Monday, February 2, 2015

Good call, Seahawks!

It's the morning after Super Bowl XLIX, and all anyone is talking about is what a monstrously bad call the Seahawks made in throwing a pass, when they could have handed the ball to the best running back on the planet, Marshawn Lynch.  Malcolm Butler intercepts, Patriots win.  It was a shocking moment, and everybody was immediately wondering why Lynch didn't get the ball.

That was my initial reaction, too.  We have this human tendency to judge decisions based on results, but that's not always the right way to look at things.  The easy way, yes, but not necessarily the best way.

The more I look at it, the more convinced I am that the play they called was a great call!

Consider the situation:  2nd and goal on the 1, 26 seconds left, one time out.  If you run Lynch on the first play, you have to call time out to run another play.  If you run him again, either time runs out, or you have to rush to the line so quickly that you give yourself scant chance of executing perfectly.

And let's not assume that he'd make it in.  Vince Wilfork is a great run stuffer, and if the rest of the Patriots are lined up in the box waiting for Lynch to run, they might very easily stop him.  As good as he is, he's sometimes stopped for no gain, or even for a loss.  In this situation, where everyone expects him to run and you have an outstanding defense committed to stopping it, there's a very good chance that he wouldn't have made it in.

Sure, he's good enough that he might make it, especially given two tries, but he coulda/woulda/shoulda gotten two tries anyway!  A run on the first try might very easily have resulted in a two yard loss, in which case Seattle would have to burn their timeout and would have 3rd and 3 with something like 11 seconds left.  In which case they might have to throw anyway, but would lose the element of surprise.

You're throwing a very short, crisp pass on a pick play into single coverage against an undrafted rookie, when nobody is expecting it.  This wasn't a floater into double coverage in the back of the end zone.  This play very often works.  If it had worked this time, everyone would be hailing Carroll as a genius for defying expectations.  And we would have been talking about what stones he had for making the call.  Ask Packer fans what they think of coaches who always go with the obvious, conservative call.

When a play like this doesn't work, it's usually an incompletion, in which case the Seahawks get two more tries with Lynch anyway.  The only reasons it didn't:  (1) the ball was just a hair high and wide, which was the only place it could have gone where Butler would have a play on it, and (2) Butler did a terrific job of recognizing the play, breaking decisively and immediately, and somehow holding on to the ball.

If the ball were anywhere else, or Butler hadn't made such a fantastic play, we wouldn't be having this conversation.  In all probability, Seattle would have won its second consecutive Lombardi Trophy.

Let's not sell Butler short. That play should have worked just fine.  It didn't, thanks to Butler's individual brilliance and things going just right, or just wrong, depending on your perspective.

Let me put it this way:  if were somehow able to simulate this game effectively, and run this pass play a thousand times and an initial run to Lynch a thousand times, I'd bet that the pass play would work out better more of the time.

That's where I'd actually put my money.  You might be regretting that you can't take that bet, but from where I sit, I think the Seahawks made a great call.

Fortune does what it does.  It burned New England in its two previous Super Bowls with miraculous catches by David Tyree and Mario Manningham, and it seemed like it was somehow happening again with that crazy catch by Jermaine Kearse.  Only this time, fortune turned the tables, and the Patriots caught the break.