Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Pete Carroll's Not so Terrible Call

When I saw the interception that ended the Super Bowl, I joined the cacophony of voices, both at my house and on Twitter, who thought Pete Carroll had made a grave mistake: Why did he call for a pass, when he could have given the ball to the best running back in the game?  Having had a few days to think about it, I now think our criticism was unfair.

The key to understanding Carroll's decision is this: He's got to look at the big picture. In this case, that includes (1) responding to the players the Patriots have on the field, (2) having a contingency plan if a touchdown isn't scored on 2nd down and (3) introducing an element of randomness so that Belichick doesn't ever feel that he "knows" what the Seahawks will do - and especially not on the crucial two or three remaining plays of the game

At the crucial moment, the Patriots were playing the run. Seeing this, Carrol realized he had a mismatch. Calling a pass against a defense that's cheating for the run, gives him a slight advantage.

Calling for a pass also helped him with time management. Down to his last time out, Carrol needed a series of plays that would afford him the highest number of shots at the end zone.  (Remember he can't assume any one play will work, and has to know what he'll do next). With 20 seconds left in the game, three downs and one time out, that series looked like this:

2nd down: Pass vs a run defense - CLOCK STOPS
3rd down: Run (but having just passed, perhaps the Patriots look for pass again) - CALL TIME OUT
4th down: Run or pass depending on match-up

Those who are second guessing are forgetting that Caroll can't assume his 2nd down play works. They think he should have followed this play sequence:

2nd down: Run vs a run defense - CALL TIME OUT
3rd down: Run again

With only one time out, and twenty seconds on the clock, this series allows only for two plays. As Caroll knows he has the best RD in the game on his side (and as he knows that Belitchek also knows this) it seems clear that his 2nd down decision came down to this:

  • Two runs and a pass > two runs. 

Or taking into account the other team's decisions...

  • Two runs and a pass with at least one mismatch and possibly two mismatches > two runs with no more than one mismatch.

   Search for more information about Caroll's sound strategy at4torah.com

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