BIG PLAYS: San Diego at Denver


We're again referring to AdvancedNFLStats' game log to analyze the game and come up with the biggest plays of the game.  We're looking at WPA to judge them.  At the start of the game, WPA is 0.50, meaning each team has a 50% chance of winning.  After every play, WPA is recalculated compared to every nfl football play that has ever happened, and each team's likelihood of winning is adjusted.  The bigger the play, the bigger the WPA movement.

Since we lost, we'll start with our best plays and end with our worst.  I'll also ignore all plays of .06 points or less, since they're not big plays.



WPA Offense/Defense Play Description Notes
+0.26 Defense 6:10 2-8-SD 48 SD 3 DEN 0 LI: 1.2 (Shotgun) 17-P.Rivers pass short right intended for 12-P.Crayton INTERCEPTED by 41-C.Vaughn at DEN 45 41-C.Vaughn for 55 yards TOUCHDOWN. This play was huge!  When Cassius Vaughn picked off Rivers and took it to the house in the first quarter, it gave us a 7-3 lead, and ended up being our biggest positive play of the game.
+0.17 Offense 0:02 1-10-SD 29 SD 29 DEN 24 LI: 1.6 (Shotgun) 15-T.Tebow spiked the ball to stop the clock. It amuses me that this play - just before the last play of the game - scored this highly.  NFL game history implies that a 2nd down with 1 second left at the 30 has greatly more win likelihood than a 1st down with 2 seconds left at the 30.  Maybe it's because most 1st downs in these situations are hurried and rushed, while 2nd downs mean there's probably more preparation was possible.  If it looks wrong, you can just add the score onto the long completion to Fells the play before.
+0.13 Defense 2:36 1-10-DEN 22 SD 26 DEN 24 LI: 3 22-J.Hester left end to DEN 22 for no gain (26-R.Moore 51-J.Mays). Late in the fourth quarter and down by two points, seemingly small plays can have big differences in win likelihood.  This first-down stuff increased the likelihood that we'd get the ball back with more than a minute to play.  Note that this only increased our win likelihood from 4% to 17%, but still, a big play.
+0.10 Offense 3:30 1-10-SD 28 SD 26 DEN 18 LI: 0.9 (Shotgun) 15-T.Tebow pass short right to 27-K.Moreno for 28 yards TOUCHDOWN. Late in the 4th quarter, Tebow makes San Diego pay for a corner blitz by throwing a screen over the corner's head, and Moreno takes it in for the touchdown.  Great job under pressure by Tebow, great run by Moreno, great playcall.
+0.10 Defense 3:19 1-10-SD 20 SD 26 DEN 24 LI: 5.3 17-P.Rivers pass incomplete deep right to 80-M.Floyd. On the first play of San Diego's final drive, Rivers throws an incomplete pass, increasing the chances we'd get the ball back with a chance to win the game with a field goal.
+0.09 Offense 0:24 1-10-DEN 20 SD 29 DEN 24 (Shotgun) 15-T.Tebow pass incomplete deep right to 84-B.Lloyd. Play Challenged by Replay Assistant and REVERSED. (Shotgun) 15-T.Tebow pass deep right to 84-B.Lloyd ran ob at DEN 40 for 20 yards. Denver gets the ball back with 24 seconds left, and Brandon Lloyd snags an impossible pass out of the air.  Still a long way to go, but a glimmer of hope for the Broncos.
+0.07 Offense 7:29 3-2-DEN 28 SD 3 DEN 0 LI: 1.2 23-W.McGahee right tackle pushed ob at SD 47 for 25 yards (32-E.Weddle). Early in the game, this third down conversion gets us out to midfield, giving us a chance to to answer San Diego's field goal.  (Orton would throw an interception on the next play, however.)
+0.07 Defense 1:28 2-7-DEN 7 SD 3 DEN 7 LI: 1.6 (Shotgun) 17-P.Rivers sacked at DEN 14 for -7 yards (98-R.McBean). How many facemask penalties is a Phillip Rivers sack worth?  Well, it's worth around four points anyway - this first quarter sack was a big reason that San Diego had to settle for another field goal after driving down to our 7-yard-line.
+0.06 to -0.06 Gameplay (Every other play) We're ignoring all plays that aren't in the "big play" zone.  This includes Tebow's long pass to Fells (+0.06), Robert Ayers' forced fumble (+0.06), Tebow's first touchdown run (+0.04), Rivers' touchdown run (-0.06), and Rahim Moore's unnecessary roughness penalty on what would have been a failed third down conversion in the 2nd quarter - which led to three more San Diego points (-0.06).
-0.08 Defense 1:13 3-7-DEN 19 SD 26 DEN 24 LI: 0.8 22-J.Hester left tackle to DEN 17 for 2 yards (79-M.Thomas; 98-R.McBean). This was Denver's last chance to keep San Diego's margin at two points instead of five points.  Field goals are high percentage from that distance, and that late in the game, even just holding on the ball was apparently worth a lot of WPA to San Diego.  Hard to fault Thomas and McBean too much for this.
-0.09 Defense 11:26 3-5-DEN 31 SD 0 DEN 0 LI: 1.2 (Shotgun) 17-P.Rivers pass short middle to 35-M.Tolbert to DEN 14 for 17 yards (41-C.Vaughn). On San Diego's first drive, this third down conversion put San Diego in prime field position to potentially score a touchdown.  (Over the next few plays, they'd give the 0.09 back by only scoring a field goal.)
-0.09 Defense 4:42 1-10-SD 31 SD 3 DEN 7 LI: 1.4 24-R.Mathews left tackle pushed ob at DEN 33 for 36 yards (90-J.Hunter). Later in the first quarter, San Diego is driving towards their second field goal, and this was a key play of the drive.
-0.09 Defense 2:46 2-8-DEN 40 SD 26 DEN 24 LI: 3.2 (Shotgun) 22-J.Hester left end to DEN 37 for 3 yards (57-M.Haggan).  PENALTY on DEN-55-D.Williams, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at DEN 37. Ouch.  On San Diego's last drive, this would have been a 3rd and five at the DEN 38, on the edge of field goal range, but DJ Williams gets in someone's face after the play and then pulls the "Who, me?" act a little too obviously.  Fox later claimed this probably cost us the chance to get the ball back with two minutes left.  San Diego was already very likely to win the game, but this was still a huge, negative play.
-0.11 Defense 10:25 2-4-SD 26 SD 6 DEN 10 LI: 1.1 17-P.Rivers pass short right to 82-K.Sperry pushed ob at DEN 42 for 32 yards (58-V.Miller).  PENALTY on DEN-91-R.Ayers, Roughing the Passer, 15 yards, enforced at DEN 42. A huge, long play flips field position for San Diego and puts them on their way to their first touchdown.  San Diego takes the lead on this drive and would never relinquish it.
-0.11 Defense 0:20 2-10-DEN 42 SD 16 DEN 10  (Shotgun) 17-P.Rivers pass deep right to 80-M.Floyd for 42 yards, TOUCHDOWN. After Denver's offense expends only 0:32 on a three-and-out, San Diego gets the ball back inside two minutes and scores a touchdown at the end of the half on a long pass that tricks Cassius Vaughn and Quinton Carter.
-0.14 Offense 6:54 1-10-SD 47 SD 3 DEN 0 LI: 1.4 8-K.Orton pass short right intended for 86-D.Fells INTERCEPTED by 56-D.Butler at SD 44 56-D.Butler to SD 46 for 2 yards (86-D.Fells). Down by less than a touchdown, Kyle Orton throws an interception in the first quarter.
-0.29 Defense 3:10 3-10-SD 20 SD 26 DEN 24 LI: 4 (Shotgun) 17-P.Rivers pass deep left to 80-M.Floyd to DEN 42 for 38 yards (28-Q.Carter). On San Diego's final drive, we have them backed up on their 20, 3rd and 10.  Rivers then beats the blitz with a rainbow prayer.  I'm not sure if this was a defensive breakdown or more an example of a rare case of Dennis Allen getting beat.  Either way, this was the our worst defensive play of the game, and overall a bigger play than the Cassius Vaugh pick-six.
-0.34 Offense 0:01 2-10-SD 29 SD 29 DEN 24 LI: 3.3 (Shotgun) 15-T.Tebow pass incomplete deep right to 12-M.Willis. The only reason this is on here is because it was the final play of the game, and because we had managed to claw our way back from a 2% win likelihood to a 34% win likelihood on the last drive.  The incomplete pass meant the game was over, so we went from 0.34 to 0.00 in one play.  Hard to call this a negative play for Denver, but chances of victory from the 29-yard-line are apparently not unheard of.

What really sticks out to me are the defensive penalties - the dumb ones.  We've got -0.26 WPA of defensive unnecessary roughness penalties.  It's true that on Moore's penalty, it would have likely been a field goal anyway, and that on Ayers' there was a long offensive play anyway, but they still have negative impact, and DJ Williams' roughness penalty was huge.  It's possible that we could have won the game with a last-second field goal if not for these penalties.  At the least, we would have had more time to try and score a touchdown.

Drive notes for Offense:


  1. -0.06 for a three-and-out.
  2. -0.06 for a drive ending in a Kyle Orton interception.
  3. -0.19 for a pick-six.
  4. +0.08 for a drive ending in a field goal.
  5. -0.03 for a holding call and a three-and-out.
  6. -0.07 for a 0:32 three-and-out with less than two minutes in the half.
  7. -0.02 for a Kyle Orton kneel-down.
  8. -0.06 for a three-and-out with two McGahee runs.
  9. -0.02 for a three-and-out with two deep Tebow incompletions.
  10. -0.01 for a drive with one first down.
  11. +0.05 for a drive ending with a Tim Tebow rushing touchdown.
  12. +0.10 for a three play touchdown drive - screen pass to Knowshon Moreno.
  13. -0.02 for a failed final drive.  There was only a 2% chance of this drive being successful, but we clawed all the way to 34% likely before succumbing.  A great effort.

Drive notes for Defense:

  1. -0.02 for a drive ending in a San Diego field goal.
  2. +0.27 for a drive ending in a Cassius Vaughn pick-six.
  3. -0.07 for a drive ending in a San Diego field goal.
  4. -0.23 for a San Diego touchdown drive that lets them take the lead.
  5. -0.05 for a drive ending in a San Diego field goal.
  6. -0.10 for a San Diego touchdown at the end of the half.
  7. +0.01 for sacking Rivers and a San Diego punt.
  8. +0.02 for forcing another San Diego punt.
  9. -0.02 for giving up a San Diego field goal.  San Diego has 97% win likelihood at this point.
  10. +0.02 for forcing a punt after a Von Miller sack.  San Diego started this drive with a 99% win likelihood.
  11. +0.05 for a drive ending in Robert Ayers forcing a fumble.
  12. -0.18 for giving up a long drive near the end of the game, ending with a San Diego field goal.

For the game: In the first half, offense was -0.32, and defense was -0.20.  In the second half, the offense was +0.04, and the defense was -0.10.  Overall the offense was -0.28, and the defense was -0.30.  In general we were able to make the proper adjustments to the offense at halftime, but the defense still has a lot of problems with too many breakdowns, particularly with dumb, dumb, DUMB after-the-play penalties.  We're basically giving victories away by committing personal fouls, and it has to stop.

Players: Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno both had strong games with real positive impact.  Our offensive line as a whole was a strong point.  On defense, Cassius Vaughn of course contributed to win likelihood, but Joe Mays and Rahim Moore also appeared to score well.  Tim Tebow doesn't score well in WPA because of the unsuccessful last play, but he was of course responsible for giving us an outside shot at winning the game.

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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