Brandon Bostick clearly made a mistake at a critical moment of Sunday’s NFC championship game. As he revealed in the post game interview, he should have resigned himself to blocking during Seattle’s onside kick attempt and made way for the sure hands of Jordy Nelson to seal a Super Bowl birth for the Packers. However, to cast the blame squarely on Bostick’s shoulders (er helmet) may be a bit unfair. Let’s put some of the game’s key decisions in perspective with the help of a powerful simulation model developed by the programmers at Edj Analytics (edjanalytics.com).

First of all, we must evaluate the approximate cost of Bostick’s decision to field the ball. This is different than the absolute cost to Green Bay. According to the model, Green Bay’s winning prospects get reduced by 26% game-winning chance (GWC) if they fail to secure the kick. Without a doubt this is an enormous cost to Green Bay, but how much of the cost is attributable to Bostick’s decision. Even with the properly intended execution by Green Bay, Seattle was going to recover this kick some percentage of the time. This was a particularly good onside kick with a high bounce and advancing 10-15 yards. A conservative estimate, based upon historical figures of anticipated onside kicks, would suggest that Seattle might expect to recover this ball ~20% of the time without Bostick’s “help”. Remember that many onside kick attempts never make the required ten yard advancement. His misguided attempt to help his team turned out to be very costly (26% GWC), but on average it would be much less than this. Green Bay could probably still expect to get the ball 50% of the time on average after it bounces off of Bostick’s helmet. So for illustration purposes lets say Seattle would have recovered 20% without Bostick’s assistance (an underestimate considering the quality of the kick) and 50% with Bostick’s intervention (gross overestimate). The point I am about to make here is that the award for bone-headed decision making in the NFC championship game doesn’t go to Bostick, that distinction is reserved for Mike McCarthy.

On fourth down, McCarthy decided to kick field goals twice at the Seattle one yard line, and again at the Seattle 22 yard line with a fourth and one. He also elected to punt in the 3rd quarter from his own 48 yard line on a fourth and one. As we have discussed so many times in the past, these are VERY poor decisions. In general, the science overwhelmingly supports more aggressive actions on fourth and short. The Edj NFL model accounts for score, clock, ball position and the relative strengths and weaknesses of the opponents. After simulating literally millions of unique outcomes, the relative cost of a poor decision can be quantified. The cumulative effect for McCarthy and the Packers was far more costly, on average, than Bostick’s single lapse of judgment. Brandon Bostick was willing to take accountability for his poor decision, will Mike McCarthy do the same?

Here are the numbers for comparison as generated by the EdjAnalytics simulation model:

Green Bay’s GWC with proper execution of onside kick recovery: 86%

  • Seattle recovery rate: 20%
  • Green Bay wins when Seattle recovers: 65%
  • Green Bay wins when they recover kick: 91%
  • (.20 x .65) + (.80 x .91) = 86%

Green Bay’s GWC (on average) with Bostick’s intervention: 78%

  • Seattle recovery rate: 50%
  • Green Bay wins when Seattle recovers: 65%
  • Green Bay wins when they recover kick: 91%
  • (.50 x .65) + (.50 x .91) = 78%

Difference (average cost of Bostick’s decision): 8% GWC

Cumulative cost of conservative 4th down decisions by Green Bay: 12.7% GWC

  • 4th and 1 on Seattle 1 yard line, 0-0, 1st qtr: -4.5% GWC
  • 4th and 1 on Seattle 1 yard line, 3-0, 1st qtr: -4.2% GWC
  • 4th and 1 on Seattle 22 yard line, 13-0, 2nd qtr: -1.4% GWC
  • 4th and 1 on GB 48 yard line, 16-0, 3rd qtr: -1.5% GWC
  • 4th and 7 on Seattle 30 yard line, 16-7, 4th qtr: -1.1% GWC