BIG PLAYS: Denver at Miami

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 won, we'll start with our worst plays and end with our best. I'll also ignore all plays of .06 points or less, since they're not big plays. Read on to find some interesting nuggets about the game, including a couple of unsung heroes.


WPA Offense/Defense Play Description Notes
-0.12 Defense 11:41 2-10-MIA 15 DEN 15 MIA 15 LI: 3.6 (Shotgun) 8-M.Moore pass deep middle to 19-B.Marshall to MIA 31 for 16 yards (24-C.Bailey). Believe it or not, this play in overtime was the biggest negative play. Momentum was really turning in Miami's favor here, as we were 55% likely to win before this play, and likely to lose (0.43 WPA) afterwards. A clutch play by Matt Moore and Brandon Marshall, at Champ Bailey's expense.
-0.11 Offense 12:35 3-5-50 DEN 15 MIA 15 LI: 3.6 (No Huddle Shotgun) 15-T.Tebow sacked at DEN 47 for -3 yards (94-R.Starks) Also an overtime play - on Denver's first possession, Tebow was sacked on a 3rd and 5, putting us back in our territory and forcing us to punt.
-0.09 Offense 1:02 1-10-MIA 31 DEN 7 MIA 15 LI: 1.8 (Shotgun) 15-T.Tebow pass incomplete short right to 12-M.Willis. On the game-tying drive in the 4th quarter, time was running out and every play was important. This incompletion slowed down the offensive momentum.
-0.08 Special Teams 1:45 4-15-MIA 31 DEN 0 MIA 0 LI: 0.7 (Field Goal formation) 5-M.Prater 49 yard field goal is No Good Wide Right Center-66-L.Paxton Holder-4-B.Colquitt. Late in the first quarter, Prater missed a field goal attempt...
-0.08 Special Teams 9:49 4-1-MIA 26 DEN 0 MIA 3 LI: 0.7 (Field Goal formation) 5-M.Prater 43 yard field goal is No Good Wide Left Center-66-L.Paxton Holder-4-B.Colquitt. ...and then in the second quarter, Prater misses another for an equally tough play.
-0.08 Offense 6:03 1-10-DEN 25 DEN 0 MIA 3 LI: 1 23-W.McGahee left tackle to DEN 33 for 8 yards (29-T.Culver) FUMBLES (29-T.Culver) RECOVERED by MIA-37-Y.Bell at DEN 40. In the second quarter, McGahee rips off a good run but then fumbles in Denver territory, giving Miami good field position and leading to a Miami field goal.
-0.07 Defense 14:55 2-10-MIA 20 DEN 15 MIA 15 LI: 3.7 8-M.Moore pass short right to 19-B.Marshall to MIA 29 for 9 yards (24-C.Bailey) On the first drive of overtime, this pass to Marshall against Champ gives Miami positive yardage to set them up for a likely-to-convert 3rd and 1.
-0.07 Offense 8:13 3-8-MIA 34 DEN 15 MIA 15 LI: 3.6 35-L.Ball right end to MIA 34 for no gain (91-C.Wake). On Denver's final drive before the game-winning field goal, Lance Ball gains only a yard on 3rd and 8, reducing Denver's likelihood to win.
-0.06 to +0.06 Gameplay (Every other play) We're ignoring all plays that aren't in the "big play" zone. This includes several Tebow sacks, Miami's touchdown, both Denver touchdowns (more on this soon), a Von Miller sack, and Tebow's crazy 21-yard run on 2nd and 20.
+0.07 Defense 5:40 3-6-MIA 17 DEN 0 MIA 0 LI: 1.4 (Shotgun) 8-M.Moore sacked at MIA 6 for -11 yards (20-B.Dawkins). In the first quarter while the game was still scoreless, this Brian Dawkins sack pins Miami deep in their own territory, giving Denver excellent field position after the punt.
+0.07 Offense 0:56 2-10-MIA 31 DEN 7 MIA 15 LI: 0.9 (Shotgun) 15-T.Tebow pass deep middle to 86-D.Fells to MIA 3 for 28 yards (56-K.Burnett) The Replay Assistant challenged the pass completion ruling and the play was Upheld. Late in the game and down eight points, this long pass from Tebow to Fells gives Denver a little more hope... it was still highly unlikely though. I had to interpolate these results a bit because of a quirk in Burke's system, but going by per-play likelihood, this roughly took Denver's WPA from 10% to 17%.
+0.08 Offense 1:07 3-3-MIA 36 DEN 7 MIA 15 LI: 1 (No Huddle Shotgun) 15-T.Tebow pass short right to 87-E.Decker ran ob at MIA 31 for 5 yards (24-S.Smith). A key (and very rare) third down conversion, late in the game, from Tebow to Decker.
+0.09 Offense 13:37 4-1-MIA 29 DEN 15 MIA 15 LI: 2.4 (Punt formation) 2-B.Fields punts 48 yards to DEN 23 Center-92-J.Denney 17-Q.Cosby to DEN 45 for 22 yards (14-Mar.Moore). This was quickly forgotten, but Quan Cosby had a heck of a good punt return in a high-pressure situation. After stopping Miami's first overtime drive, this punt return took Denver to near midfield, giving us an excellent opportunity to win the game on our first overtime drive.
+0.11 Special Teams 2:52 DEN 7 MIA 15 LI: 5-M.Prater kicks onside 9 yards from DEN 35 to DEN 44 RECOVERED by DEN-85-V.Green. Denver's first touchdown appeared meaningless, since Denver had a 2% likelihood to win both before and after the touchdown. However, this onside kick registered as a pretty sizable blip on what was other a flatline. Virgil Green, a Denver rookie, recovered the kick on a great heads-up play.
+0.14 Defense 14:16 3-1-MIA 29 DEN 15 MIA 15 LI: 3.8 75-N.Garner reported in as eligible 33-D.Thomas right guard to MIA 29 for no gain (79-M.Thomas) DEN-91-R.Ayers was injured during the play His return is Questionable. Marcus Thomas!! This was a huge, huge play even though it ended up being irrelevant to the outcome. After Brandon Marshall's 9-yard catch (see above), Miami had an easy-to-convert 3rd and 1, and then Denver completely stuffed D.Thomas on the rushing attempt, forcing a punt. Quan Cosby's punt return (see above) was the next play. This was overall some inspiring team play.
+0.24 Offense 0:25 DEN 13 MIA 15 LI: 0.1 (Pass formation) TWO-POINT CONVERSION ATTEMPT. 15-T.Tebow rushes right tackle. ATTEMPT SUCCEEDS. MIA-98-J.Odrick was injured during the play. His return is Questionable.' For those of you who still weren't believing it even after Denver's second touchdown, this should help explain why. Before the two-point-conversion attempt, Denver was still pretty likely to lose, because there's a less than 50% chance of converting two-point attempts. Afterward, the chances of winning were basically even.
+0.31 Special Teams 7:29 4-8-MIA 34 DEN 15 MIA 15 LI: 2.9 (Field Goal formation) 5-M.Prater 52 yard field goal is GOOD Center-66-L.Paxton Holder-4-B.Colquitt. The game-winning field goal!!! This kick took Denver from 69% likelihood of winning the game, to 100%. And yet, it still wasn't the biggest play of the game. That honor goes to...
+0.44 Defense 9:53 1-10-MIA 43 DEN 15 MIA 15 LI: 4.1 8-M.Moore sacked at MIA 35 for -8 yards (55-D.Williams) FUMBLES (55-D.Williams) RECOVERED by DEN-55-D.Williams at MIA 36 55-D.Williams to MIA 36 for no gain (8-M.Moore). ...D.J. Williams. Yes, the D.J. Williams that had a costly unnecessary roughness late in the previous game against San Diego. Miami was making noise on this drive and was starting to look quite likely to win again. This is one of the biggest plays we're likely to see this season. More than redeeming himself, D.J.'s sack and fumble recovery took Denver from a 34% to a 78% likelihood of winning the game.

What really sticks out to me are the names that aren't Tim Tebow... Brian Dawkins. Daniel Fells. Quan Cosby. Marcus Thomas. Virgil Green. And of course, D.J. Freaking Williams. Underneath all the Tebow drama, there was an extremely impressive team effort going on here, one that we probably haven't seen since the heartbreaking defeat against the New York Jets last season.

The other thing that strikes me is that despite Tebow's struggles, he didn't have many large negative plays. I think it's pretty impressive that despite all the struggles, Tebow didn't press to the point of making any big, costly mistakes.

Drive notes for Offense:

  1. -0.06 for a three-and-out.
  2. -0.02 for a drive with three first downs that K.Dansby eventually shut down.
  3. -0.14 for a drive that ended with an off-target Prater field goal attempt.
  4. -0.04 for a drive where McGahee couldn't convert a 3rd-and-1, ending with another Prater miss.
  5. -0.05 for a drive ending with a McGahee fumble, giving Miami good field position.
  6. -0.06 for an ugly drive containing two offensive penalties, two sacks, and a crazy 21-yard Tebow run.
  7. -0.05 After the half, this three-and-out ended with a Tebow sack.
  8. -0.03 for a four play drive trapped deep in our own territory.
  9. -0.04 for another three-and-out with two deep pass incompletions.
  10. -0.03 for a five-play-drive ending with another punt.
  11. -0.01 for another five-play drive ending with a sack.
  12. +0.01 for a touchdown drive. Denver started this drive with 0.01 WPA.
  13. +0.33 (not counting the onside kick) for another touchdown drive ending with a two-point-conversion.
  14. -0.13 for an overtime drive that started in excellent field position but ended with a Tebow sack.
  15. +0.21 for the otherwise ugly drive ending in Prater's game-winning field goal.

Drive notes for Defense:

  1. +0.04 for a five-play drive ending in a punt.
  2. +0.06 for a three-and-out.
  3. +0.08 for a three-and-out that ended with a Brian Dawkins sack.
  4. -0.03 for a drive that started with Prater's miss and ended with a Miami field goal.
  5. +0.02 for a five-play Reggie Bush-centric drive that McBean and Von Miller shut down, forcing a punt.
  6. -0.01 for a drive that started with McGahee's fumble and ended with another Miami field goal.
  7. +0.05 for Miami kneeling and refusing to try to get more points before halftime.
  8. +0.03 for forcing a three-and-out after halftime.
  9. +0.03 for forcing yet another three-and-out.
  10. -0.12 for giving up Miami's only touchdown drive.
  11. -0.04 for giving up a Miami field goal drive.
  12. +0.00 for forcing a three-and-out before Denver's first touchdown drive.
  13. -0.02 for another WPA hiccup, the kneel down at the end of regulation.
  14. +0.05 for forcing a three-and-out on the first drive of overtime.
  15. +0.20 for forcing a fumble in Miami territory on Miami's second overtime drive.

For the game: In the first half, offense was -0.37. This was 0.05 worse than Orton's first half against San Diego. In the first half, the defense was +0.21, muting the impact of the offense's difficulties. In the second half, the offense was +0.18, almost entirely from the final drive, and the defense was -0.12 from giving up the 4th-quarter scoring drives. In overtime, the offense was +0.08 and the defense was +0.25. Overall the offense was -0.11, and the defense was +0.36.

Despite all the fireworks, this was essentially a defensive victory. Denver's offense was able to make up for a lot of their earlier difficulties, but not all of it. And not counted in the offense/defense is the punting and the onside kick, which also had a positive impact. On balance the offense still played somewhat poorly even after factoring in the final two drives, but the character displayed by the entire team was impressive, especially given the lack of big mistakes. Tough to say how much of a factor Miami's poor offense was, as these aren't opponent-adjusted, but there's definitely room for optimism with Denver's defense.

Players: Willis McGahee played badly again. He had some long runs, but also had a fumble, several negative runs, and unsuccessful conversion attempts that usually should be converted. Denver's offensive line played badly as well. Daniel Fells was the offensive bright spot. On defense, D.J. Williams, Brian Dawkins, Robert Ayers, and Marcus Thomas all appeared to have an excellent game.

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