Sunday’s Seahawks-Packers game was decided on 3rd down. While the Seahawks averaged 4.7 yards per play to Green Bay’s 5.0, the Seahawks converted only 3 of 12 first downs, compared to Green Bay going 9 for 16. As a result, the play differential favored the Packers 74-48. How important were 3rd downs in this game? Of the 10 largest plays as measured by expected points added (EPA), a whopping 9 of them were 3rd down plays.
For an overview of EPA and this series, see my intro article here. Onto the plays:
#10. Q1 3-10 GB 40: (2:15) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers sacked at GB 34 for -6 yards (C.Avril).
EPA:2.24. Score before play: GB0, SEA0. SEA WP change: 51-> 58. TD% before: 30. TD% after: 18
One of 4 first half sacks for the Seahawks, Avril blows around Green Bay’s backup right tackle for a sack. Note Sheldon Richardson and Michell Bennett occupying the middle of the pocket so that Rodgers couldn’t step up.
#9. Q2 3-17 GB 33: (2:37) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers pass deep right to D.Adams to SEA 46 for 21 yards (K.Chancellor).
EPA:2.26. Score before play: GB0, SEA0. SEA WP change: 51-> 44. TD% before: 14. TD% after: 31
Adams starts at the bottom of the screen and makes it all the way across the field while the Seahawks secondary loses track of him. I am not completely sure on this but my guess is that this was Kam Chancellor’s responsibility (he’s the one on the far left of the screen as the play begins).
#8. Q1 3-5 GB 18: (4:25) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers pass short left to R.Cobb to GB 28 for 10 yards (R.Sherman).
EPA:2.26. Score before play: GB0, SEA0. SEA WP change: 55-> 49. TD% before: 25. TD% after: 36
On this 3rd and 5, we see Kam Chancellor matched up with Martellus Bennett on the bottom of the screen and Seattle’s 3 cornerbacks all on the right side of the field. Sherman can’t stay with Cobb’s out-breaking route and Green Bay converts the 3rd down.
#7. Q2 3-7 GB 46: (12:10) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers sacked at GB 40 for -6 yards (M.Bennett).
EPA:2.28. Score before play: GB0, SEA0. SEA WP change: 50-> 57. TD% before: 33. TD% after: 18
Bennett gets free on a stunt between him and Avril and shows great persistence in eventually tracking down Rodgers.
#6. Q3 3-7 GB 41: (12:56) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers Aborted. C.Linsley FUMBLES at GB 35, recovered by GB-A.Rodgers at GB 35. A.Rodgers to GB 35 for no gain (M.Smith).
EPA:2.46. Score before play: GB0, SEA3. SEA WP change: 58-> 67. TD% before: 32. TD% after: 18
Not including the replay since it was just a botched snap and not very interesting.
#5. Q1 3-2 GB 39: (10:26) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers pass short middle to R.Cobb to SEA 32 for 29 yards (E.Thomas).
EPA:2.49. Score before play: GB0, SEA0. SEA WP change: 48-> 40. TD% before: 39. TD% after: 51
One of Wright or Chancellor get fooled by Rodgers turning his head towards the back leaking out into the flat as they both rush towards the back, leaving no one in the middle of the field to cover Cobb. Nice play design on the Packers on 3rd and 2, other than the part where 2 of their receivers almost collide in the middle of the field.
Sheldon Richardson probably got held by the left guard here.
#4. Q3 3-11 GB 24: (3:31) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers scrambles left end ran ob at GB 37 for 13 yards (K.Chancellor).
EPA:2.97. Score before play: GB7, SEA6. SEA WP change: 52-> 42. TD% before: 24. TD% after: 41
Clark and Bass both get washed out of the play, opening up a huge lane for Rodgers to scramble.
#3. Q3 3-18 SEA 13: (10:46) (Shotgun) R.Wilson sacked at SEA 3 for -10 yards (M.Daniels). FUMBLES (M.Daniels) [M.Daniels], RECOVERED by GB-K.Fackrell at SEA 6. K.Fackrell to SEA 6 for no gain (J.Britt).
EPA:3.28. Score before play: SEA3, GB0. SEA WP change: 51-> 43. TD% before: 17. TD% after: 1
Luke Joeckel did not have a great game and offered no resistance on this play. Green Bay would score a touchdown on the next play.
#2. Q3 3-2 SEA 32: (:22) (No Huddle) A.Rodgers pass deep middle to J.Nelson for 32 yards, TOUCHDOWN. Penalty on SEA-T.Garvin, Defensive 12 On-field, declined.
EPA:3.54. Score before play: GB7, SEA6. SEA WP change: 36-> 23. TD% before: 43. TD% after: 0
With Seattle having 12 men on the field, Green Bay gets a free play and takes a shot at the end zone, where Wagner has no chance of running with Jordy Nelson. Earl Thomas starting the play out of position didn’t help as he was turned the wrong way when Nelson ran past him.
#1. Q1 1-10 SEA 32: (9:37) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers pass short middle intended for L.Kendricks INTERCEPTED by N.Jones at SEA 36. N.Jones for 64 yards, TOUCHDOWN NULLIFIED by Penalty. Penalty on SEA-J.Lane, Disqualification, declined. PENALTY on SEA-C.Avril, Illegal Block Above the Waist, 10 yards, enforced at GB 40. SEA 20 was ejected due to penalty
EPA:6.98. Score before play: GB0, SEA0. SEA WP change: 40-> 60. TD% before: 51. TD% after: 13
The numbers listed above are the combined effects of the interception and the penalty. After the penalty was assessed, Seattle gained 6.98 expected points and went from 40% to 60% win probability. However, this play would have been even bigger if not for the block in the back on Avril: if the touchdown had stood, the expected points for GB would have gone from 3.98 to -7, a swing of 10.98 points. So the penalty was a swing of 4 expected points (the difference between 6.98 and 10.98). The touchdown Green Bay scored in Play #2 above was worth 3.54 expected points, meaning that if Avril’s hold were counted as its own event, the penalty was the 2nd biggest play in the entire game!
In addition to 9 of the 10 plays listed here being on 3rd down, as mentioned at the top, 9 of the 10 plays were also when the Packers had the ball. Having one side of the ball dominate the biggest play list is rare and largely because there were a lot of 3rd and long conversions and a lot of sacks when Seattle’s defense was on the field. In a game that was largely about Seattle’s offensive ineptitude, the biggest individual plays of the game were on the other side of the ball.