What a Horrible Call…..Wait Was it?

I like most people carved out a little bit of time to watch some of the Super Bowl this past Sunday. Even if I this was not the case I am pretty sure that I would have learned about the intercepted pass that occurred at the goal line, which ended up costing the Seahawks the game. This is because it was the only thing being talked about on social media. To be honest I fully agreed with everyone’s opinion, until I read an article from the New York Times. The article “Game Theory Says Pete Carroll’s Call at Goal Line Is Defensible” pointed out that the decision to call that play had a lot to do with game theory and the use of mixed strategies. The article made it clear that a certain degree of randomness is needed in all play calls made in football in order for a team to be successful. This is because if a team becomes too predictable then it will be extremely easy for the other team to call the correct counter play and stop them. This is why Coach Carroll decided to run a pass play rather than a run play. Since in this situation a run play is typically the most commonly called play, it would have been an optimal choice for the Patriots to call a counter play for a run play. Therefore Coach Carroll did not want the Patriots to be ready for a run, but instead decided to do something that was less likely. The article also pointed out that Marshawn Lynch may only have such impressive statistics due to how effective Coach Carroll is at using mixed strategies. This is because the defensive team not only have Marshawn Lynch to worry about, but also Russell Wilson. Since the defense has to worry about both running and passing plays they are unable to play a dominant strategy, because they do not have one. So, contrary to what everyone believes the play call that was made was actually the correct one.

New York Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/upshot/game-theory-says-pete-carrolls-call-at-goal-line-is-defensible.html?_r=0&abt=0002&abg=0


3 thoughts on “What a Horrible Call…..Wait Was it?”

  1. I too read an article about football game theory and I couldn’t agree more with what you described. It is important to understand some measure of uncertainty would help the seahawks in this situation. By using mixed strategies throughout his career Pete Carroll left us all guessing whether it was going to be a run or pass play at that moment so it is important to understand that sometimes the decision made cannot be left to the obvious choice. In this case it was all left up to the individual performances reacting to the pass that changed the game, not the strategy of the coach which was more than necessary to keep everyone watching guessing.

  2. It’s the Super Bowl, the World Championship! The biggest spectacle in sports ever. You have 3 opportunities to gain a half yard. 2 time outs to stop the clock. 24 seconds left in the game. In this situation, whether you try to play “chess” or “rock-paper-scissors” it all comes down to the probability and low risk-high reward aspect. You have arguably one of the best running backs in the league, Marshawn Lynch, one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the league, Russell Wilson, and you run a predominantly read-option offense. Ok so Belichick probably expects run, so he’s gonna stack the box. Even if you decide to run straight up the middle, Marshawn is one of the best in the NFL in YAC (yards after contact). Let’s say he’s stopped, then you immediately call a timeout, stop the clock and try again. In anticipation of Belichick and his thought of an impending run, Pete Carroll could’ve called a bootleg; he could’ve capitalized on the eagerness of the defense and used their own ferocity to gain momentum in the opposite direction of the pursuit. If that fails, then they could’ve passed. What Carroll failed to realized is that the defense has more chances to adjust to the offense. You come out on 2nd down, shotgun formation, spread wide receivers and you open up the entire field. This itself is high risk. Firstly you drop your QB at least 6 yards deep. Shotgun exchanges are more like to result in a bad snap, and it’s so much congestion on the goal line the possibility of a tipped ball is higher, resulting in greater chances of an interception. In situations like this, it’s usually the simplest option that works: you gain a half yard, you win the Super Bowl. You step back 8 yards, risk a sack, risk a tipped ball and ultimately throw an interception. It was just a bad, over complicated call. He should’ve played with his odds and calculated what was low risk and what was high risk. In a situation like that the reward is the same, so why not go with the lowest risk to gain the ultimate reward?

  3. I understand the defense of the call through game theory, however game theory doesn’t account for distance in it’s determination as all “First and goals aren’t created equally.” Meaning, from 1 yard away, the call isn’t as much about surprise as much as it is probability of the defense having the ability to stop the ball carrier from moving one yard. Moreover, the average NFL run easily exceeds the one yard that was needed to win the game. In short, sometimes the strategy doesn’t have to be unexpected, there are certain plays offenses have that defenses know are coming and simply can’t stop it.

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