Pete Carroll Was Right…and Wrong

There are a ton of articles out there dissecting the final Seahawks play of Super Bowl XLIX.  I think they’re all wrong.

Let me explain.

Pete Carroll – ND Enemy #1

ESPN Photo

ESPN Photo

I really dislike Pete Carroll.  Basically, being a Notre Dame fan, I have a significant dislike for USC.  And because it was recent history, and thus top of mind, Pete Carroll, as head coach at USC from 2001 to 2009, was principally responsible for that dislike (although Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart in the “Bush Push” fiasco in 2005 come a close second).  During that time span Notre Dame only won one game against USC.  So you can imagine how little I liked Pete Carroll.

But on top of all that, I particularly did not like the way that Carroll left USC.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no love for the USC football program, but running out on USC to go to the NFL just on the verge of all the sanctions being handed down, due to violations that occurred on his watch, was particularly disturbing.

So fast forward to Super Bowl XLIX where everyone is praising Carroll for his amazing work with the Seahawks and how he got snubbed by the Patriots back in 2000, and you can imagine how little sympathy I had.

But regardless of all that, if nothing else, I can be objective about football.  And being objective about the Seahawks final play of the game is tough, but let me give it a try.

First of all, let me say that although I can be objective about this, I definitely do not agree with the play as called.  The Seahawks have ridden on the back of it’s power running game and it’s zone read offense for two years now, so there was no reason to abandon it with the Super Bowl on the line.  But let’s just think about this for a moment.

Run or Pass?

NY Post Photo

NY Post Photo

I’m a gambler.  In particular, I really like Texas Hold Em Poker.  But then again, thanks to the coverage of the World Series of Poker on ESPN over the years, it’s almost harder to find a person who isn’t a fan of Texas Hold Em Poker.  The point is, when I play poker, I like to look at the numbers.  Before I decide whether to bluff a bad hand or push a good hand, I want to weigh the odds of me getting what I want versus coming up empty.  In poker, we call that calculating the pot odds.  Pot odds is a comparison of the current size of the pot to the cost of a contemplated bet.  You compare how much you stand to win for your bet versus the percentage chance you’ll hit a winning hand with a future card.  Sounds complicated, but it really boils down to “is my risk equal to or less than my potential reward”?

So now let’s look at what Carroll was faced with.

According to Grantland, over the last 5 years, a rushing play from the 1 yard line:

“scored 54.1 percent of the time and resulted in turnovers 1.5 percent of the time, while passes got the ball into the end zone 50.1 percent of the time and resulted in turnovers 1.9 percent of the time.”

So essentially, that means, all things being equal, you basically have as much a chance of scoring a touchdown passing the ball as you do running the ball, and your risk of turnover is also about the same.  OK, as a poker player, that means to me that there isn’t a clear path here to pick.  So let’s go to the next level.

According to Sports On Earth, in 4th and 1 situations, which are somewhat analogous to being on the 1-yard line, between 2010 and 2012, 72.0% of run plays were successful while 60% of pass plays were successful.  So perhaps there’s a slight benefit to running the ball in stacked box situations, but not enough yet to tip the scales.  So let’s start introducing the specific situational factors, that is, Marshawn Lynch.

The Lynch Pin Photo Photo

According to ESPN:

“among 39 running backs with at least 10 carries from the 1-yard line in the past five seasons (including playoffs), Lynch’s touchdown percentage (45 percent) ranks 30th. Also consider that this season, Lynch scored a touchdown on 1-of-5 rushes from the 1-yard line.”

Well, this I find very interesting.  We all think of Lynch as one of the best after contact runners in the NFL, which is absolutely true.  But it’s a far different situation when you’re making contact with a safety 7 yards downfield on first down than when you’re running into a stacked box on 4th down or at the 1-yard line.  The stat above proves that.

It’s like having A/9 of spades and looking at two spades on the board and thinking about going all-in with the World Series of Poker on the line with only one card to go.  You know you have 9 spades and perhaps an A or 9 potentially out there, meaning you have 15 potential outs with just the river to go.  What do you do? Well, this where the poker player makes his or her money.  You analyze what your opponent has showed you so far and make a play based on that.  Did they check the flop?  Were they baiting you? Did they raise after the second spade came out?  Also, have you been aggressive all game, or have you been passive? Will your opponent expect a raise to mean confidence or a bluff?

Carroll saw this on the field.  The Patriots had 8 in the box.  They theoretically had their goal line package, but kept three corners on the field for one on one coverage.  And who was covering Lockette? None other than undrafted rookie, Malcolm Butler, who at that moment, had never intercepted a ball in the NFL.

So was Pete Carroll crazy to call a pass play on the 1-yard line?  No, he was not.  But that’s not my beef with him.

The REAL Problem

AP Photo

AP Photo

My beef is that if Carroll was going to call a pass play, for whatever reason (and I’ve heard too many to reiterate at this point), then the last thing he should be calling is an inside slant.  Let’s think about this.  When you have a stacked box on defense, what does that mean?  Well, that means that the middle of the field, right at the line of scrimmage, is pretty jammed up.  Whether you run or pass in that situation, you’re likely to be outnumbered up the middle.  And that’s my problem with the call.

Pass play is fine.  If it was bootleg getting Wilson outside the pocket or a short out pattern, or heck, even a fade to the back corner, I get that.  Numerically, you’re one-on-one with your receivers there.  Inside, though, you’re swamped.

Let’s not take anything away from Malcolm Butler’s interception, as he played it perfectly.  But honestly, if Ricardo Lockette decided to keep running out (the ball was on the left hash, so there was plenty of space out right) instead of planting and going inside, Butler would have to close in behind Lockette.  Throwing the ball to the outside would give Lockette a chance to make a play while limiting Butler’s ability to intercept the ball.

But hey, anyone can be a Monday morning quarterback.  I know it.  Carroll took a chance and missed all his outs, and it turns out that Belichick was holding pocket A’s the whole time.  Let’s not criticize Carroll for calling a pass play.  There really isn’t any problem with that.  Let’s criticize him for calling the wrong pass play.

Phew, close call.  I was worried I was going to come out saying something nice about Carroll.

Getty Images

Getty Images

By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime

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