The Math Behind Pittsburgh's Epic Thursday Night Loss
I, a Steeler fan, want to blame everything.
It was a disaster. There's no reason the Steelers should be sitting at 2-2 today. There's no reason the Ravens, on defense while down three and in Baltimore territory with just over a minute left, should have won last night's contest.
I don't feel this way because I'm a bitter Steeler fan, though. I feel this way because of math.
After the two-minute warning, Pittsburgh, up by a field goal and in Baltimore territory, had over a 97 percent chance of winning Thursday night's game, per numberFire Live. After a couple of runs and timeouts to stop the clock on each one, kicker Josh Scobee took the field to attempt a field goal that would put Pittsburgh up six.
He missed it. And it was his second missed field goal in just a minute and a half of game play.
Baltimore then responded, drove down the field and kicked a game-tying field goal to force overtime.
In OT, the Steelers found themselves in Baltimore territory once again. On a 1st-and-10 from the Baltimore 47, Pittsburgh's win probability sat at 65.77%. A pair of Le'Veon Bell runs and an incomplete pass brought up 4th-and-2, and there was no chance they'd give Scobee's leg a chance to try a super long field goal towards the open end of Heinz Field.
So they went for it. But instead of giving it to their All-Pro running back, the Steelers ran quarterback Michael Vick to the outside where he was stuffed for no gain.
At this point in time -- again, according to numberFire Live -- Pittsburgh's chances of winning the game fell to just 26.55%. A big reason for that is because a field goal from Baltimore would end it.
After a Ravens punt and good return, though, the Steelers eventually found themselves in nearly the exact same spot as the previous drive. This time they were on the Baltimore 33-yard line, facing a 3rd-and-2 with 76.74% odds to win the game.
A failed one-yard pass from Michael Vick then led to one of the more questionable calls in such a chaotic game, when Haley and company decided it would be a good idea to throw to Antonio Brown on 4th-and-1. It was incomplete, the Ravens took over, drove down the field and Justin Tucker nailed a game-winning field goal.
Take a look at the win probability chart below:
So let's recap. Pittsburgh was essentially a lock to win with about two minutes left, but Josh Scobee failed to make a field goal, giving the Ravens a short field. Then, in overtime, the Steelers had 65.77% and 76.74% win odds at different points of the extra period. Both times, they failed to simply run the ball with their best offensive weapon, opting to put the game in a 35-year-old backup's hands -- a 35-year-old backup who finished the contest playing far below expectation with a -9.39 Passing Net Expected Points total.
Hindsight's 20/20, sure. It's easy to criticize horrific play-calling when the plays don't work out. But, time after time, the Steelers failed to close last night's game out in the most obvious ways imaginable. And because of that, the Ravens were able to destroy math.