Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wednesday Math, Vol. 59: The last hurrah for the Split Point System this season

The Super Bowl is over, so my football blog Unified Football Theory is going to go on hiatus until next season. There was a time when the Super Bowl was expected to be anti-climatic, either because of less than sterling play or due to one team completely dominating the game, but the last two Super Bowls have successfully bucked that trend. The wins by the New York Giants last year and the Pittsburgh Steelers this year were exciting and close games where the outcome was still in doubt until the very end.

As my friend Ken noted in the comments, the game was much better than the commercials this year. (I already gave my pick for worst commercial. I think the best was probably Alec Baldwin for Hulu. Very funny, 'cause that's how the aliens roll.)

The game was also was we in the ed biz call "a teachable moment" for my way of giving credit for points scored during the game, which I call the Split Point System. The system defines three types of plays: scrimmage plays, kicking plays and return plays, and for any play there is an offensive squad and a defensive squad on the field, so a total of six squads. When points are scored, usually the scrimmage offense gets credit, the squad that is lead by the quarterback, but sometimes other squads actually get the credit for scores, or get partial credit because the scrimmage offense got to operate on a short field. A kicked extra point is credited to the kicking squad, and my system splits the credit for a field goal based on how far the scrimmage offense took the ball before the placekicker came on the field. This Super Bowl also had a safety, two points usually credited to the scrimmage defense, though in this game, they split that credit with the return defense because of excellent punt coverage.

How Pittsburgh scored: Pittsburgh scored three touchdowns and two field goals. Two of the touchdowns were scored by the offense on long drives, so those count as 12 points scrimmage offense and 2 points kicking offense. The two field goals were scored on drives of more than 60 yards, so my system splits the credit 2.5 points scrimmage offense and .5 kicking offense, so added up it's 5 points scrimmage offense and one point kicking offense. The other touchdown was a returned interception, which counts 6 points for the scrimmage defense and 1 point kicking offense.

How Arizona scored: The Cardinals scored three touchdowns and a safety. All the touchdowns were on long drives, so all the credit goes to the scrimmage offense, which scored 18 points while the kicking offense gets 3 points extra for the PATs. The scrimmage defense gets 1 point credit for the safety and the return defense gets the other 1 point of credit, because the opportunity for the excellent play by the scrimmage defense was set up by punt coverage that backed the Steelers up to their own goal line.

Here are the points added up. The first score in red is the total, followed by scrimmage offense, kicking offense, return offense, scrimmage defense, kicking defense and return defense.

27 17.0 4.0 0.0 6.0 0.0 0.0

23 18.0 3.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 1.0

In the Split Point System, this would be classified as a scrimmage defense win because the Steeler scrimmage defense outscored the Cardinal scrimmage defense 6 points to 1, the numbers underlined, while the Cardinals lost the game despite their scrimmage offense having a slightly better game than their Pittsburgh counterparts, and getting a point from their return defense, a fairly rare occurrence.

The touchdown scored by the Steeler defense at the end of the first half, specifically by linebacker James Harrison returning an interception 100 yards is the difference in the game. While the game had plenty of drama in the second half, this play was the most dramatic of the game. The Cardinals had the ball on one yard line. If they didn't score a touchdown, a field goal was a foregone conclusion. Instead, Harrison makes a move designed by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to hide him from quarterback Kurt Warner's view, and is able to step in front of the pass, intercept it and run it back 100 yards for a touchdown, the longest play in Super Bowl history.

The circumstances were even more dramatic than that. Time expired as he was running down the field, so if he didn't go 100 yards, the half would be over and the Steeler defense would have only the satisfaction of stopping the Cardinals, not the extra seven points. There was a penalty on the play, but it was against the Cardinals. Harrison is a great athlete, but by no means the fastest guy on the field, and several Cardinals caught up to him and tackled him, including Larry Fitzgerald, who had been blocked out of bounds by one of Harrison's teammates. Before Harrison got into the end zone, but as he was falling to the ground, his knee landed on his tackler Fitzgerald and not the ground first, so his roll into the end zone counted as a touchdown, correctly called by the referee on the field and backed up by the instant replay system.

The Most Valuable Player award of the game went to Steelers' wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who had nine receptions for 131 yards and one touchdown, the final score of the game on a six-yard pass. With all due respect, the people who gave him the award are idiots. The MVP of the game was Harrison for his touchdown against all odds to end the first half, the points that won the game.

Matty Boy says so. I've got the math and the video of the play to prove it.