Super Bowl 49: Why did the Seattle Seahawks refuse to run the ball?

It’s like a dream turned nightmare.

The Seattle Seahawks were one yard away from seemingly defeating the New England Patriots and winning back-to-back Super Bowl titles and cementing themselves as the new NFL dynasty.

Russell Wilson was one yard away from shining two Super Bowl rings in the face of the franchises that passed him up in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch was one yard away from his first Super Bowl MVP, and to the joy of reporters probably give a real interview to them or say “You know why I’m here,” flashing his trophy.

The Legion of Boom were one yard away from their second straight Super Bowl, and potentially going down in history as the best defensive tandem ever without even reaching their prime.

And Pete Carroll, fired by the Patriots and replaced by Bill Belichick, was about to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in front of Robert Kraft’s face.

But it didn’t happen.

Instead, Belichick cried, Brady cemented himself as the best quarterback in the history of the NFL and rookie Malcolm Butler went from zero to hero and etched in the pantheon of New England sports galore.

The Patriots won Super Bowl 49. The Seahawks lost Super Bowl 49.

Or should I say, Pete Carroll lost Super Bowl 49? Let’s answer this question together by going back to “The Catch” before “”The Play Call.”

The Catch

1:14 left in the 4th quarter. Wilson calls hike and drops back to the Patriots 45 yard line and throws a deep ball. Outside the Patriots 10 yard line jump both Jermaine Kearse and Butler. Butler gets a hand on the ball, leaving it in the air as he and Kearse fall to the floor. The ball bounces off of Kearse’s legs, staying in the air. Like a hot potato, Kearse bobbles the ball twice with his right hand before gaining control to complete the most unbelievable catch in Super Bowl history. 1:06 left on the clock and Carroll uses his second time out…

Carroll taking a time out here is neither good nor bad because of what happens later, but in order to fully grasp what happens, we need to look at this call. Kearse just completed this incredible catch and you have about a minute left. Because Kearse went out of bounds, the clock stopped so the Seahawks had time to call a play with 1:06 left and first and goal. So you have three options at this point.

Option 1) Let Wilson pass or run.

Option 2) Feed it Lynch to run it.

Option 3) Call a Timeout.

The Patriots defense is reeling from that catch so calling a timeout gives them an opportunity to get a talking to from their coaches, regroup and settle in with first and goal. So Option 3, the option Carroll went with doesn’t seem like the right move, but what about the other two options?

If you set up a pass play for Wilson, there’s more room for a short pass instead of the tight coverage at the one-yard line and if there is no pass, Wilson can scramble to eat some clock and advance the ball. There’s the risk of getting sacked, but still, the Seahawks run the clock below one minute and can now call a timeout and set up their next plays. Same can apply to a Lynch run. The clock will run if Lynch doesn’t score and then you can call a timeout. So if you want to look at it where the wheels starting coming off the wagon on the road to back-to-back Super Bowl victories, Carroll’s timeout loosened the lug nuts.

The Play Before The Play Call

After the timeout, Lynch ran the ball down to the one-yard line for a four-yard rush. One yard away from back-to-back Super Bowl titles. But here’s where it gets interesting. FiveThirtyEight.com wrote a compelling piece about a head coach botching the Super Bowl, but it wasn’t talking about Carroll. Instead, Benjamin Morris says Belichick was the soon-to-be walrus, but given what transpired with 26 seconds left in regulation, it was forgotten. After Lynch was stopped at the one-yard line, Belichick didn’t call a timeout. He let the clock run, like he knew exactly what was going to happen. And then, “The Play” happened.

The Play

In the entire 2014-2015 season, when the Seahawks were 5 yards or less away from a touchdown in the 4th quarter, 5 out of 5 times they scored with a rushing touchdown. If they were 10 yards or less away from a touchdown in the 4th quarter, 6 out of 9 times they scored with a rushing touchdown. If the Seahawks were 5 yards or less away from a touchdown in any quarter, 11 out of 15 times they scored a rushing touchdown. You get the picture. The numbers side with running the ball with one-yard to go on offense.

Screenshot from Pro-Football-Reference.com
Screenshot from Pro-Football-Reference.com

But for some reason, a pass was the play. A shotgun, telegraphed pick play (that’s poetic). And for some reason, the Patriots knew it. They knew Wilson was going to pass and they knew they were either going to force an incomplete pass or even better, intercept the ball. And who better to prove it than a rookie back who’s studied schemes over and over to get his chance to shine? It was storybook for the Patriots. It was champion-like.

Now the critics say why not let Lynch, Beast Mode, arguably the best power running back in the game punch it in? If he doesn’t score, you still have one timeout and two plays to go. Better to end the game in defeat with the ball than turn it over, no? If Lynch doesn’t punch it in, you can try and pass it on third down, the typical down to throw or even do a play action fake and give Wilson the option to pass or tuck it and go. Numbers do show that Lynch only scored once out of the five times the Seahawks gave him the ball at the one-yard line and that time he scored was in the first quarter of a blowout win against the New York Giants. So the question isn’t why did the Seahawks not give the ball to Lynch?

The question is: Why did the Seahawks not run the ball?

In Super Bowl 46, the Giants handed it off to Ahmad Bradshaw to virtually walk into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown and the Giants defense was able to hold Brady to clinch the Super Bowl victory.

The Seahawks have the Legion of Boom with about 20 seconds left if you run the ball on “The Play” for a touchdown. Why so worried?  Out of the four scoring plays the Seahawks got in the fourth quarter during the entire season, three of the scores were rushing touchdowns. As mentioned, one was Lynch, But two of them were by Wilson. Those two touchdowns by Wilson happened in the fourth quarter and in poetic fashion, the most recent came two weeks ago against the Green Bay Packers in the most improbable comeback in NFL postseason history. But unlike in the Patriots game, the Seahawks were showing run. The question was who was running the ball and the Packers thought Lynch, allowing Wilson to scoot into the end zone.

On “The Play,” Wilson was committed to the pass and given Carroll’s reasoning after the game, we know why. “It’s not the right matchup for us to run the football, so on second down we throw the ball really to kind of waste that play,” said Carroll on Sunday following the game. “If we score we do, if we don’t, then we’ll run it in on third and fourth down. Really, with no second thoughts or no hesitation in that at all.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.45.00 AM

 

Studying the play, the minute Wilson is about to throw to Ricardo Lockett, it looks good, which is exactly what Wilson thought. Butler doesn’t seem to be a factor. It looks like six points. But as Wilson releases, not only is Butler almost there, but Lockett isn’t even in the end zone the minute Butler gets to him.

He is still at the one-yard line, right where the Seahawks began the play. It’s unknown what could’ve happened, but since we’re asking why did the Seahawks not run the ball, if this catch was complete, Butler is on top of Lockett and could’ve brought down Lockett at the one-yard line, which means the clock keeps running, exactly where the Seahawks would be if they ran the ball with 26 seconds to go. But if Butler doesn’t make a great play, it’s instead 24 seconds left with 3rd and goal, exactly what Carroll envisioned. A wasted play and the clock stopped.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.44.45 AM

The biggest problem studying the play is how blatant the offense lined up for a pass. It seems obvious that the play is going to Lockett with the way the receivers lined up. Even Butler, the rookie, knew a pass was coming. The only time the Seahawks scored on a one-yard pass was not in shotgun formation, but a play action fake. It created two options. Yes, Lynch was fading and if thrown the ball, he might have made a play and if Wilson had held on a little longer, there was an opening to punch it in for the touchdown. But Wilson was committed because his coaches were committed on the pass and it sealed the Seahawks the fate.

There’s a conspiracy that Carroll wanted Wilson to be the MVP, not Lynch and so he called a pass play instead of a designed run to Lynch. If this were the case, why wouldn’t Carroll just design a quarterback run into the end zone if that’s what he wanted to accomplish? A Wilson touchdown would’ve made him MVP in my view, but a Lynch touchdown would’ve definitely given the MVP honors to Beast Mode.

But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who wins MVP. What matters in this instance is the Seahawks were one yard away from etching their names in history. What matters is when they needed to rely on what got them to the Super Bowl, they tried to be cute.

I’ve done my best to be as objective as possible, but in my opinion, the Seahawks should have called a run or option play over a pick play. Their Super Bowl title was picked off as a result.

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