In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell talks about our adaptive unconscious; fast acting brain processes that pull together decisions in the absence of hard data. His theory, (unscientifically demonstrated by casual anecdotes and cherry picked academic studies,) is that spontaneous decisions are often better than well thought out ones. Going further he insists that the thought out decision making of experts is often compromised by information overload or unconscious bias.
I don’t know how the Seahawks make game strategy and play-calling decisions. We probably will never know for sure if this 2nd-and-Goal from the 1 scenario was analyzed and planned for by the brain trust in game planning meetings, or if it was the snap decision of one of the coaches.
There’s a lot of layers to this one. Second down, 30 seconds, clock running, one timeout, position groupings, formations, matchups, Tom Brady on the opposite sideline. First priority has to getting in the end zone, but what maximizes the odds of doing that? And what else needs to be considered?
The first response to the interception was simple, fast, and fierce. These are just a few actual text messages I received in the moments after the play.
- “Most unbelievable play call I’ve ever seen.”
- “Even me being a coach on Madden would have made a better call.”
- “I still don’t believe it. Doesn’t matter how many more we in, I’ll never accept this.”
- “I’m at a loss.”
- “Well that was dumb.”
We all have a natural inclination to blame the play call when things go poorly, but give credit to the players when a play goes well. It’s easy. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do, and sometimes it’s not.
Many smart people have weighed in on the validity of the play call. Here are summaries:
Bill Barnwell, who I love, expounds on the clock management portion:
“You can understand why Carroll might be afraid of getting burned in what seemed like a hopeless situation for the opposition, because you only have to go back to Seattle’s last playoff loss to remember how quickly things can swing. That was during the 2012 playoffs, when the Seahawks came back from a 27-7 deficit in the fourth quarter to take a 28-27 lead with 34 seconds to go. In that game, the Seahawks handed the ball to Lynch on first-and-goal from the 2-yard line, and he immediately scored.
Despite the stunning comeback, Atlanta got the ball back with two timeouts, completed a pair of passes, and got a 49-yard field goal from Matt Bryant to win the game. The Packers, furthermore, responded to another huge Seattle comeback by taking over with 1:19 left and driving for a game-tying field goal in the NFC Championship Game.”
Later in the same article he points out that passing may be safer and more likely to succeed than running:
“…this season it was more dangerous to run the football from the 1-yard line than it was to throw it. Before Sunday, NFL teams had thrown the ball 108 times on the opposing team’s 1-yard line this season. Those passes had produced 66 touchdowns (a success rate of 61.1 percent, down to 59.5 percent when you throw in three sacks) and zero interceptions. The 223 running plays had generated 129 touchdowns (a 57.8 percent success rate) and two turnovers on fumbles.”
Andy Benoit calls out our WRs:
“Bevell has limited resources. None of Seattle’s wide receivers can consistently separate from man coverage, and their quarterback, great as he is on extended plays, can’t make many throws from the pocket. That makes things tough on an offensive coordinator.”
Hugh Millen points out some failures of execution, rather than playcall (via Peter King)
“… all three parties—Wilson and receivers Jermaine Kearse and Ricardo Lockette—are at fault …
Start with Kearse. His job is to fight through the block of Browner and somehow impede the progress of Butler trying to get to the likely intended receiver, Lockette. At the snap of the ball, Browner engages Kearse, and Kearse never touches Butler. Bad play by Kearse.
Now Lockette. His job is to run a slant behind Kearse and catch a quick pass from Wilson. The pass might be a competitive one, because the corner is obviously going to try to break it up. Lockette has three inches and 22 pounds on Butler. … Lockette should have been more physical here to fight for the ball, and he might have been had he not stared a hole through Wilson as he ran his route. Fail by Lockette.
Now Wilson. His confidence and guts might have gotten the best of him here. That’s how it looked to me. As a quarterback in this situation, you have to know the most important thing by far here is zero risk. Wilson took a risk.”
The brilliant minds at fivethirtyeight.com are succinct:
“Carroll’s decision wasn’t the epically bad call many have made it out to be.”
The experts have done their research, weighed the probabilities and determined that passing the ball there “wasn’t the epically bad call many have made it out to be.”
I love experts. I love probabilities, statistics, and macro-thinking. I do. But we all know they are wrong. We can rationalize decisions that fail, but sometimes simple is just better. RUN THE FOOTBALL. Everyone in the stands knew it was going to Marshawn, everyone watching on TV knew it was going to Marshawn. Maybe he gets stopped once. Maybe even twice. But to take the ball away from an elite RB is just not the right move. Compound that further and make our mobile and improvising QB fire off a snap throw? Just not right.
I think we are all starting to understand the thought process that drove this flawed decision, and there are valid reasons to consider a pass in that situation. But it was a flawed decision and I’m not over it yet.