O’Boyle: Don’t blame Carroll; praise Belichick, Patriots defense
Daniel O'Boyle | Friday, February 6, 2015
Now that the red, white and blue confetti has settled on Super Bowl XLIX, we can look back on the Seattle Seahawks’ last offensive play with a little more thought.
At the time of the play, of course, the reaction was near-outrage. Emmitt Smith tweeted that Seattle’s decision to pass was “the worst play call I’ve seen in the history of football.” Deion Sanders, Brian Dawkins and Torry Holt were among the many other names who expressed a similar sentiment. Jon Gruden said Seattle was wrong to choose a quick slant play instead of “Spider 2 Y Banana.” Donald Trump’s explanation was that “it must have been President Obama that called” the play.
But was Pete Carroll wrong to call the now-infamous play when he had Marshawn Lynch, the best power runner in the NFL, in the backfield? In some ways, yes he was. Malcolm Butler picked off Russell Wilson’s pass, the Patriots got the ball and won the game. Clearly, something didn’t go right. Otherwise it would have been Ricardo Lockette in a Minion hat chugging a beer during the victory parade, while Tom Brady would have been left with a mere three Super Bowl Rings, two league MVP awards, millions of dollars and a supermodel wife.
Just because the play didn’t work, though, doesn’t mean we should see it as a disastrous call from Seattle’s coaching staff. Bill Belichick, Butler and the Patriots deserve plenty of credit for their work in forcing the interception, while the decision to pass the ball or run it was not as easy at it may appear.
First, we need to dispel the myth that handing the ball to Lynch for a one-yard touchdown was a sure thing. Marshawn Lynch is one of the hardest players to tackle in the league, and it seems like he was made for these short-yardage situations, but he was 1-for-5 this year in converting touchdowns from the one-yard line. When teams knew that they needed to stop Beast Mode getting into the endzone, they usually could. And let’s not forget, Russell Wilson is a top-10 QB who was having a brilliant game — he’d executed a short-yardage passing play for a touchdown when fighting the clock late in the first half, so there was no reason why he couldn’t do it again. The Seahawks didn’t take the ball from a sure-thing scoring machine and give it to some scrub; one option was not clearly better than the other.
Then, there are the steps New England took that ultimately won them the game. First, Bill Belichick made the decision not to call a timeout. After letting the Giants score a touchdown quickly in Super Bowl XLVI so Tom Brady had time to get the ball back, it would make sense to think that Belichick would again want to give Brady some time. But instead, Belichick trusted his defense and let the clock run down. The Seahawks offense certainly didn’t seem to expect this, and took a whole 35 seconds to snap the ball. While their lack of awareness and timing would rival that of the halftime show’s left shark, their lack of speed was almost certainly at least partly due to Belichick’s surprising tactics.
The Seahawks, with one timeout of their own, now had to make a choice: they had time to run the ball once and use their timeout if they didn’t get it in, or pass it, knowing the clock would stop with an incompletion. If they had chosen to run instead of pass, their options would have been incredibly limited on third down: either run it again and let the clock expire, or pass it against a defense expecting just that. Passing on second should have kept their options open.
Of course, it didn’t because Butler picked off the pass, and the Seahawks didn’t get another play. But that shouldn’t be held against Carroll or the Seahawks coaching staff. Butler’s movement to win the ball was extraordinary, which he said was attributable to being beaten by that exact play in practice. Less noticeably, Brandon Browner, formerly of the Legion of Boom, jammed Jermaine Kearse perfectly at the line. Kearse was supposed to run a rub route and get in Butler’s way, but Browner left the rookie free to be where Russell Wilson would never expect him to be.
In each part of the play, it was clear that the Patriots knew exactly what to expect from the Seahawks. Carroll doesn’t deserve criticism, Belichick deserves praise for yet another piece of proof that he’s the best coach in the league. If Carroll’s decision looked foolish, it’s because Belichick can make a fool out of anyone.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.