Copyright 2015 by John T. Reed
Okay. It is a pick-’em—on the scoreboard anyway.
Could the Pats have prevented the tying score before the half with better clock management?
Maybe. The Pats should have been in a slowdown after taking the lead, although that might have eliminated their own second TD. But more importantly, on their second TD drive, they were in a pace-graph situation. That is a chapter in my clock management book. It means to score before the end of the half, but to do so on a schedule that gets both the score AND leaves no time on the clock for the other team to come back.
I have not looked at the play-by-play to see if they snapped the ball too soon on any of those plays. There are two pace-graph charts: one if you need a FG and one if you need a TD. The TD one gives you less control because there is no field position where a TD is automatic. So the Pats had little to work with. But since the Seahawks TD came with :01 left, even a little bit of pace graph snap timing might have forced Seattle to settle for a field goal, or even take a knee instead of mounting a scoring drive before half. http://www.johntreed.com/FCM.html
Every second you leave on the clock unnecessarily may be the one your opponent uses to beat you. The rules in my clock book directed the Pats to adhere to the pace graph on their last possession of the first half. I don’t think they did. If I’m right, and they lose by a FG in the second half, their failure to go at a correct pace-graph pace on that last possession of the first half cost them the game.
I watched with my son Mike who coached with me and who was a football equipment manager for five years at Arizona—when Rob Gronkowski was a player there. My wife joined at the end of the game. We were rooting for the Pats.
In the fourth quarter, I was yelling at the TV when the Pats had the ball. “Stop trying to run between the tackles. It’s not working.” But they wouldn’t “listen.” At least until their final possession. Then they “listened” and only ran inside once—an 8-yard carry by Vereen—probably successful because they threw a bunch of passes and forced the Seahawks to loosen up on the run.
They scored and took the lead. Then I was yelling at the PATs defense. “Please. I’m begging you. Stop rushing only three. Blitz the spy who has accomplished nothing all night. Blitz someone.” Again, they wouldn’t “listen.”
On the most devastating play, the pass that Kearse bobbled five times then caught while lying on his back, Pats corner Malcolm Butler committed a clock mistake I call “premature mourning” in my book, that is, stopping before the whistle because you assume the play is over. True, he was a few feet away from the delayed catch, but he should still have been flailing at the ball to prevent the catch. Might not have worked because of the distance.
Butler had just made a great play a couple of plays before breaking up a pass. With a great effort, he might have grabbed the pass Kearse juggled. That would have ended the game. Also, another Pats defender engaged in premature mourning. He assumed the play was over and jumped over Kearse to avoid a penalty for late hit. He actually had a better chance to get the ball than Butler had he not gone off duty prematurely—before the whistle.
Butler, who was not only a rookie, but an undrafted one, thought they were now going to lose the game and it was going to be his fault.
In the Spring of 2014, the NFL held its annual draft. There are seven rounds. The last guy drafted in the 7th round is called “Mr. Irrelevant” because he rarely makes the team. Actually the last several rounds of draftees rarely make the team. An undrafted guy like Malcolm Butler is even more irrelevant than Mr. Irrelevant. For an undrafted free agent to make an NFL team is a Hollywood fantasy. For him to make the spectacular, reversal-of-fortune, game-winning interception with seconds left in the game is beyond Hollywood—it is a script that Hollywood would reject as too unbelievable, especially when they saw it relied on the world‘s dumbest play call by one of the league’s top coaches.
Then they gave the ball to Lynch who ran it to the one. #55 Akeem Ayers tackled him and deserved a ton of credit. He got none. That tackle saved the game. It was not much less important than the subsequent game-winning interception. I never heard his name mentioned during or since the game. Dont’a Hightower also made that tackle. He was low, Akeem wsa high.
Then with second and goal at the one, I said to my son and wife, “They’ll just hand it to Lynch and we lose.” Then I saw their formation had two wide receivers stacked at the bottom of the screen. “Bunch!“ I yelled. “They’re going to run a pick play.”
Had I been on the sideline of one of my teams’ games, I would have started yelling, “Pick play! Pick Play!” until the snap. The comment would be aimed at both the refs and my defense, who would have been coached about that play the week before the game. Pick plays per se are illegal. The legal word is “rub” play. They tried to do a rub in the Super Bowl, but the defenders apparently were assigned to a post-cut zone to cover with Butler having the inside break no matter which of the two receivers made it. The rub failed to happen because of good defense. The front receiver in the bunch, Kearse, tried to block the front defender against the bunch back into Butler. He failed to.
The same Malcolm Butler who committed premature mourning, an undrafted rookie who had never intercepted a pass in the NFL, became a man possessed and simultaneously threw a shoulder into the intended receiver—legal because he was going for the ball—and intercepted the pass. Butler jumped the play meaning he thought he diagnosed it early and gambled that he was right.
After the game, both coaches and the players involved said it was not a bad play call or pass. Pete Carroll even tried to excuse it on clock management—pace-graph thinking no less. Bull!
When you need a TD, you must try to get it on EVERY down. When a field goal is good enough—which it was not in this case—you just take a knee until fourth down then your kick. So they needed to go for the TD on each down.
Carroll said they were trying to make sure there was no time left on the clock after their score. Bull! Time was so tight the Pats let the clock run even though they had timeouts left. Normally, they would have used their timeouts figuring the Seahawks were going to score and take the lead so they needed as much time as possible to take it back after the TD.
Carroll’s explanation suggested it was more important to use all three remaining downs than to win the game. I think he even mentioned “wasting” a down. No. When you need a TD, my pace graph says to go for it on every play, even from the one.
You give it to Lynch twice if necessary and if you’re still not in, you can do whatever you want on fourth down—run or pass. Stopping the clock with an incompletion no longer matters. So the down for that look-in pick pass, if any, was fourth down, after Lynch got stopped twice short of the end zone—not likely. And if you think a pass is best on second or third down, throw one that rarely gets picked like a fade.
The coaches and players in the game all said there was nothing wrong with the play call or throwing the pass—Wilson could have taken a sack or thrown it away. But ALL of the TV and other analysts said you don’t call that play or throw that pass into that crowd, in that situation, especially with Marshawn Lynch having the season, post-season, and Super Bowl that he had.
The coaches and players were reading from as “always take the blame and never blame a coach or teammate or criticize an opposing coach” cliche script. Total bull. Carroll made it worse by trying to get technical with the clock and all. He should have just said, “I made the call. Seemed like a good idea at the time. If I could do it over I would give it to Lynch.”
Screw up. Take responsibility. But don’t compound it by insulting our intelligence and try to BS us about it. The pass play should not have been called and the pass should not have been thrown. That’s not 20/20 hindsight. We all would have said that beforehand. I DID say it beforehand.
It may have been the Gods saying to the Seahawks, you know, you only got into this game because of a monumental screw-up by Packers Coach Mike McCarthy, so we’re going to show you how it feels to be on the other end of one of those “give the ball and the championship away” dumb coach calls.
My son Dan points out that he has seen no coaches criticize the play call. I guess I have not either although Brian Billick called it maybe “too clever by half.” Dennis Miller said “too much thinking.” I agree with both. Carroll’s explanation is rather lengthy given the urgent, fairly simple situation he faced. He probably should have said what Coach Vince Lombardi said at the end of the Ice Bowl. “Run it and let’s get the hell out of here.” He was calling for the famous QB-sneak by Bart Starr, which did indeed win the game.
Would I have made the mistake? No. How can I be sure? First, I would have gone with instinct and feel down there in that situation. Only if the first two plays had failed might I have gotten cute—like faking a dive and booting out wide. But mainly, I would not have had the guts to throw a pass in that situation. The run was the smarter choice and the instinctive one, but I would have also seen the Ghost of Christmas Future, after a pick, asking, “Why did you pass instead of run, you idiot?” The only way I could have made that error is if I had spent a lot of time mentally rehearsing such a play and somehow convinced myself with differential equations or some such that it was the smart, gutsy call. I presume that’s why Billick, Green, and others all commented about Carroll doing too much thinking.
The truest response from any of the coaches and players to the final pick play was the expression on Tom Brady’s face which said, “They did what!? Threw a pass!? Are they crazy!? Giving up a pick would be the only way we could win the game!” And give up a pick in a situation where you never risk that is exactly what Seattle did and exactly why Brady was so astonished. If I were the editor of Sports Illustrated, I would probably split the cover with Tom Brady’s face on one side and the moment of the pick on the other.
In the 2014 regular season, Russell Wilson had a 1.55% rate of throwing interceptions per attempt. (Brady was the same.) Marshawn Lynch lost fumbles on .58% of his carries in 2014. Calculating the interception rate per attempt fails to count other adverse results like sacks, QB fumbles lost, and penalties unique to passing plays like ineligible downfield, interference, roughing the passer. When Carroll made the call, he was risking all of those adverse events that are not part of running plays. He could not really benefit from a defensive pass play penalty because there was no time to run more than three plays and the yardage penalty would only be half the distance.
Wilson fumbled a league-leading 13 times on 135 carries—a 10% rate, but apparently did not lose any. Not losing any was luck.
Then Belichick says after the game that he was not surprised by the pass. Give me a break. Tom sure as hell was.
Wilson threw the pass. Was the pick his fault? Tecnically, yes. He could have pulled it down, looked for another receiver, thrown it away.
But I must say when I looked at it in slow motion, the receiver looked open and he was running to a large open area in the middle of the formation. Butler—the interceptor—was visible to Wilson, but he probably thought Lockette was going to run in front of Butler. Wilson may have led Lockette a little bit more than was appropriate given the situation and man pass coverage. I don’t think Wilson could have anticipated that Butler was going to literally knock Lockette flying backward. Lockette was probably supposed to be running full speed toward the spot where the pass was thrown. It looked to me like Lockette may have turned his upper body toward the QB which would slow him down. It may be the pass was perfect, but the receiver slowing down made it look like he was led too far in front.
So, I would say Wilson and Lockette could have been more perfect and he could have made sure he know where the defender who had Lockette was, but it was truly more of a great play by Butler than a bad throw by Wilson.
That is not to let Carroll off the hook for calling a pass play.
Fans and the media tend to see all victories as caused by a great play by one of the winning team. They don’t want to hurt the feelings of the losers. But the truth is maybe half the big games are lost by a mistake by the losers rather than won by winning team greatness on the final big play.
In 2012, our local San Francisco Giants won the World Series by a walkoff called third strike thrown by Romo. Everyone said it was the best pitch of his life. No, it was a fast ball right down the middle of the plate to the Triple Cown winning batter with the tying run on base as I recall. It was the worst pitch of Romo’s career, and, fortunately for Romo, also the worst pitch of the triple crown winner’s career, which cancelled out Romo’s mistake.
On Monday, I heard a semi-plausible explanation of the call from Tim Hasselbeck, a retired NFL QB now doing TV analysis. He said the Pats were in goal line D and they had the Seahawks outnumbered on the line of scrimmage. “It’s math,” he said. The Seahawks did not have enough guys to block all the Pats on the D line.
Hasselbeck has a better player resume than I do. But he never coached. It’s an important distinction. But acknowledging his resume, let me now set that aside and explain why he’s wrong regardless of resume. I watched that play in slow motion repeatedly.
The Seahawks aligned in what I would call shotgun left bunch right. They had a tight end on the left, and just a guard and tackle on the right side of the interior line. The bunch on the right consisted of a split end and a flanker stacked behind him. Marshawn Lynch was to the right side of QB Wilson. Receiver #89 was on the right in the backfield.
Wilson told Lynch to move to the other—left—side of Wilson. At the same time #89 wandered over to the left side and settled at flanker. Lynch and #89 wandering around like that was arguably a legal shift because both were set for one second before the snap, although I’m not sure #89 was. Anyway, no flag. Refs don’t like to punish illegal behavior in such situations. And it would have been declined.
The defense appeared to me to be in cover one, man under. That is, there was a safety in the middle of the defense backfield. Apparently, he had the QB in the event of a read-option play. Pass-wise the safety was in one-man zone coverage. In other words, he had the whole field. Five other defenders—all first-string pass defenders—were each assigned to a receiver—typical goal-line pass coverage. That left just five to rush. The Seahawks had a center and two guards and two tackles to block them. So much for Hasselbeck’s “math.” I didn’t play in the NFL, but I did complete third-grade arithmetic. Not sure about Hasselbeck.
The two defenders on the stack receivers met stack with stack—correct alignment. The back of the defense stack was about two yards behind the front defender—to avoid colliding when the receivers broke. Also correct alignment. I could not tell if the rear corner—Malcolm Butler—had the rear receiver or was assigned to whomever broke inside. If he had the rear receiver, good luck, because he had a long commute to stop the guy on an in-breaking route and the receiver only had one yard to go to get to the end zone.
On the snap, Lynch instantly ran a pass route out to the left informing all the standing-up defenders that there would be no Lynch run on this play, and that it was a pass play. The rear receiver in the stack instantly broke inward at a 45º angle. Butler did the same faster than the receiver. The safety read Wilson’s eyes, which is correct, but would not have arrived in time.
Butler had to break early on where he thought the ball was going. He did and he was right about where the ball was going. He also had to both knock the intended receiver out of the way—he flattened him—and make the catch if he wanted to end the game. He did both.
I saw Butler interviewed from Disneyland. He said they had practiced defending that exact play out of that formation last week and that Belichick chewed him out for taking a drop (backward) first step when the play began and said you must blast off for the pass-arrival spot full speed and you cannot waste a step. So that play, which Carroll apparently thought would be a surprise because the Pats had “goal line personel” in, was anything but a surprise to Butler and the Pats. The element of surprise is overrated in football, especially when you have a formation tendency as the Seahawks did in this case.
The ESPN panel said the play to call was not a dive or lead play to Lynch—as they had done on the previous play—but read option with Wilson either giving it to Lynch or keeping it himself based on Wilson’s read of a particular defender. The safety would have had to stop Wilson in the case, but he had to stay in the middle of the field before the snap because the read-option play could go to either side. Given Wilson’s athletic ability and Lynch’s size and strength, I expect either of the two read options—keep or give—would have won the game.
I would say the same about dive or lead to Lynch. The Pats had no mathematical advantage on the D line. It was a hat on a hat—five against five. Plus has Hasselbeck ever heard of a double team block? If you run to the left, you don’t need to block the D tackle on the offense’s right. You can double-team a defender at the point of attack.
And I suspect Lynch don’t need no stinking double-team block. For most of the game, it took several Pats to tackle him. One might get to him in that one-yard run, but several would be too late. Lynch don’t need no stinking math either. Math applies to clock management, but not to deciding whether to give Lynch the ball on the one.
My approach to that defense at the one is to fake a dive and boot out wide. In the NFL, with the speed of the defenders, that might be less successful. Then again, Russell Wilson is a great open-field runner. With the receivers running decoy routes, five defenders in man pass coverage and five D-line men tangled up at the line of scrimmage, a Wilson run-pass option boot would have been Wilson against the Pats safety, who was too far away to get there in time, not even counting Wilson’s athletic ability.
Big-picture bottom line: With only one yard to go and Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson in the backfield, and three downs, you do not need to risk a pass, which is really NE’s only chance to win.
Parenthetically, I was Ryan Whalen’s first head coach when he was a freshman at Monte Vista High School in Danville, CA down the street from my house. Ryan starred at the high school on varsity—not so much on the frosh team where he had never played the sport before and had not yet grown—and he starred again at Stanford—under Jim Harbaugh.
Ryan was on the Bengals from 2011 to 2013—6'1" 200 pounds, the only white wide receiver taken in the 2011 draft (6th round, 167th overall). Tell me about it. My son Dan was a white tailback in the Ivy League. Ryan is now, he hopes, between NFL teams. He did not play in 2014.
At Stanford, Ryan led all the receivers in receiving. One of the other receivers was asked to switch positions—to corner. His name is Richard Sherman. He was still playing in the NFL this season—famously—for the Seahawks—still at corner.
My son Dan is okay with the play call. We discussed it at length and the discussion may be of interest to readers.
He accepts Carroll’s explanation.
I say Carroll’s explanation applies to earlier in the game. Two forces should have changed Carroll’s thinking as the game progressed. You don’t make decision the same when the time left to reverse adverse events is short. The other is the stakes.
Most people understand the first principle when talking about financial investments for younger versus older people. It is said that older investors must choose more conservative investments than younger people because they have less time to re-earn the lost money if they lose money.
The same is true of the teams in a football game. With each passing minute, they have less time to recover from adverse events like loss plays, incompletions, turnovers. Therefore, the coaches must call plays more conservatively as the end of the game approaches the same as older investors must invest more conservatively as retirement approaches.
Carroll seems to understand pretty well a decision tool we learned at Harvard Business School: expected value. That is best explained by example.
Suppose I tell Carroll we’re going to roll a die. If it comes up 1 or 6, he loses his bet. If it comes up 2, 3, 4, or 5, he doubles his money. Obviously, he should take the bet. If he bets $1,000, he can win another $1,000 or lose the $1,000, but his chances of winning are twice his chances of losing: 2/3 compared to 1/3. The expected value of the bet is 2/3 x 1,000 - 1/3 x $1,000 = $3,333. When the expected value is greater than the cost to play, you play. In casinos and state lotteries or horse races, the expected value is always less than the cost to play. That means only people who don’t understand expected value engage in those activities.
So, Pete, I’m impressed that you seem to make decisions based on expected value. But you were apparently out the next day at Harvard Business School when we studied a companion decision tool called Risk Preference. I do not like that phrase. I call it percentage-of-your-net-worth sensitivity.
Back to the die Pete is betting on with me. Forget the $1,000 bet, now we’re going big time. The minimum bet is Pete’s entire net worth, that is, his entire life savings.
It will still have an expected value greater than the cost to play. So he should do it, right? Spock of Star Trek fame might. He’s very logical.
Will he do it? Hell, no! Should he do it? Hell, no!
Why not if the rule is you bet when the expected value exceeds the cost to bet?
Because he will be far worse off—a bankrupt pauper—if it comes up 1 or 6 and he will only be richer if it comes up 2, 3, 4, or 5.
When the pass was intercepted at the end of the game, a camera caught Pete on the sideline tearing off his headset and throwing it on the ground and putting his hands on his knees with his head down. He was thunderstruck, devastated. That was the only honesty he showed with regard to that play call, then he quickly got back in character with all the “no problem, good play call, other team just made a great play” bullshit.
Would he have reacted that way it if were the end of the first quarter rather than the end of the fourth when the pass was intercepted? Of course not.
The problem is his decision-making process was correct for earlier-in-game regular-season-game decisions, but not for a “old age,” high-stakes decisions where there is no time to overcome an adverse event and the stakes are winning a Super Bowl in front of the largest TV audience in history for any kind of broadcast.
The object of the game is to have more points at the end than your opponent. Pete acted as if the object of the game is to make as many decisions based on expected value without regard to stakes and time left or season left as possible—as if someone was going to give him credit for making the “right” decision mathematically, even if the result sucked—like kicking an onside kick and not recovering it or kicking a chip shot field goal that misses.
If Carroll had called a run by Lynch, and Lynch fumbled to the Patriots, no one would blame Carroll. They would blame Lynch. Lynch is supposed to hold onto the ball, a relatively simple skill and focus—especially on the one-yard line for the game-winning TD in the Super Bowl. Carroll, however, chose to put the ball into the air on about a six- or seven-yard flight during which it can be picked clean or tipped and picked. If you take a ball that can be held tightly for the entire play on a run, and take it out of your players’ hands and put it up into the air where it can theoretically be grabbed by any of 11 defensive players and only five offensive players—it had better work, Pete.
I saw him once get interviewed briefly at the beginning of half time when he was a college coach. It pissed me off. His team had played lousy in the first half. His attitude was to convey that he was the coolest cucumber on earth. No problem. Surprised you would even suggest he had a problem. Quiet voice. 100% certainty. “We’ll be fine. We just need to make a couple of adjustments.”
They got their asses kicked in the second half, too. I am well aware that leaders need to maintain a calm, confident demeanor in the heat of battle. But you also have to be yourself and be authentic. Obama does this crap, too. I have accused him of getting his entire leadership style from the 1980s ad slogan of Dry Idea deodorant: “Never let them see you sweat.”
Who do Carroll and Obama think they’re kidding with this bullshit?
Much of the discussion has been that the Seahawks need to stay on script, stay together, not criticize the Coach or the QB. In other words, act like a bunch of lying politicians publicly. Carroll’s taking responsibility is not enough. Lying politicians do that all the time. What he needs to do is say what it is he is taking responsibility for and convince his team that it will not happen again. So far all he is taking responsibility for is making a correct play call and having it not work because of an great play by Malcolm Butler.
Think about the perspective of the Seahawk players now. They did everything they needed to do since last February to win this Super Bowl, then all that effort was thrown away by their coach calling a totally unnecessary risky play. I suspect none of his players will ever look at him the same way again and that it will be fatal to his leading them to success next season. Lifetime achievement does not matter in this business. Only “What have you done for me lately?”
The music industry has a phrase for artists who are famous for just one song: One-Hit Wonders.
Pete Carroll has now joined the sports-world counterpart—One-Play Blunders—along with the likes of Bill Buckner (1986 World Series through-the-legs error), Ara Parseghian (told players to settle for a tie during 1966 Game of the Century with Michigan State), Ralph Branca (threw the pitch that Bobby Thompson hit for a walk-off, Giants win the pennant! homer), Lean Lett (three-play blunderer with the latest coming in 2014 by one of the Dallas D linemen he coaches), Bob Gibson (Giants OC who decided to run plays instead of taking a knee in the Miracle at the Meadowlands—career ended the next day; head coach and GM were fired at the end of the season), Steve Bartman (Cubs fan whose interference with a fly ball seemed to cause the loss of the pennant series), Sam Rutigliano (Browns coach who called a pass instead of a field goal when a FG was enough in AFC championship loss to Raiders—it was intercepted), Joe Gibbs (Redskins coach who called time to freeze kicker before game-winning 51-yard field goal, then called a second TO earning a 1-yard penalty; Buffalo made the 36-yard field goal to win with 4 seconds left), Paul Wiggin (Stanford head coach during “The Play” when Cal did the five-lateral kick return for the Big Game-winning TD at the buzzer), Charlie Weatherbie (1995 Navy coach up up 13-7 over Army, ball at one-foot line, fourth down, 8:26 left, chose to pass instead of kick, QB totally missed wide-open receiver and pass fell incomplete, Army took over on downs and drove 99 2/3 yards to win 14-13).
Many of these blunders came to overshadow the careers of men who previously had great successes that were all but forgotten because of the one blunder—or blunders plural in the case of Lett. I Googled “worst football coach” blunders to be reminded of some of these. Pete Carroll’s play call is already in the list.
Carroll did what most of the people on the blunder list did. He snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
I have said that a football coach’s job is to make the decision that maximizes win probability throughout the game. Figuring that out was crucial to my figuring out how to write my clock-management book. I doubt more than a fraction of one percent of coaches understand that is their job description: maximizing win probability on every play. My Football Clock Management book has eleven index entries about win probability.
Pete Palmer, is one of the authors of the Hidden Game of Football which mentions me and my clock book. He created tables that show what a football team’s win probability is for every first down, score margin, field position, and time remaining in the game situation. They are three-digit decimals, like baseball batting averages. For example, if each team has the same chance of winning, they each have a win probability of .500.
There is an excellent win probability diagram of the last seven minutes of the game in the 3/3/15 Wall Street Journal. Google the article title “How the Patriots Solved the Seahawks.”
If you stand and do nothing while the play clock is running between plays, the win probability of each team changes because of the clock. Roughly speaking, the win probability of the trailing team goes down with each second that runs off the clock and the win probability of the other team is 1.000 - the win probability of the opponent, therefore it goes up.
A turnover near the end of a game reverses the win probability of the two teams, and the closer it is to the end of the game, the greater the change is win probability. After Lynch’s run to the 1-yard line, the win probability of the Seahawks was about 62% or .620 which means the win probability of the Pats was 1.000 - .620 or .380.
I created a thing I call a play profile. It is a bar chart that shows how many time the play in question gained 1 yard, how many times it gained 2 yards, how many times it lost 1 yard, and so on. It shows all the results of running that play all season up to that point. There are two of them on pages 170 and 171 of my book Coaching Youth Football, 4th edition. In the case of called pass plays, it shows the result regardless of whether the pass was thrown, that is, sacks and QB pulling the ball down and running are among the results shown. Fumbles and picks and penalties unique to the play call should also be included in a play profile.
As you can imagine, what it shows for running plays is that the play usually gains at least a couple of yards and rarely loses yards and rarely results in a turnover. Some running plays, like outside-hand-off (away from the line of scrimmage) reverses, risk big losses but also occasionally get big gains. Option plays risk turnovers more.
Pass plays are like the outside-hand-off reverse, only more so. Many zero gain (incompletions) plays, many loss-plays (sacks), and the worst plays for turnovers (picks and QB fumbles).
So when you only need to go one yard, you have lots of different running plays you can run that have a near-zero disaster potential, especially if you have three downs left and time enough to run them. Furthermore, you can pick the play with the best success probability—expected value—taking into account all the stuff Carroll was claiming he was thinking about like defensive personnel, defensive alignment, and all that, on fourth down, because all fourth-and-goal plays either end in a score or a turnover no matter what. So turnover-disaster potential is no longer a factor. This would also be true of a first-, second-, or third-down play if it were going to be the last play of the half because of too little time remaining. That’s all in my book.
Should Belichick have called timeout during the Seahawks final drive. I heard lots of discussion about Belichick not calling time out at the end of the game. Well I’ll be damned. Half-way good clock-management thinking, folks. I doubt that would have happened before my book came out in 1997.
However, I wrote the book and I was not thinking Belichick should call a time out at the end of the game. Why not?
My rule is you switch to a hurry-up tempo when your win probability drops below .500. That happened to the Pats when Kearse made that juggling catch at the five-yard line, but not before. See the Journal graph.
One of the rules of the hurry-up is to call timeout ASAP after the play ends, including when you are on defense. But there was only about a minute left then and on that final Seahawks drive, they had wasted two timeouts. They only had one left.
The Seahawks were going to be stressed trying to run multiple plays. The Pats calling timeouts would alleviate that. My rule says YOU ONLY CALL TIMEOUT ON DEFENSE WHEN THE OPPONENT IS IN A MAXIMUM SLOWDOWN!
Here is the play-by-play of the final Seahawks’ possession with my comments in red:
|S.Gostkowski kicks 65 yards from NE 35 to end zone, Touchback.||28||24|
|1st and 10 at SEA 20||(2:02) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep left to M.Lynch to NE 49 for 31 yards (J.Collins).|
|1st and 10 at NE 49||(1:55) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete deep right to J.Kearse (M.Butler).|
|Timeout #1 by SEA at 01:50. Why? Clock was stopped by the incompletion.|
|2nd and 10 at NE 49||(1:50) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete deep right to C.Matthews (B.Browner).|
|3rd and 10 at NE 49||(1:41) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to R.Lockette to NE 38 for 11 yards (L.Ryan).|
|1st and 10 at NE 38||(1:14) (No Huddle, Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep right to J.Kearse pushed ob at NE 5 for 33 yards (M.Butler).|
|Timeout #2 by SEA at 01:06. Why? They should have gone to a maximum slowdown because of big gain. If Seattle had not called this timeout, NE should have.|
|1st and 5 at NE 5||(1:06) M.Lynch left tackle to NE 1 for 4 yards (D.Hightower).|
|2nd and 1 at NE 1||(:26) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right intended for R.Lockette INTERCEPTED by M.Butler at NE -1. M.Butler to NE 2 for 3 yards (R.Lockette). PENALTY on NE, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, 1 yard, enforced at NE 2. Seattle wants to be able to run 3 more plays and they have one timeout. After the second down play if not stopped by incompletion or going out of bounds, they will call time then have :20 left but no timeouts. Whether they can run two plays in :20 is questionable. The average play takes about :06. That leaves about :12 to get lined up and start the final play. Tight. Carroll said this was a “waste” play and they could stop the clock by throwing the ball away then use the last time out after the third-down play. If they use the timeout after the first-down play, the clock is at 1:00 for the second-down play. If that does not stop the clock, as a run play probably would not, the play would end at about :54. That leaves plenty of time to line up, run the third-down play, then line up again and run the fourth down play.|
|Timeout #2 by NE at 00:20. This is after the interception, just trying to avoid a saftey because of the tightfield position. In the event, NE hard counted the Seahawks and got a five-yard encroachment penalty where they just took a knee.|
My rules say the Pats should have called timeout after the 33-yard pass to Kearse, but not if the idiot Seahawks call it, which they did. So it was reasonable for Belichick to assume that the Seahawks would do that again with their final timeout after the first-down play. It took a few seconds for Belichick to realize Seattle was not going to call that timeout. But he, and I guess I, seemed to sense that the Seahawks would be helped by a timeout. He decided to let them fight the clock for the remaining two plays if the first did not succeed, apparently figuring it would lessen their ability to get into the end zone and that was probably a better path to victory than getting the ball back and trying to go 50 yards (field goal would tie unless got a two-point conversion) in about :45 if Belichick had used his three timeouts during the Seahawks final posssession.
There was not enough time for the Pats to go all the way down the field and score given that they could only complete short passes against the Seahawks defense all day. So the best use of the clock for the Pats during the Seahawks’ final drive was to let the Seahawks fight it. The Seahawks still have that timeout.
Carroll’s use of time outs on this possession was idiotic. He called one after an inccompletion when the clock was already stopped—a total waste. Then, when he should have switched to a maximum slowdown after the big gain to the 5-yard line (See my maginfied SFL TD pace graph page 174 of the fifth edition), he used a hurry-up timeout (called right after the play ended). He should have called none. The Pats should have called a hurry-up timeout as soon as the play ended because each team should be doing the opposite of the other asuming the other is doing the right thing.
After the gain to the five, the Seahawks are in max slowdown and the Pats in max hurry-up. But each team did the opposite of what they should. Carroll caled a hurry-up timeout. That caused Belichick to silently accept Carroll gift of one hurry-up timeout to the Patriots.
The best time for Carroll to then use his final time out would be after the third-down play, not the second-down play. He would use it the way a team stops the clock at :03 to kick a field goal. The most likely sequence would be to run the second- and third-down plays in a hurry-up then, after the third-down play, let the clock go down to :03, call timeout, then run the final play of the game.
You want to know how rare throwing a pick on the one-yard line is. The one Carroll called in the Super Bowl was the only one-yard-line pick all season. So says the same Wall Street Journal, America’s best coaching periodical.
There were 61 one-yard-line passes this season that were not picked, but probably not on second down with :30 left in the Super Bowl. The Journal said it would have been better to run a QB run pass option. That is one alternative I like. Also the read option or a fake dive boot. A whole lot of possible plays that would not risk disaster.
This season, Luck threw a game-winning, one-yard TD pass with :36 left in the Colts-Browns game. There should have been almost the same outcry about that, but because it worked and was not a Super Bowl, there was none.
There are times in football when you have to risk disaster because it is the least bad choice—onside kick, last-second long-range field goal, hail mary, multiple-lateral play. The trouble with Pete Carroll in the Super Bowl is he risked disaster when he still had lots of other choices.
I just saw Bill Belichick talking on TV at my gym. He said there was nothing wrong with Pete Carroll’s play call and that people should stop criticizing it, adding that virtually all the critics were “unqualified” to criticize Carroll.
Translation: he told us to shut up.
Kiss my ass. Bill.
The reason he is saying this is not because it’s true, but because of what Ronald Reagan called the 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not criticize a fellow Republican,” or, in this case, a fellow coach.
It is also further evidence of the truth of George Bernard Shaw’s observation that, “All professions are conspiracies against the laity.” Bill is making a deposit into his “I’ll never criticize you so you must never criticize me” account in the coaching profession conspiracy-against-the-laity bank.
It is perhaps first and foremost a manifestation of the utter lack of job security in coaching. Jim Harbaugh just got fired by the 49ers in spite of a great record. George Seifert had the highest winning percentage in NFL history—higher than Vince Lombardi, when the Niners fired him.
Belichick and all other coaches look at Carroll and think, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Hell, Belichick recently, in a playoff game, made the astonishing mistake of telling his QB to take a knee too early. He said it was NOT a mistake after the game. He was lying. I was not lying when I wrote back then that it WAS a mistake. If he had lost the game, he would have been in huge trouble, like Carroll is now.
Belichick is also following the rule that “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” I have criticized Belichick on a number of occasions for his refusal to learn and implement football clock management best practices.
Actually, I agree with that rule. But when Belichick goes beyond “no comment” about Carroll’s play call, he is going beyond merely not throwing stones. And he was throwing stones when he told us “unqualified” people to shut up. I’m guessing he thinks his four Super Bowl rings make him immune from criticism.
Bull! His many clock-management screw-ups make him a prime candidate for criticism. He got this rings in spite of his clock incompetence. And there is a good chance that one of these days, his refusal to learn and implement clock best practices will hurt him, maybe with a legacy-destroying play call like Carroll. Like I said, he started taking a knee too early recently in a playoff game. That could have been it had he lost the game because of it.
Because of the lack of job security, football coaches are first and foremost politicians. Coaching is SECOND in their skill set. The world is full of great football coaches who are not currently coaching because of politics. Politicians lie. Head football coaches are politicians.
I have discussed clock management one-on-one with two other Super Bowl-winning coaches. One, who I am not at liberty to name, attacked me like Belichick for not being qualified to criticize what he did at the end of one NFL game.
I wrote back (email exchange) that I WAS qualified on the grounds that I can tell time, read a rule book, and had coached enough to understand how little practice time there is and how hard it is to make decisions on the sideline during a game with the play clock and game clocks running. And I noted that conspicuous by its absence was his identifying the specific mistake in my fact and logic-filled analysis of his screw-up.
He then apologized to me, said my analysis was, in fact, correct, but that he could not say so publicly because the problem was the head coach had taken over momentarily during that series and it was HE who made the mistake, not the coach who yelled at me.
The other Super Bowl-winning coach I talked to was Bill Walsh. He was the first clinic giver at an exclusive, small clinic given at NCAA HQ on June 1, 2004 for top minority college coordinators to try to increase their chances of being hired as head coaches. I was the second speaker.
Bill sat in the front row for my clinic on clock management. When it was over, he came up to me and said, “That was really good!” I asked him how I might improve it. He said, “Stop apologizing for not having played or coached college football. You’re The Man on football clock management. Act like it!”
I’m going to follow that Bill’s advice, not the other Bill’s order to shut up.
John T. Reed