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Kyle Shanahan’s explanation of Super Bowl overtime decision is defendable, but wrong

As the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LVIII drew to a close and the coin was tossed before overtime; san francisco 49ers Head coach Kyle Shanahan faced a decision unlike any NFL coach has faced before.

Whether to receive an overtime kickoff under the NFL’s new postseason overtime rules.

By now, you probably know the backstory. In the wake of the AFC Division Round game a few seasons ago, kansas city chiefs And that buffalo bills Patrick Mahomes needed just 13 seconds to force overtime, winning the coin toss and scoring a touchdown on his first possession for the Chiefs’ victory — as the league changed its postseason playoff rules. , guaranteeing each team possession.

Shanahan chose to receive and went on offense. As he said after the loss, he had his reasons and it was rooted in numbers.

“That’s something we talked about,” Shanahan said. Following Super Bowl XV. “None of us have a lot of experience with that. But we looked at all the analysis and talked to them. We just thought it would be better that way. We wanted the ball in the third. I thought if both teams played evenly and scored, we had a chance to go for it. We got a field goal, so at least we had a chance to win. We knew we had to keep it to a field goal, and if we could do that, the rest was in our hands.”

At first glance, the concept of “wanting to be third with the ball” seems pretty bizarre. But there was at least some data to back it up. When the rule changes were announced, Brian Burke, who has been at the forefront of the analytics movement for years, considered thousands of scenarios.

In his analysis, I gained a little by going first. — Slightly — favorable.

Click the link above to get his full analysis. Burke provides an extensive analysis, which I recommend. He also reveals that it takes “a long season to really see the benefits.”

Well, here’s one real-life example.

And that might change the analysis a little bit.

In the end, it comes down to information. The team that starts first has the hypothetical advantage of starting the “sudden death” portion of overtime with football and has the first chance to win by scoring alone. That’s what Shanahan was referring to when he said, “I want to be third.” If San Francisco’s defense had held Kansas City to a field goal, the game would have been tied at 22, and the 49ers would have won on Jake Moody’s field goal, denying Mahomes his second possession.

That might give you a little advantage. But here’s what we know now from Super Bowl LVIII: The Chiefs were going to go with two. The 49ers scored a touchdown. So in a hypothetical scenario where the 49ers scored a touchdown on a drive and Moody gave him a seven-point lead on his PAT, the 49ers would never have seen the ball again. Either their defense would have kept KC without a touchdown, their defense would have stopped the two-point conversion, or they would have lost if the Chiefs completed the scoring run with a successful two-point try.

So when the Chiefs started a possession, they had more information.

Another point is this: By going second, you’re essentially giving yourself an extra down. What I want to say is this. When the 49ers began their drive, they started at their own 25-yard line. If they had found themselves on 4th-and-1 at their own 34-yard line a few plays later, they would have had to make a tough decision. Do you aim for it deep within your realm? If you accomplish that, you still have a chance to win. If you are stopped, you will probably get lost.

The Chiefs were in a completely different position. Being second and on the back foot quickly put them in fourth-down territory. It changes the way you think as an offense and as a play caller. We know he needs four downs to get the first down, so we can play accordingly.

This is what ended up happening. The Chiefs were facing exactly that “4th-and-1 on their own 34” scenario and had no choice but to do it. They picked it up on a Mahomes run and lost three points on the next play.

But the Chiefs knew they still had three downs left to gain 13 yards. So Mahomes’ next pitch wasn’t an attempt to “take it all back,” but rather a down throw to get Kansas City into a manageable third-down situation.

Heading into Super Bowl LVIII, the numbers may have slightly favored Shanahan’s decision. But as Burke himself pointed out, that advantage diminishes when the second team plays two-man, as the Chiefs had planned, and we see the rules applied in practice to adjust expectations. The need was still there.

What Super Bowl LVIII showed is that there are benefits to advancing to second place. First, if he decides to go for the 2 in a touchdown-PAT-touchdown scenario, he either wins or loses with his offense on the field. That’s the situation most modern NFL teams would probably prefer. Then you’ll have more information available to you, as you’ll know the score you need to win the game. Third, getting extra downs changes the way you think as an offense and as a play-caller.

Finally, there’s probably one more thing worth mentioning.

Numbers may have to go out the window when facing Mahomes.

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