BIG PLAYS #14: New England @ Denver

We're again referring to AdvancedNFLStats' game log to analyze the game and come up with the biggest plays of the game. Our definition of a big play is a play that changes the likelihood of the outcome 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. Here we go!


WPA Offense/Defense Play Description Notes
+0.10 Offense 0:58 3-9-NE 36 NE 7 DEN 13 LI: 0.8 (Shotgun) 15-T.Tebow right guard to NE 17 for 19 yards (23-N.Jones). Up six and driving late in the first quarter, Denver faced a third-and-long at the edge of scoring territory. Tim Tebow takes an immediate shotgun draw behind a pulling Zane Beadles, and runs past a couple of gorgeous blocks by Eric Decker and Eddie Royal. This put Denver in the red zone with a chance to go up thirteen.
+0.09 Offense 5:10 1-10-NE 32 NE 7 DEN 6 LI: 1.5 35-L.Ball right tackle for 32 yards TOUCHDOWN Touchdown was reviewed by Review Assistant And confirmed. Chris Kuper laid a sick block that you could clearly hear on the telecast, and it sprung Lance Ball for a long touchdown drive in the first quarter to put Denver back up by six points. This again had some excellent blocking on the edge by the receivers - Daniel Fells, Eric Decker, and Eddie Royal. Walton also got upfield to block #51. Great team effort.
+0.07 Offense 11:20 1-10-NE 38 NE 0 DEN 0 LI: 1.5 37-J.Johnson right guard to NE 13 for 25 yards (24-K.Arrington). Wow, I thought Jeremiah Johnson looked good on this run. He had two great examples of lateral movement while still heading straight downfield, and it didn't seem to compromise his downhill speed. He almost got away with a third cut. Big-time play by him and I hope it gets him more playing time. Tebow would score Denver's first touchdown two plays later, on Denver's opening drive.
+0.07 Offense 5:52 2-11-DEN 46 NE 7 DEN 6 LI: 1.2 (Shotgun) 15-T.Tebow pass short left to 88-D.Thomas to NE 32 for 22 yards (24-K.Arrington; 32-D.McCourty). Denver was successful on this play more than once - play action to a running back, and a quick throw downfield to a slanting receiver. This play got Denver into scoring position in the first quarter and helped Denver grab the lead back.
+0.07 Defense 5:57 3-3-DEN 3 NE 14 DEN 16 LI: 1.8 (Shotgun) 12-T.Brady pass incomplete short left to 81-A.Hernandez. The only positive play for Denver that wasn't in the first quarter, and the only positive play for the defense. This was after Lance Ball's fumble gave New England excellent field position, and it was a success for the defense to stop New England in field goal range.
+0.06 to -0.06 Gameplay (Every other play) This encompasses all the other plays of the game that weren't "big plays", and includes Tebow's opening touchdown, the sacks on Tom Brady, Quan Cosby's second muff, a couple of Patriot touchdowns, and Tebow's sacks.
-0.09 Defense 8:31 1-10-DEN 19 NE 14 DEN 16 LI: 1.4 22-S.Ridley up the middle to DE N 10 for 9 yards. Just after Lance Ball's fumble, New England has a run that takes them to Denver's ten-yard-line and threatens an easy touchdown. Nice blocking by New England's line on this one - Robert Ayers had a good effort to come across the line, but the running back was already through.
-0.10 Defense 9:04 3-9-NE 21 NE 0 DEN 6 LI: 1.4 (Shotgun) 12-T.Brady pass short middle to 81-A.Hernandez to DEN 33 for 46 yards (25-C.Harris). Tough play - we had New England stuck on a 3rd and 9 for a possible three-and-out just after our opening-drive touchdown. Dennis Allen chose to rush six when in hindsight it may have been better to drop Wesley Woodyard back into coverage. Brady converted to Hernandez pretty easily, but what made it worse is that Quinton Carter had an awful tackle effort against him and Hernandez was able to break it for a long gain. Plus, Ochocinco took out both Woodyard and Moore with one block - ouch. However - check out the coach's film - Hernandez has a major push-off against Carter on his break, which is why he was open.
-0.11 Defense 9:32 1-10-DEN 20 NE 7 DEN 16 LI: 1 (Shotgun) 12-T.Brady pass deep middle to 83-W.Welker to DEN 1 for 19 yards (25-C.Harris) Touchdown was reviewed by Review Assistant And overturned. Wes Welker had a great stutter-step - complete with that rolling arm razzle-dazzle movement that I thought only happened in the movies, and got ahead of Chris Harris, with a quick throw by Tom Brady. This is just excellent Patriots football and it's hard to blame any of the Broncos for it.
-0.12 Special Teams 0:14 4-10-NE 49 NE 24 DEN 16 LI: 0.5 14-Z.Mesko punts 39 yards to DEN 12 Center-48-D.Aiken 17-Q.Cosby MUFFS catch touched at DEN 17 RECOVERED by NE-52-D.Fletcher at DEN 17 52-D.Fletcher to DEN 16 for 1 yard (57-M.Haggan). Ugh - at the end of the second quarter, Quan Cosby gives New England three free points. As the punt was in the air, you could hear someone yelling "let it go let it go let it go!" On top of that, Wilhite was injured on the play.
-0.14 Defense 7:30 2-10-DEN 33 NE 0 DEN 6 LI: 0.9 (Shotgun) 12-T.Brady pass deep left to 85-C.Ochocinco for 33 yards TOUCHDOWN. Penalty on DEN, Defensive Holding, declined. On New England's first drive in the first quarter, Chad Ochocinco gets a long touchdown to answer Denver's touchdown drive and take the lead. Quinton Carter comes upfield to help Chris Harris when there is no one to help Goodman deep. Hard to say what the correct assignments were supposed to be. Also, Dumervil had a pretty blatant hands-to-face penalty on this one.
-0.14 Offense 8:37 1-10-DEN 23 NE 14 DEN 16 LI: 1.3 35-L.Ball right guard to DEN 25 for 2 yards (97-R.Brace) FUMBLES (97-R.Brace) RECOVERED by NE-50-R.Ninkovich at DEN 19 50-R.Ninkovich to DEN 19 for no gain (86-D.Fells). A horrible time for a fumble to happen - Denver had the ball and the lead, with a chance to build on it, and instead we gave it away as New England started adjusting to try and take away the run. The normally solid Lance Ball got a bit lazy with the ball and gave it up. Denver was able to hold New England to three points on this drive to limit the damage.
-0.14 Offense 5:18 1-10-DEN 46 NE 17 DEN 16 LI: 1.3 (Shotgun) (Shotgun) 15-T.Tebow up the middle to DEN 46 for no gain (95-M.Anderson). FUMBLES (95-M.Anderson), touched at DEN 42, RECOVERED by NE-95-M.Anderson at DEN 40. 95-M.Anderson to DEN 40 for no gain (19-E.Royal). Denver had gotten some yardage on this second-quarter drive, but they were trying to get a bit too clever here. It seems like sometimes Denver is only running an option-disguise, not a true option, since it looks like Tebow fully intended to pitch to Royal from the start of the play. Clady should have gotten a shoulder on Anderson, or Tebow should have just handed off to Ball, who might have been able to beat the outside linebacker - there was open field there. This fumble again gave New England excellent field position.
-0.15 Defense 2:16 4-1-DEN 31 NE 17 DEN 16 LI: 0.6 12-T.Brady pass short right to 81-A.Hernandez to DEN 6 for 25 yards (52-W.Woodyard). Denver's defense had a shot at stopping New England just after Tebow's fumble, despite a neutral-zone infraction call against Von Miller. New England actually called a time out and switched from a running play to a passing play because of the personnel Denver had on the field. This basically changed the look of the game, as the fresh set of downs led to New England's next touchdown, and it was all downhill from there. There were no "big plays" in the second half, since the game was basically decided by then.

No big plays in the second half, and despite all the turnovers, Denver was still in the game up until they got out-coached on that 4th down play. This game convinced me that Denver is now definitely dangerous against any team in the league. But they're still inexperienced and young. A little more savvy will go a long way.

Drive notes for Offense:

  1. +0.15 for an opening touchdown drive.
  2. +0.21 for another touchdown drive.
  3. +0.08 for a field goal drive. Denver got all the way to 84% likely to win before stalling and settling for the field goal.
  4. -0.14 for a one-play drive with a lost fumble by Lance Ball.
  5. -0.08 for a three-play drive (all first downs) ending in a Tim Tebow fumble.
  6. -0.03 for a three-and-out with time running out in the half (this was bad clock management by the coaches).
  7. -0.02 for a third quarter drive that got yardage but ended with a punt after a sack.
  8. -0.00 for a four-and-out (with a penalty down) deep in Denver territory.
  9. +0.04 for a touchdown drive that overcame a Tebow sack and a 3rd-and-18.
  10. +0.00 for a desperation drive with some yardage and two Tebow sacks, and a failed 4th-down conversion.
  11. +0.00 for a desperation four-and-out.

Drive notes for Defense:

  1. -0.20 for giving up an opening-drive touchdown.
  2. +0.03 for forcing a punt after one first down.
  3. -0.20 for giving up an 80-yard touchdown drive.
  4. +0.03 for only giving up a field goal after the Lance Ball fumble.
  5. -0.13 for giving up a 40-yard touchdown drive after the Tim Tebow fumble.
  6. +0.04 for stopping New England from scoring more points at the end of the half.
  7. +0.02 for forcing New England to punt at the beginning of the third quarter.
  8. -0.10 for giving up an 85-yard touchdown drive.
  9. -0.01 for forcing a punt (with a Doom sack) after giving up some yardage. New England was 99% likely to win after this drive.
  10. -0.04 for giving up an 80-yard touchdown drive after we cut the deficit to 11.
  11. +0.00 for forcing a four-and-out as New England tries to run down the clock.
  12. -0.01 for Brady kneeling to end the game.

Here's what is very interesting about this breakdown: It wasn't really Denver's offensive turnovers that lost the game. Denver's offense was +0.19 for the first half. That's also notable since it's such a marked turnaround from the last few games, where Denver's offense couldn't do anything in the first half. Denver's defense, however, was -0.43 for the first half. In other words, Denver's offense played well enough to put Denver in a better position to win the game, even including their two turnovers. It was Denver's defense that couldn't hack it - plus, the special teams turnover didn't help matters, either. Of course, this leaves aside the general superiority of New England's offense. It's pretty well-accepted that in a game like this, the offense would have to carry the defense to win this game. But even if Denver had held steady on its two drives, Denver's defensive problems were enough to put Denver in a worse-than-even chance to win the game at halftime.

In the second half, Denver's offense was +0.02 and the defense was -0.14. For the game, the offense was +0.21 and the defense was -0.57. Hopefully the experience will improve Denver's defense against good passing offenses, because that's the only game situation we've shown we have absolutely no answer to, all season long.

Players: Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas scored highest in WPA. Eddie Royal is the only player to score negatively. On defense, no one scored particularly well, but Marcus Thomas appeared to do all right.

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

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