Saints' 8-Minute March

Up 10-6 early in the 2nd quarter, Drew Brees and the Saints offense took the field on their own 14.  At the time, the Saints had a 63% chance of winning the game.  What ensued was a 16-play, 8+ minute drive that ended in a Mark Ingram TD and an 83% chance of winning the game.  With the use of our Markov model, we take a look at the evolution of this marathon drive.

After a manageable 3rd-and-3 on their own 21, Jahri Evans was called for a false start, boosting the probability of a punt to over 70%.  On this 3rd-and-8, Brees hits the now-healthy Marques Colston for 13 yards over the middle to convert, dropping the punt probability to 44.6%.  6 plays later, the Saints found themselves in another 3rd-and-long at the Carolina 38.  A 25-yard completion to Brees' new favorite target, tight end Jimmy Graham, sets up a 1st-and-10 from the Carolina 13.  Punt probability dropped from 31.4% to negligible and touchdown probability jumped from 20.7% to 52.5%.  Brees would later convert on his third 3rd down of the drive (to Jimmy Graham again on play 14), all but assuring a touchdown for the Saints.  Given that the drive lasted the majority of the 2nd quarter and that the Saints would go ahead by 11, the WPA of +0.20 is one of the highest you will see for a single drive before half time.
Looking at the development of expected points on the drive, the three 3rd down conversions stand out as the major spikes after plays 4, 10, and 14 -- the largest of which was the 3rd-and-7 completion to Graham, adding 2.56 expected points.

Cam Newton, however, led the Panthers all the way back to lead the Saints late, 27-23.  Brees went and did his thing, scoring the go-ahead TD after a 13-play, 6+ minute drive.  We can see the probabilities evolve in this drive as well, however, the model is not as suitable here, given that the Saints probably would not have taken a field goal, and may have gone for it if confronted with a 4th down decision.  This drive resulted in a +0.66 WPA and would be the game clincher for New Orleans.

Other significant drives this week: Kansas City's 2 TD drives late against Indy.

Keith Goldner is the creator of Drive-By Football, and Chief Analyst at - The leading fantasy sports analytics platform.

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7 Responses to “Saints' 8-Minute March”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Brian, Can you do an analysis of the Colts decision to try to punt down 4 with like 3 minutes left on 4th and 11? they didn't get to punt because of a penalty which forced them to try the obvious 4th and 6. I'm wondering if you have to go for 4th and any distance in that situation because of how little time there is.

  2. Brian Burke says:

    It's .17 WP for going for it on 4th and 11. It's 0.05 for the punt. Pretty big error there.

  3. Colts Fan says:


  4. Anonymous says:

    That is a huge error. I'm pretty sure if it was 4th and 26, it would still be an error to punt. wow

  5. Brian Burke says:

    Oops. Sorry. I think I made a mistake in the calculation.

    Also, IND had all 3 timeouts, which probably favors the punt option.

  6. Michael Beuoy says:

    Shockingly enough, I think Caldwell made the right call to punt on 4th and 11 (my shouting at the radio not withstanding).

    The Colts were on the Chief's 46 yard line. A punt from that distance typically nets 30 yards (see Brian's "Just For Kicks" post). That would put the Chiefs at their own 16, with a 4 point lead and 2:45 to go. Surprisingly, the WP is only 0.74 for the Chiefs at that point (and 0.26 for the Colts).

    So, going for it needs to work out to at least 0.26 for it to make sense for the Colts.

    If the Colts convert, that puts them, at worst, on the Chiefs 35 yard line. The WP is 0.44.

    If the Colts fail to convert, that puts the Chiefs somewhere between their own 35 and 46 (assuming no yardage loss by the Colts). The WP for the Colts at that point is just 0.06 to 0.07. Let's say 0.07.

    So, the break even conversion rate is 50% (0.5*0.07 + 0.5*0.44 = 0.26). Meaning that the Colts would have to expect that they had at least a 50% chance of converting a 4th and 11 in order for going for it to be the right decision.

    Given that the WP calculator indicates that the probability of 1st down on 3rd and 11 is only 0.28, it looks like converting a 4th and 11 falls well shy of the 50% breakeven point.

    Caldwell decided to go for it on 4th and 6 from their opponent's 41 (after the penalty). It even looks like that was a questionable decision. It surprised me how much field position affected WP in this context. The Colts' WP doubles if they pin the Chiefs at the 15 vs. the 25 (0.28 vs. 0.13).

    I may be undervaluing the upside of going for it on 4th and 11 by only assuming the Colts get 11 yards and no more. But my guess is that even if that was corrected, punting was still the right call.

  7. The Wizard says:

    Brian, do you take into consideration the relative strengths of the teams offenses and defenses when determining WP. It seems clear that you shold but for some reason, I recall you having used averages instead.

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