th quarter.

11/19/1978: Eagles 19, Giants 17 - Herman Edwards 26-yard fumble return with 0:20 left. The Miracle at the Meadowlands.

10/21/1979: Giants 21, Chiefs 17 - Harry Carson 22-yard fumble return with 1:42 left.

9/6/1981: Chiefs 37, Steelers 33 - Tom Howard 65-yard fumble return with 1:59 left. Terry Bradshaw was sacked on first down.

9/6/1981: Houston Oilers 27, Los Angeles Rams 20 - Willie Tullis 95-yard kickoff return with 0:57 left.

11/4/1984: Broncos 26, Patriots 19 - Dennis Smith 64-yard fumble return with 1:45 left.

11/27/1986: Packers 44, Lions 40 - Walter Stanley 83-yard punt return with 0:41 left.

12/7/1986: Colts 28, Falcons 23 - Eugene Daniel 13-yard blocked punt return with 0:20 left. The Colts were 0-13 going into the game.

10/18/1987: Chargers 23, Los Angeles Raiders 17 - Elvis Patterson 75-yard interception return with 0:41 left. The game was tied before the interception; the Chargers would miss the subsequent extra point. Replacement game.

11/29/1987: Jets 27, Bengals 20 - Rich Miano 67-yard blocked field goal return with 1:48 left. One of many agonizing losses for the 1987 Bengals.

10/23/1988: Giants 23, Falcons 16 - Carl Banks 15-yard interception return with 1:24 left.

12/6/1992: Jets 24, Bills 17 - Brian Washington 23-yard interception return with 1:41 left. The game after Dennis Byrd was paralyzed.

11/19/1995: Chiefs 20, Houston Oilers 13 - Mark Collins 34-yard fumble return with 0:15 left.

11/3/1996: Seahawks 23, Houston Oilers 16 - Robert Blackmon 61-yard blocked field goal return (after a 7-yard return and lateral by Michael McCrary) with 0:04 left.

9/19/1999: 49ers 28, Saints 21 - Lance Schulters 64-yard interception return with 1:31 left.

1/8/2000 (AFC Wild Card game): Titans 22, Bills 16 - Kevin Dyson 75-yard kickoff return with 0:03 left. The Music City Miracle.

10/19/2003: Eagles 14, Giants 10 - Brian Westbrook 84-yard punt return with 1:16 left.

11/21/2004: Seahawks 24, Dolphins 17 - Michael Boulware 63-yard interception return with 0:56 left.

12/7/2008: Steelers 20, Cowboys 13 - Deshea Townsend 25-yard interception return with 1:40 left.

12/14/2008: Jets 31, Bills 27 - Shaun Ellis 11-yard fumble return with 1:55 left.

12/19/2010: Eagles 38, Giants 31 - DeSean Jackson 65-yard punt return with no time left.

9/17/2015: Broncos 31, Chiefs 24 - Bradley Roby 21-yard fumble return with 0:27 left.

15
by Scott Kacsmar :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 4:07pm

Great work, Travis. Not too many turnovers returned by the defense in the final minute there. Looks like five, including Roby.

I knew the Colts were involved in some crazy endings, but the only one I could think of last night was the Joe Washington kick return. Those blocked punt returns in 1977 and 1986 are what I wanted to mention. Heartbreaking stuff.

16
by Travis :: Fri, 09/18/2015 - 4:40pm

The 1986 blocked punt can be seen here at the 0:40 mark. Check out how many steps the Falcons punter takes before attempting the kick.

19
by Jerry :: Sat, 09/19/2015 - 5:05am

That's a tremendous list. Wouldn't the Holy Roller be a fumble recovery rather than a fumble return, though?

21
by Floyd :: Sat, 09/19/2015 - 11:32am

Wow. Awesome list. Best part are the links to the archived newspapers.

In the Lions/Colts 1977 link, the wire service game recaps list "New Jersey" as losing to Philadelphia. Ha! I had forgotten that there was some debate on what to call the Giants after their Meadowlands move.

17
by Bucs_Rule :: Sat, 09/19/2015 - 12:58am

What percentage of runs results in big gain vs percentage of runs that are fumbles? This can provide expectancy for doing these runs at end of halfs/regulation. (I’d throw out red zone runs for obvious reasons)

18
by Scott Kacsmar :: Sat, 09/19/2015 - 2:58am

Just opened up our 2014 rushing file. Excluded red zone and only included RB runs to get 9,899 plays. I'd say from your own 20 you'd want to gain at least 15 yards to make it worthwhile. That's 504 plays, or 5.1%. Fumbles are surprisingly hard to have a good resource for in terms of play type. Seems like we're barely showing 80 such plays on RB runs last year, which sounds low to me. But I'm sure the fumble rate is smaller than 5%, so it's probably not a big risk there.

20
by Eddo :: Sat, 09/19/2015 - 11:05am

You can't just look at the raw rates, though, and conclude since fumbles happen less than 15-plus-yard runs, it's worth it. Because the downside of a fumble is much greater than the upside of a 15-yard run.

The calculation would be something like

(probability_long_run x value_long_run) <?> (probability_fumble x value_fumble)

22
by Scott Kacsmar :: Sat, 09/19/2015 - 2:24pm

Shouldn't it be probability of a lost fumble, which about cuts that part in half? Just because you fumble doesn't mean the other team will take over.

I'm always of the belief that coaches who are scared of a turnover or botched snap/hold on a FG are doing their job wrong.

23
by Eddo :: Sat, 09/19/2015 - 2:33pm

Yeah, and I would have halved my numbers if I had actually included any. I figure that's rolled up into "probability_of_fumble".

Your last line is probably true, but in that case, why not actually call a play with a more likely chance of advancing the ball? Calling a run between the tackles is still a decision borne out of fear.

24
by Duff Soviet Union :: Sat, 09/19/2015 - 6:09pm

Agreed. If you're going to run a play there, then actually try and win the game. The running play is just pointless at best.

Still, I find all the criticism of Reid to be pretty funny. It's not like he's the only coach who's ever called that play. It happens literally every week and Barnwell is the only person who ever points out how pointless and stupid it is. Reid's just getting ripped for bad negative variance. The fact that this pointless and stupid play call backfired spectacularly doesn't make it any worse than the hundreds of other times coaches have called the exact same play in pretty much the exact same situation. It's sort of like how Pete Carroll is apparently the only coach to have ever called a pass play from the 1 yard line.

25
by BJR :: Sat, 09/19/2015 - 6:50pm

I honestly believe it is as simple as not wanting to be booed by the fans.

26
by Noah Arkadia :: Sun, 09/20/2015 - 10:04am

That or something related to team morale, like a kneel-down looking "weak" or something.

------
Who, me?

27
by Led :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 9:22pm

I have no problem with the draw play there. The risk of losing a fumble is very small, and a 10-15 yard gain on the draw then makes it a lot less dangerous to pass the ball. The problem is that by this point it's such a common tactic in that context that you don't surprise anybody and so the probability of the 10-15 yard gain is pretty low.