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Quick Inside Slant: The Superbowl

Impressions of the 2014 NFL Season as perceived by a Creative Writing graduate student, part-time amateur stand-up comedian and collegiate intramural flag football legend.

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By: Dustin Fisher

Malcolm Butler

Well, Seattle was playing with house money anyway, after that impossible comeback against Green Bay in the NFC Championship game – who was playing with house money after that Dez Bryant non-catch against the Cowboys in the Divisional Playoff game – who was playing with house money after that rescinded flag against Detroit in that Wild Card game. I guess what I’m saying is that the Lions should be our national champions if you think about it too much. And the house doles out money rather irresponsibly.

In Defense of Pete Carroll

This is the type of situation where all the disc jockeys and wannabe bloggers who have never stepped foot on a football field get to criticize a Superbowl-winning and Collegiate National Championship-winning coach over one play call in a season of 1100 that put him in the position to be one of only five teams to ever repeat as Superbowl champions. Keith Olbermann, who is allergic to logic that doesn’t suit his purpose, attacked this with the same passionate fervor that he attacked the botched Ray Rice investigation. Apparently, his solution to everything is to blow it up. But before I get too far down the rabbit hole on KO’s arrogant posturing, let me expand on my colleague’s article and enlighten this world which seems content on ignoring a few things to maintain the right to be flabbergasted.

Time and history: Shortly after the Jermaine Kearse catch – which seemed to all the world like the football gods were punishing the Patriots for cheating – Seattle had first and goal from the 5-yard-line with 1:06 left in the game. They ran the ball to the 1-yard-line and didn’t snap their second down play until there were only 26 seconds left. This was done for one of two reasons. Either they panicked and it took too long to get a play called, or they wanted to run as much clock as possible (or force the Pats to use their time outs) so that Tom Brady didn’t have any time to get the Patriots into field goal range to tie the game. Which, OH BY THE WAY, happened exactly that way to them in their previous game against Green Bay, and at the end of the first half of this game just two hours earlier. So they used the clock, knowing they had three downs to score from the 1-yard line, and if they did, they’d win – and if not, they’d lose. Unless you think they panicked in this situation, in which case there’s probably no convincing you otherwise, so you can stop reading now.

Predictability: Given that they wanted to run the clock down and only had one time out – or regardless of what their thinking was before the first-down run, once the clock ran below 35 seconds – they would need to throw the ball on either second or third down, or risk not getting a fourth down play off in this situation. If they ran the ball on second down and used their last time out, it would make for a predictable play call on third down, unless they were willing to risk getting tackled in bounds and trying to get another play off in under ten seconds, which would justifiably send the disc jockeys into a frenzy. So the smart play to throw the ball was on second down. Carroll was just taking a page out of the coed flag football playbook.

Matchup: You heard Pete Carroll talk about the goal line matchup that he was up against. There were six Seahawks to block eight Patriots, assuming they were running a straight handoff to Beast Mode. Or they could have tried a read-option, though there would be enough people to account for both Lynch and Wilson because of the personnel, which eliminates the advantage of the read-option. Granted, Beast Mode is a strong back, but what if they ran the ball against a stacked front and lost two or three yards? All of a sudden, it isn’t so easy to score in the last two plays, especially since the Patriots would know that they were going to pass the ball on third down. The pass would at least guarantee that they’d have two shots from the 1-yard-line. You know, unless the ball got picked off somehow. Of course, this doesn’t really explain why Carroll sent those three wide outs onto the field in the first place, unless you figure that he planned to throw the ball the whole time, assuming the Pats would remain in their goal line defense.

Access to results: At the end of the first half, with six seconds on the clock, Pete Carroll rolled the dice and threw the ball. Had they not scored on that play, and had time run out, they would have lost their almost automatic three points. But Carroll had the balls to try a pass play to a guy who had never caught a pass before that day. And he was considered brilliant, ballsy, a championship caliber play-caller. Because it worked. If that ball was somehow tipped in the air, something that balls often have the tendency to do, maybe those six seconds run off the clock and he doesn’t even have those automatic three points. And then his team likely isn’t even in a situation to win the game at the end anyway. Similarly, if Lockette catches that ball, he, Russell Wilson, and Pete Carroll look like geniuses for the play call, and the decision to run the clock down beforehand. Even if the play falls incomplete and they score on the next two plays – or they don’t, so long as they run Lynch – that play call is not the subject of a Today Show interview, or even mentioned anywhere other than the play-by-play archives. On 115 pass attempts from the 1-yard-line this season, 66 were touchdowns. This was the only interception.

Quick Inside Slant: Not just the name of an insightful column on a sports blog, it is a relatively safe pass play, considering the options. I’ve heard some people (Keith Olbermann for one) say that throwing the ball over the middle like that is dangerous because of all the bodies in there. I get that, but that wasn’t the risk in this case. Inside slants occasionally get picked by corners driving on the ball, but more often, it’s the linebacker or the dropping lineman in disguise coverage that does the picking. Once a corner decides to drive on the ball, like Malcolm Butler did to win the game, he’s going all in. If the receiver breaks the route outside or upfield, there’s no one to help, especially in cover zero, which the Patriots were in, as mentioned before. And the Seahawks’ run game and position on the field was enough to assume there wouldn’t be any linemen or linebackers dropping into coverage. This was just an incredible play by a corner with nothing to lose. The other pass play options at this point in the field, since there is only a subtle difference between in-breaking routes like a post or seam, are an out route – which is easily undercut, or a fade route – otherwise known as a “jump ball,” a term virtually saying “Hey, you guys have as much a shot at this as we do.” Much like the read-option, on a play-action pass, there would be a potential free runner at Wilson, so that may not be the best of plays either. As a very amateur thrower of many interceptions, I can tell you that most of mine come on either routes breaking to the outside, or throws into safety coverage over the middle. So a slant route against a cover zero was probably the safest play call. Unless you want to throw a quick hitch and hope Kearse can block Browner well enough. Hmm…

The throw: Why is Russell Wilson getting a pass in all this (no pun intended)? His coach is diving on the grenade as best he can, but somebody somewhere should remind people that Carroll didn’t actually throw the interception. If Wilson sees that color flash in front of his receiver and throws it back shoulder, or at least not shoulder-height, they’ve got a touchdown or an incomplete pass. It was a bad throw from an all-pro who had only thrown seven interceptions all year. As a coach, you have to trust your players to make smart plays when the pressure is on, and Russell Wilson did not.

All this is to say that maybe – just maybe – Pete Carroll had his reasons. And his reasons got him within a yard of being only the fifth team to ever repeat as Superbowl champions. It is laughable to hear so many people pretend to know so much better than him just because the play didn’t work. One faction of the public I haven’t heard criticism from is the actual NFL coaches. Belichick even said “I think the criticism they’ve gotten for the game is totally out of line and by a lot of people who I don’t think are anywhere near even qualified to be commenting on it.” It takes guts to go with percentages rather than do the typical thing, like going for it on fourth and 2 from your own 28-yard-line. Maybe in time, people will remember the Superbowl win more than the loss as far as Carroll’s legacy is concerned. But in a nation full of Olbermanns, with a magnetic lean toward schadenfreude, I’m not holding my breath.

Dustin Fisher is a writer, comedian, storyteller, and stay-at-home dad. Follow along with his dad blog at http://daddyneedsanap.com/ or buy his first book, Daddy Issues.

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Dustin Fisher is an amateur standup comedian, storyteller, freelance writer, and stay-at-home dad, all of which are just better ways of saying “unemployed.” He worked in the area of collegiate recreation for the previous 14 years at UMBC, Miami University and the University of Baltimore. There, he became somewhat of a folk legend on the flag football field and actually got paid to play fantasy football. Dustin is currently in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore seeking a Masters degree in Creative Writing. He has made contributions to various publications including The Good Men Project and the Baltimore Fishbowl. For more about Dustin, check out his stay-at-home dad website, Daddy Needs a Nap. Dustin lives with his wife and daughter in New Carrollton, MD in a house surrounded by too many trees to get the Dish Network.

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Comments
One Response to “Quick Inside Slant: The Superbowl”
  1. Jack says:

    Dumb play, he deserves the criticism. Lynch is made for those moments.