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EPA Replay: Seahawks-Packers, Week 1 of 2014

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September 4, 2014; SEATTLE, WA:

Coming off a resounding 43-8 Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos, the Seahawks opened the 2014 season with the whole nation watching. The sun was out, the Super Bowl banner was unveiled, Pharrell sung “Happy” just outside the stadium, and no one in Seattle the world had ever heard of Malcolm Butler. Those were better times.

There was also a football game that night. The Seahawks picked up where they left off in the Super Bowl, with a new and improved offense centered around Percy Harvin, who appears in 2 out of the 10 plays here. Below are the biggest 10 plays of Seattle’s 36-16 victory in terms of Expected Points Added (EPA).

For an introduction to this series and an overview of EPA, see my previous post here.

#10. Q2 1-9 GB 9: (3:46) (Shotgun) M.Lynch up the middle for 9 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

EPA:2.11. Score before play: SEA10, GB10. SEA WP change: 68-> 75. TD% before: 58. TD% after: 100

In a 10-10 game in the 2nd quarter, one can already see how Green Bay’s defenders wanted no part of tackling Lynch as he waltzes into the end zone. Nice crackback block by Luke Willson on Clay Matthews here.

#9. Q2 3-5 GB 21: (11:37) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers pass short middle to R.Cobb to GB 32 for 11 yards (J.Lane).

EPA:2.13. Score before play: GB7, SEA10. SEA WP change: 66-> 60. TD% before: 25. TD% after: 36

One thing we will see repeatedly is the importance of third down conversions because they keep drives alive. A simple conversion of a 3rd and 5 in the 2nd quarter increased the likelihood that GB would score the next touchdown from 25% to 36% and increased their win probability from 34% to 40%. On this particular play, Randall Cobb gets Jeremy Lane turned around by running a fake pick play and then cutting inside.

#8. Q3 3-6 GB 24: (9:26) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers pass short left to J.Nelson ran ob at GB 33 for 9 yards.

EPA:2.30. Score before play: GB10, SEA20. SEA WP change: 85-> 79. TD% before: 27. TD% after: 39

Another 3rd down conversion. These are the types of plays that Seattle will inevitably give up as they focus their resources on preventing big plays, but I’m not sure how many teams could stop this Aaron Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson connection.

#7. Q3 GB 10: T.Masthay kicks 50 yards from GB 10 to SEA 40. P.Harvin to SEA 47 for 7 yards (S.Richardson; J.Bush).

EPA:2.33. Score before play: SEA22, GB10. SEA WP change: 87-> 91. TD% before: 32. TD% after: 45

I’m confused about why this rates so highly. After a safety, GB punts from their own 10 and Harvin returns it to Seattle’s 47. I suspect there’s either an issue with how this EPA calculation treats kickoffs after safeties or that the safety itself (Michael Bennett’s strip sack of Rodgers) should be the play listed here. It’s preseason for everybody, folks! Even my computer.

#6. Q2 2-12 SEA 34: (13:39) R.Wilson pass deep left to P.Harvin pushed ob at GB 33 for 33 yards (H.Clinton-Dix).

EPA:2.89. Score before play: SEA3, GB7. SEA WP change: 41-> 50. TD% before: 32. TD% after: 50

Russell Wilson throwing out of a clean pocket with time to plant and step into his throw is a thing of beauty. I almost bought a Harvin jersey after this game. I’m glad I didn’t.

#5. Q2 1-10 GB 33: (13:08) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to R.Lockette for 33 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

EPA:3.06. Score before play: SEA3, GB7. SEA WP change: 50-> 59. TD% before: 50. TD% after: 100

This play directly followed #6 above. By scoring a touchdown with consecutive 33 yard plays, Seattle’s win probability jumped from 41% to 59%. As a nice piece of symmetry, GB’s season would eventually end in this same stadium with consecutive 35 yard plays in overtime of the NFC Championship Game.

#4. Q3 4-5 SEA 41: (7:06) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers sacked at SEA 45 for -4 yards (C.Avril).

EPA:3.61. Score before play: GB10, SEA20. SEA WP change: 81-> 87. TD% before: 21. TD% after: 15

Going for it on 4th down while down by 10 points in the 3rd quarter was probably the correct decision here, but failing to block Cliff Avril was not. It is interesting that the Packers went for it on 4th down here but famously refused to do so at the goalline (twice!) in the NFC Championship game later in the season.

#3. Q3 3-12 GB 31: (8:17) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers pass deep middle to R.Cobb to SEA 46 for 23 yards (B.Wagner).

EPA:3.64. Score before play: GB10, SEA20. SEA WP change: 84-> 75. TD% before: 26. TD% after: 47

The speed and accuracy of the throw with Rodgers moving to his left is amazing here.

#2. Q4 4-1 GB 15: (2:37) R.Wilson pass short left to D.Coleman for 15 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

EPA:4.83. Score before play: SEA29, GB16. SEA WP change: 99-> 100. TD% before: 14. TD% after: 100

This felt like a big play at the time (and it was fun!), but in reality changed Seattle’s win probability from 99% to 100% (according to this calculation).

#1. Q3 1-10 GB 14: (12:06) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers pass short left intended for J.Nelson INTERCEPTED by B.Maxwell at GB 29. B.Maxwell> to GB 8 for 21 yards (C.Linsley).

EPA:5.09. Score before play: GB10, SEA17. SEA WP change: 75-> 86. TD% before: 28. TD% after: 2

Here is Byron Maxwell kicking off the 2014 season that would earn him a contract in excess of $60 million. This play was more a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but was the #1 play in EPA.

Concluding thoughts

There has been substantially more turnover with Seattle’s offense than Green Bay’s since this game. The major players for the Packers here are Rodgers, Nelson, and Cobb, each of which still play major roles on the Packers. For the Seahawks, other than Wilson, every offensive player listed in the top 10 plays here is no longer with the team: Harvin, Lynch, Ricardo Lockette, and Derrick Coleman. Maxwell is also gone. Eddie Lacy is a Seahawk, Marshawn Lynch is a Raider, and Harvin is retired.

Sunday’s game represents the first step in new journeys for new members of the Seahawks such as Shaquill Griffin, Sheldon Richardson, and Luke Joeckel. When we look back on this coming game years from now, will it be with fond memories? Or will it be another chapter in the frustration that has been playing in Lambeau?