Super Bowl 46 Analysis

This became a really interesting game in the final two minutes.

First off, as I wrote for Slate and Deadspin, the big thing from a strategy perspective was the final go-ahead touchdown of the game. Belichick may have made the gutsiest call in Super Bowl history by apparently instructing his defense to allow the score with a minute to play. Had the Giants run out the clock in favor of a chip shot field goal, it would have extinguished any chance the Patriots had. Instead, they had a minute and one timeout to respond. It wasn't clear if Bradshaw was tippy-toeing trying to go down at the one, or if he was just burning a couple extra seconds prior to scoring like video-gamers are know to do. Either way, he should have taken a knee.

Beyond that, Eli Manning was a defensible choice as MVP, with 0.70 WPA and 12.3 EPA. But I thought the real difference in the game was the battle in the trenches. The NYG defensive front won the battle, handing the NE offensive line -0.24 WPA and -0.4 EPA. They had only 2 sacks, but more importantly they put Tom Brady on the ground 7 times. They added four tackles for losses and held the NE running game to a lower than typical success rate.

The big stars on the NYG defense were Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. Tuck had 0.24 +WPA, 4.7 +EPA, and a Success Count (SC) of 4. Pierre-Paul notched 0.20 +WPA, 5.1 +EPA and a 6 success plays. Blackburn made the one interception of the game, but it was so deep it didn't move the needle very much. He made a bigger impact with his tackles, earning a 1.14 Tackle Factor for the game.

There weren't a lot of spectacular plays, and the Excitement Index for the game was comparatively low for a game that was rarely outside a single score. The biggest play, in terms of WP, was a 16-yard pass to Manningham on the final drive that put the Giants on the NE 34. It was the play immediately following the amazing catch by Manningham down the left sideline. Even though that was a bigger gain, it wasn't as big in terms of WP because the following play put the Giants on the verge of FG range and put them over 0.50 WP since just prior to halftime.

There wasn't a single 4th down conversion attempt in the game, (at least until the very final drive). Four of the 4th downs were significant errors, defined arbitrarily as costing more than 0.01 WP. NE should have gone for it on 4th and 4 from the 11 and on 4th and 1 from their own 29, both in the 2nd quarter. Although the latter situation would have been highly unconventional for a conversion attempt, it was when they were down by 9. NYG should have gone for it on 4th and 4 from the 41 in the 2nd quarter and on 4th and 10 from the 43 with 9 minutes to play in the 4th quarter. But these were relatively small errors, the biggest one costing only about 0.02 WPA.

To my amateur eyes, it appeared the refs swallowed their flags. The Giants were holding and Patriots were getting away with contact with the receivers. The vast majority of penalties were the "obvious" objective ones--12 men on the field, false starts, offsides, illegal substitutions. There were very few penalties like holding, illegal contact, pass interference, etc. Maybe it really was just a clean game, but I suspect refs are generally reluctant to alter the outcome of a championship game--at least the ones not named Bill Leavy.

This caps another highly unlikely championship run for the Giants, who were 7-7 coming off a week 15 loss to the last-place Redskins in what was thought to be a must-win game. This was a much better Giants team than the plucky 2007 squad. A few weeks ago I wrote that they reminded me of the 2010 Packers--a very good team that had some bad luck in the regular season and had to squeak into the playoffs before going on a run. The Giants offense was solidly above average all season, but the defense only got traction in the second half of the year.

Congratulations, Giants fans.

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40 Responses to “Super Bowl 46 Analysis”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Isn't this Super Bowl 46... just sayin

  2. JoelW says:

    I wonder if the Giants put 12 men on the field on purpose at the end of the game a la Buddy Ryan

    On the other side of the ball for the Giants, Kevin Gillbride needs to read Dan Harrington and learn the watch trick for randomization of play calling. The second and long runs are awful, especially that one in the red zone.

  3. Brian Burke says:

    46! How did I get 42?

  4. Brian Burke says:

    Wasn't the watch trick Marko Ramius' move from Hunt for Red October?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Just bustin your chops BB... Keep up the good work!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Brian whats your thoughts about the 12 men on the field thing? I would love for it to be a genius defensive move by the Giants but I have my doubts. I'm leaning toward it being dumb luck

  7. MattieShoes says:

    Am I crazy? Wasn't there a 4th down conversion on the final drive of the game?

  8. Rick says:

    There was a 4th and 16 conversion of Brady to Branch.

  9. qbgabe12 says:

    I remember Green Bay Packer in Superbowl 32 did the same thing by the end of the game, and left 1:4x for Favre for a comeback.

  10. Joe says:

    Can you comment on the 2-point conversion the Giants tried after their last touchdown? I don't think it was a good idea. With how rarely extra points are missed, I don't think teams should be going for 2 to make it a 6-point lead until there are maybe 30 seconds or less left in the game.

  11. Ed Anthony says:

    Wasn't the final score 21 -17?

  12. Anonymous says:

    Refs always swallow their whistle at the SB. Belichick builds that fact into his strategy, it was how he beat the Rams.

  13. Horace Steenblatter says:

    How many games have started with the first score a safety? Can't be too common. I seem to remember another one this year but it's pretty rare.

  14. UUbuntu says:

    The Giants-Atlanta playoff game started with a safety. They were the only points that Atlanta scored that game.

    Nice analysis, Brian.

  15. JonnyBS says:

    Should have let Bradshaw score on first down, then they would have had extra time and one more timeout.

  16. ASG says:

    I too would like to hear a followup on the Giants decision to go for 2. You're basically saying your odds of making it + missing an extra point are greater than the Pats odds of not making a 2 point conversion.

  17. Anonymous says:

    "How many games have started with the first score a safety?" // In Super Bowl IX, the Steelers were up 2-0 at the half.

  18. JayGo says:

    Good work all year BB.

    I would like analysis how these two teams compare to SB teams of years past. To my laymen eyes, both of these teams were a cut below the "usual" strength of SB teams. Pats beat one team with a winning record all year and that could have gone the other way, and the Giants (based on their full year body of work) was a 9-7 team playing well at the end but that got a series of breaks that put them over the top. Can we prove/disprove my eyes?

    BTW, did you see the Giants schedule next year? Ouch! They should revel in the glory as, says here, reversion to the mean is in their future.

  19. Independent George says:

    Bradshaw said after the game that he was trying to stop, but couldn't. It looked to me like he was concentrating really hard on holding the ball without losing his balance; when it became obvious he had to choose one or the other, he (correctly) decided holding on to the ball was more important. Good decision-making from all parties, in my opinion.

  20. andy princeton says:

    if the right move was to put 12th man on field, they might as well have put whole roster out there - and it was the right move though i'm sure coughlan didnt think of it

  21. Luca says:

    @ Joe

    "Can you comment on the 2-point conversion the Giants tried after their last touchdown? I don't think it was a good idea. With how rarely extra points are missed, I don't think teams should be going for 2 to make it a 6-point lead until there are maybe 30 seconds or less left in the game."

    Because a 4-pt lead vs. a 5-pt lead is utterly meaningless with less than one minute left on the clock. Either way, the Patriots need a TD to win and can't settle for a FG.

    The only scenario in which a 4-pt lead is worse is if the Patriots were to score a TD with enough time on the clock for the Giants to get the ball back and drive down for a FG. In which case, having a 4-pt lead before a Patriots TD would mean a FG would only send the game to OT instead of winning it outright. But they'd never leave enough time for that, so it was the right call. A missed extra point is extremely rare, but it does happen.

  22. ASG says:


    A quick Pats TD (if they score one) has to be more common than a missed extra point.

  23. Sea says:

    "Even though that was a bigger gain, it wasn't as big in terms of WP because the following play put the Giants on the verge of FG range and put them over 0.50 WP since just prior to halftime."

    Whoa whoa whoa - I thought "[t]here is no such thing as field goal range, except in the most technical and useless sense."

    I read it here - must be true!

  24. tally says:


    I think Brian was being pretty accurate in his use of FG range--the play put the Giants in position to have a chance at a successful FG attempt. Having a chance to win the game via a FG is worth something over having to score from outside FG range.

    I don't think he was implying at all that the FG was guaranteed at that point the way that Jason Garrett did. He noted the WP was just above 50%, taking into account that while a FG conversion from that distance was pretty low, they did have time to gain more yardage to increase their chances.

  25. ff says:

    What's stopping the Giants from putting 15 to 20 men on the field until the Pats are at the 50 yard line with like 3 seconds left? They could keep doing that unless I'm missing something

  26. Boston Chris says:

    This whole extra man thing is nonsense. As a strategy it fails, b/c as soon as the Pats realize it is happening, the correct play is quick snap and spike the ball. Takes 1 second off the clock and move 5 yards closer. That's 15 yards in 3 seconds. Strategy over. On one play, hoping the other team doesn't notice and just take the quick 5, it might work as a strategy, but as an iterative game it fails miserably.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Can the refs can blow the whistle when they see too many men on the field before the snap?

  28. Anonymous says:

    When would've been the correct time to let them score. The Nicks slant or the Bradshaw run at the 2min warning?

  29. Anonymous says:

    Do kickers convert field goals in clutch situations at the same rate as non-clutch situations? Call it the Scott Norwood/Billy Cundiff question? When running your analysis of scoring a TD or running down the clock are you looking at FG% for all FG's or just game tying/game winners? It occurs to me that kickers might convert at a lower rate in pressure situations.

  30. JG says:

    @ff: There are 2 little-known rules in the rulebook that would prevent the Giants from doing that.

    First, Rule 12-3-2 states: "The defense shall not commit successive or continued fouls to prevent a score. Penalty: For continuous fouls to prevent a score: If the violation is repeated after a warning, the
    score involved is awarded to the offensive team."

    Now, the key here (of benefit to the defensive team) is that there needs to be a second violation after a warning - so a team basically gets a "free shot" at putting an extra guy out there and the refs will give them the benefit of the doubt that it's not intentional. After a warning, though, if the ref is convinced it was intentional (as I think a second consecutive 12th man in a situation like last night would be), they could award a TD under the rules.

    The very next rule, 12-3-3, is a penalty for a "palpably unfair act" - "A player or substitute shall not interfere with play by any act which is palpably unfair.
    Penalty: For a palpably unfair act: Offender may be disqualified. The Referee, after consulting his
    crew, enforces any such distance penalty as they consider equitable and irrespective of any
    other specified code penalty. The Referee could award a score."

    This latter rule is a catch-all that basically enables the ref to do what's equitable if a team or player does something really nuts or unfair. (The classic case is if a someone comes off the sideline onto the field during a play and tackles a guy who's headed for the end zone - the ref can award the TD. This actually happened a long time ago in a college game involving Alabama, I believe.) I think that if a team put 20 guys on the field (meaning there's no way it was an accident), a ref could use this rule to put the time back on the clock (and probably award at least 15 yards).

    As noted above, though, the way to "get away" with this is to just put 1 extra guy on the field - the refs will almost certainly give you the benefit of the doubt that it wasn't intentional, so all you'll get is a 5-yard penalty. So had the Giants done this last night, it would have been the perfect play. As it turns out, Deadspin posted a video a short while ago showing that, in fact, Tuck was trying to get off the field on the play, so it really wasn't intional after all.

  31. Brian Burke says:

    Yes, yes, yes. You got me. I should have written "field goal attempt range"!

  32. Anonymous says:

    This is probably nitpicking, but it's hard to see it as that gutsy a call to let the Giants/Bradshaw score. I'd bet he'd get support from virtually all of the commentariat--everyone understands that the chipshot FG is basically a lock.

    I think the Packers already did a version of the "let them score" defense against the Broncos in their SB (though that was even less controversial).

    What looked like Coughlin's decision to not take the score (that Bradshaw messed up) would probably be a bit more gutsy, but still pretty standard.

    Neither is anything like going for it on 4th and 2 at your 28 yard line with the lead! I'd love to see Belichick do THAT in a Super Bowl!

  33. bmcosas says:

    should definitely have let giants score from 18 w/ 2 minutes left - tynes missing prob (10%?) vs Brady scoring TD prob (30%?) - coughlan of course should have fallen on ball 3 times - each coach went for conventional wisdom vs math, and each was wrong

  34. James says:

    JG is correct. In the 1954 Cotton bowl an Alabama player came off the sideline to tackle a Rice University player.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Hi Brian, do you happen to have a spreadsheet for "Win Probability"(or one with a formula embedded within a spreadsheet) that is similar to your "Expected Points" spreadsheet that we can download and view the data without using the widget? Thanks so much and keep up the great work.

  36. Sea says:

    @tally, read the link in my previous comment. BB wrote an EXCELLENT piece about how the term "field goal range" is fallacious. I was just giving him a hard time for using a term he himself hates. BB love the blog!! Keep up the great work!!

  37. dashiell says:

    I'm so sick of reading about whether bradshaw should have taken a knee. there is no point in handing him the ball unless you want him to score the touchdown. if you want to run out the clock and kick a field goal (which of course they should have done), then manning should take the snap and take a knee. there is no upside to running the ball in the first place. very poor coaching by coughlin, and certainly not a poor play by bradshaw.

  38. dashiell says:
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  39. Dale says:

    I have something that hasn't been discussed... Say Bradshaw takes a knee at the 1. Pats call their last TO with 1:04. Giants take a knee on 3rd down. How far down does clock actually run down to? I'm thinking 25 seconds? Then ensuing kickoff touchback, and ball goes to 20. Now Brady gets 25 seconds a no TO's left to get into FG range. Am I missing something? The Giants couldn't have run out the clock on the game winning FG right?

  40. Brian Burke says:

    Very late response to Dale, but you forgot to figure in the time elapsed during the plays, including the KO. The typical duration of a play is 6 seconds, but a kneel and a FG would be a little less. If the Giants squib kicked the KO, there would be about 15 sec left. NE would have no timeouts.

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