AFCCG NE-DEN Observations

I thought the big story of the game wasn't how easily DEN moved the ball. We all expected that. The big story was DEN's defense, which held NE to just 3 points in the 1st half and 10 points through 55 minutes. Brady was held to -0.02 WPA. He did notch +8.3 EPA, but a lot of that was after the game was mostly decided.

NE was going to need some fluky things to go their way to win--turnovers, a special teams play, or some terrible call by the refs. It never came.

Manning and the DEN passing game did have a fantastic day. Manning: +.48 WPA, +17.9 EPA, 9.3 AYPA, no turnovers, no sacks.

I, and the NYT 4th Down Bot--(funny how you never see the two of us together at the same time), agreed with every 4th down call during the game. Belichick knows what he's doing. I was disappointed to see DEN burn a timeout just prior to NE's 4th down conversion attempt. Teams should be better prepared for a 4th down attempt, particularly in situations like this: a 4th and short in or near the red zone. In a high-leverage situation like that, it's ok for a team with a significant lead to use a timeout, but in a closer game, it would be much more costly. (I'm working on a project to value timeouts in terms of WP now, and without any spoilers--they are very precious in the 2nd half.)

After the NE TD with 9:26 in the 4th quarter, I don't think an onside kick would have been wise unless DEN was super clueless. NE still had all 3 timeouts. But it would have been worth considering giving Gostkowski the option if the front line looked like they were in pure-deep-kickoff mode.

I hear a lot of NE fans complaining that Blount wasn't used more. He had 5 attempts for 6 yards. DEN was keying on the run when he was in the game, as IND should have done a week ago. DEN took away Amendola and Blount, and NE had very little left to fight with.

One NE failed to convert the 2-pointer, they had no choice but to try the onside. Had the converted, it would have been better to kick deep. DEN would have received the ball with 3:07 to play and NE could stop the clock 4 times (including the 2-min warning). NE could use their timeouts and if they make a stop, get the ball back with 2:43 to play. "If they make a stop" is a key consideration there vs. Manning, but it's a better bet than recovering an expected onside kick.

The one really interesting decision was the offensive PI penalty on NE in the first quarter. Accepting it sets up a 3rd and 20 on the DEN 43. Declining it sets up a 4th and 1 on the DEN 33. With the thin air, that's a shorter FG than you think. Fox did the right thing by accepting.

NE's run on the 2-point conversion try was not a bad play call. I've seen too much hindsight analysis on that play already. Runs on 2-point conversions are underused, and for a team with a great run SR like NE, it was an especially good call.

I was amazed at Manning's audible on 3rd and 10 at the NE 39 in the 2nd quarter. Moreno ran for 28 yards to the NE 11. There were no LBs behind the line and just the two safeties between Moreno and the end zone. I'm sure Belichick wishes he had that one back. I did a quick query on running efficiency on Manning-led teams, thinking it would be a few points-per-game better than league average thanks to his audibles. But it turns out it's only .26 points per game better than league average, and he played with some darn good RBs.

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6 Responses to “AFCCG NE-DEN Observations”

  1. Unknown says:

    The Patriots tackling seemed abysmal. It seems first contact was always good but first contact never took the runner down.

  2. UUbuntu says:

    Good analysis, Brian. As a NE fan, I was disappointed in the outcome, but not in the overall play of the game. It was pretty much mistake free all game, and the risks that Belichick had to take generally didn't pan out. Overall, Denver was the better team on paper, and they played like the better team, on offense and on defense.

    Tough to watch, but the better team won.

  3. Dragon Pie says:

    I'm surprised the first down bot agreed with the decision to kick from the two up by 17 to go up by 20. I still think that given the specifics of the teams given Denver's powerful offense and the strategic implications of being up by more than three touchdowns versus the upside of the field goal is remaining up by less than three touchdowns after the kick.

  4. Peyton Manning says:

    You can stick that narrative where the sun don't shine.

  5. Unknown says:

    Dragon - I'm with you on that. Regardless of the numbers - and as a reader of this site, I'm a big fan of the numbers - I thought Denver should have gone for it. I just kept thinking with all these field goals, you're letting NE hang around too much. We can all look back and say "that was the right call", but at the time I thought that decision would come back and bite them. When you have the chance to kill Brady and Belicheck, you take it.

  6. Matt says:

    I think what made the FG call correct was the one-sided nature of the game. There is a lot of variance going for the TD. Normally, you have to live with variance for the sake of scoring points. You have to risk the negative extreme for a chance at the positive extreme.

    But when you're ahead like DEN was, the last thing you want is variance. You just want a boring, average game. You win in that situation. So you take the sure 3 points, because that's what pushes you towards the average outcome.

    (I think this has been on the site before: heavy favorites should play for the mean while underdogs should push for variance.)

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