Hidden play: Lions vs. Raiders

In a match up of playoff hopefuls today, the Raiders were in great position against my Lions. Tommy Kelly stripped Matt Stafford and Aaron Curry carried it into the end zone for a 13 point Raider lead with only 7:45 left. I wasn’t giving up yet; the 2011 Lions always go down swinging. I emailed my buddy Tony: “The Lions will get at least one garbage TD, maybe two.”

Sure enough, the Raiders offered Matt Stafford a tasty prevent sandwich
(with a side of pass interference potato salad). Stafford passed the ball 9 straight times, converted with a QB draw on 4th down, and tossed a TD to Titus Young, all in just 2:48. Six point game again.

However, just like most teams, Michael Bush and the Raiders ran all over the Lions today. The trickiest part of the Lions comebacks this year has been getting the ball back before the other team can run out the clock. Bush ran five times for 33 yards, giving the Raiders 3rd and 3 at midfield with just over 2 minutes remaining. Instead of running again for a near clinching first down (the Lions had only two timeouts), the Raiders got fancy and tried to go deep to Chaz Schilens. The Lions were clearly fooled, but Palmer missed his man. The Lions got the ball back on the friendly side of 2 minutes.

Stafford and Megatron tucked into a second course of Raiders prevent with gusto — 1:20 later they were in the end zone. Game over, with the Lions in the driver’s seat for the wild card and the Raiders backpedaling toward a four-way tie in the AFC West. It looked identical to a few other Lions victories this year.

The Raiders’ decision to go for the kill on third down was eerily similar to Romo and the Cowboys’ choice last week against the Giants. In both cases, a wide receiver was open for a probable touchdown, but the QB missed him. The Raiders especially have no excuse. Why go with a risky play when you are dominating the running game, particularly against a team with a potent passing game? Going for the knockout cost them the game, plain and simple. Not quite a True Win, but thanks very much, Raiders.

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13 responses to “Hidden play: Lions vs. Raiders

  1. Bingo. I’ve always suspected that coaches underestimate the efficiency (both in terms of yardage and game management) of running plays in middle-distance situations (3-5 yards). There must be some statistical analysis on this…right?

    • Yep, the cleanest stuff is on two point conversions. Running plays convert at a much higher rate than passing plays (yet teams run less frequently). Did you grow up watching Michigan football like me, perhaps?

  2. Hmmmm. Not totally convinced here. First, two point conversations start with the ball on the two yard line, not the three. Is that difference significant? You see plenty of 2PCs where the linebacker fills, makes the tackle, prevents the rb from getting three yards but not two. Regardless, the pass is probably more effective at mid-field because the defense is “collapsed” – the safety or safeties no longer have to cover deep thirds/halfs/etc and if you’re man-up on the outside, you can’t stretch the coverage to open an rb or te in the flats. Also, the bizarre persistence of the “fade” in goal-to-go and 2pc situations probably skews the stats as well.

  3. Unlimited backfield motion, the rouge, a field as wide as the ocean? what more could you possibly want?

  4. Nice work so far TW! I’m gonna have to keep up here much more often now that the Lions are worth watching for the first time in 15 years. I wish I had your kind of faith. I shut off my grainy illegal internet stream right after that fumble recovery TD. Boy was a surprised when I saw the ticker a few hours later.

    One thought on the Raiders’ last play – how often have we seen teams play it safe and get stuffed in situations like that? Think about how terrible the Lions OL is a run-blocking. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team worse at converting 3rd-and-1s like these guys. Point is the Raiders deserve some credit for going for the win and not playing to not lose. The Lions were definitely selling out to stop the run on that play (and might have gotten beat anyway), and of course the Raiders WR had 2-3 steps on our defender. Whether you call a HB dive or a go route, you still have to execute at the end of the day.

    • Good to hear from you Dr. K! Hope you’re doing well. It has been fun with the Lions this year. One win from the playoffs . . . first time since 1999 . . . pretty exciting.

      With the Raiders play, I agree that running is not always the best option. However, even if your guy gets open, executing that long pass is not a sure thing. Especially given the way Bush was running (6 yards/carry on his last 5 carries when the Lions were geared up for the run), I think the probabilities were in favor of the run.

      I’ll do a better job on these kinds of questions soon, once I get some play by play data organized.

      • Would love to see what your analysis shows. It’s interesting to look at a game like football in that players and coaches theoretically should have a huge advantage in terms of maximizing their odds. They know their down and distance before the play, and they’re allowed an unlimited number of substitutions to optimize their personnel. Other sports aren’t really conducive to that. The Raiders’ play call kind of reminds me of Ali Farokhmanesh’s (sp?) shot to sink Kansas a few years ago – a horrible basketball decision in that particular situation … until he made it. In this case it didn’t work out for the Raiders – but if it had, they would have iced the game.

      • Yeah, football is certainly the most fun for me to look at with probability because the coaches have control over so many things before each play.

        Like you say, Raiders could have iced it, but I think players/coaches who have to face a situation like that over and over again would do best to go for the strategy that gives them the highest probability of a win. It’s not always clear cut, and it surely depends on the moment, players’ confidence, etc, but I think here it was stacked pretty heavily in favor of the run. What I really need to do is find a game where the pass works and argue that they still shouldn’t have done it — it’s too easy to pick on the guys that actually failed.

  5. While I value your opinion and think you did a great job out there on this post, I take issue with your characterization of the Raiders as “backpedaling toward a four-way tie in the AFC West.” The Raiders, like the other members of the AFC West, ran into a big old truck named Tim Tebow, and they aren’t getting back up. The only thing the Raiders are “backpedaling” away from is the shot in the jaw the Broncos gave them last time they played. The 10-6 Broncos will make sweet playoff love (reproductive and marital in nature, of course) to your True Wins. Here’s my problem with True Wins: it doesn’t adjust for heart. God bless.

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