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    GameChangers Week 5 (10/07/13)

    John Ewing, Director of Research and Analytics, @johnewing
    By John Ewing
    GameChangers, a look at plays that impacted the outcomes of games around the league. If you have a suggestion for a GameChanger please direct all ideas via twitter to @johnewing.

    To highlight the Live ScoreCaster, we will take our in-game technology, Live ScoreCaster, to the next level to review three of the game-changing plays from the NFL and what the game would have looked like if the plays had turned out differently. 
    Cowboys vs. Broncos

    Should the Cowboys have let the Broncos score a touchdown in the final two minutes of the game? With 1:40 left in the 4th, Denver was facing a 3rd and 1 from the 2-yard line and Dallas Head Coach Jason Garrett was faced with this very decision.
    Garrett’s options: let Denver score and get the ball back or try to stop them and force a field goal. Dallas did stop the Broncos from scoring but Denver got the first down. The Broncos were able to kick a game winning field goal with no time remaining because Dallas was out of timeouts. Despite the Cowboys losing, did Garrett make the right decision?
    Had Dallas let Denver score and the Cowboys get the ball back with approximately 1:35 left in the 4th, Dallas’ win percentage is 6.5% trailing by a touchdown. Had Dallas prevented Denver from getting the first down and forced them to kick a field goal, the Cowboys would have had a 25.9% chance of winning when they got the ball back. This of course assumes that Denver would kick the field goal instead of going for it on 4th and 1 from the 1-yard line.
    As it turns out, Garrett made the right decision. His team failed to execute and the Broncos won. Of course none of this would have been possible without Tony Romo's interception. Prior to Romo's turnover Dallas had a 44.6% chance of winning, after the pick the Cowboys win percentage dropped to 17.8%.
    Colts vs. Seahawks

    With 2:00 left in the 4th, Colts leading 31-28, Indianapolis kicks a 49-yard field goal to take a six-point lead and became 95.9% likely to win. Would it have been wiser to go for it on 4th down instead of attempting a long field goal?
    Converting the field goal increased Indianapolis’ chances of winning from 80.8% to 95.9%. That seems pretty good. But what if Vinatieri misses the kick? A missed field goal would have given Seattle excellent field position trailing by only three points. In that situation the Colts win percentage drops to 62.7%. This is worse than if the Colts go for it and do not pick up any yards. Turning the ball over on downs would have only decreased Indianapolis’ odds of winning to 64.3%.
    As odd as it may seem, going for it would have been the right choice. Picking up the first down would have guaranteed the victory as the Seahawks were out of timeouts and Indianapolis could have taken a knee for the win. Missing the field goal leaves the Colts in a worse spot then not picking up the first down.
    Jaguars vs. Rams

    Josh Scobee made a 23-yard field goal with his team trailing the Rams 24-10. An offside penalty on St. Louis gave Jacksonville a 4th and goal from the 2-yard line. Jags Head Coach Gus Bradley took the points off the board and attempted to go for it. Of course, because it is Jacksonville Blaine Gabbert threw an interception on the next play. We should judge a decision based on the process and not the outcome. Notwithstanding the turnover, was this the proper decision?
    Prior to this play Jacksonville only had an 8.6% chance of winning trailing by two touchdowns on the road. After turning the ball over on 4th down, Jacksonville’s win percentage decreased to 4.6%. Had Jacksonville left the points on the board their win percentage would still have only been 8.0%. Yes, that is correct. Getting three more points would not increase their odds of winning. However, successfully converting the 4th down and scoring a touchdown would have increased Jacksonville’s win percentage to 15.2%.
    Going for it was not just the right decision but it was the only decision that increased Jacksonville’s chances of winning.  
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