Niners Nine-Minute Drive

Up 28-21 with the ball nearing the end of the third quarter, the Niners had a 78% of winning the game over the streaking Saints. That 78% does not account for the prolific Saints offense, though. What followed was a nine-and-a-half minute drive, lasting deep into the fourth quarter, draining precious time that Drew Brees would need in order to make a comeback. Any Saints fan -- or someone whose fantasy team depends on the Saints offense like myself -- could not have been more frustrated watching the Niners rumble down the field over the course of 17 plays and 85 yards.

Let's take a look at the evolution of the drive using our Markov model:

Colin Kaepernick converted three separate third downs (plays 5, 8 and 11), including the biggest play of the drive, play 8. On 3rd-and-11 from his own 35, Kaepernick completed a 25-yard pass to Delanie Walker over the middle, who was drilled by Isa Abdul-Quddus and somehow managed to hold on to the ball. The punt and scoring probabilities went from 73.3% and 13.8% to 17.2% and 58.8% respectively. The Niners added close to three points over expectation on that play and they would ultimately kick a field goal to go up two scores with less than eight minutes remaining.

After the field goal, San Francisco was a 92% favorite to win the game, predominantly due to the time taken off the clock. While we typically think of teams running the ball to eat up the clock, it was the passing game that allowed the Niners to do so. They had seven successful plays on the drive, five of which were passes. Putting it another way, San Francisco registered just a 25.0% run success rate on the drive versus a 71.4% pass success rate. Obviously one drive is a tiny sample size, but it is another example of how teams should be passing the ball more to eat up clock because it is the more efficient option.

Keith Goldner is the creator of Drive-By Football, and Chief Analyst at - The leading fantasy sports analytics platform.  Follow him on twitter @drivebyfootball or check out numberFire on Facebook

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5 Responses to “Niners Nine-Minute Drive”

  1. Anonymous says:

    *someone WHOSE

  2. Anonymous says:

    CK is a future star... Harbaugh is the best coach in the league. Great young tandem is SF.

  3. bigmouth says:

    Oh, right, THAT'S what a QB looks like lol.

    Seriously, Keith, great stuff. Have you written on ANS before about throwing more late in the game? Would love to read more.

  4. Nate says:

    It seems like as much of the win probability comes from converting the possession into a field goal as from eating up the clock.

    Using the advanced NFL stats win probability calculator:

    If the niners had immediately converted the possession for a field goal, it would still have raised the win probability to around .85 - about half the difference, and an immediate touchdown is better than a 9 minute drive with a field goal.

  5. Brian G. says:

    I just looked at the latest Team Stat Visualizations. Based on EPA, WPA and SR game-by-game visualizations are the 49ers really playing better with CP than AS?

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