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A Failed Pseudo-Economic Defense of Pete Carroll

[ 107 ] February 4, 2015 |

Justin Wolfers provides sort of the ultimate defense of Carroll and Bevell, in its total focus on abstractions and ignorance of the specific facts of the situation:

Here’s what I would do: Call a game theorist, someone who specializes in the branch of economics that analyzes strategic interactions. Game theory is the tool used to understand how global superpowers respond to each other, how large companies compete with each other and how grandmasters play chess. It also describes the strategic tussle between Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots, and Pete Carroll, the coach of the Seattle Seahawks, who found themselves facing difficult decisions in the final seconds of Sunday’s Super Bowl.

The key insight of game theory for an N.F.L. coach is that when you think about what choice you should make, you need to also consider the response from the opposing coach, understanding that he is also thinking strategically. This line of thinking suggests that you should not necessarily call a run play, even if you’re blessed with a great running back. Likewise, it’s not clear that you should definitely pass. Rather, your choice should be somewhat random — a choice that game theorists call a “mixed strategy.”


Game theory points to the possibility that Carroll’s decisive call was actually the result of following the best possible strategy, and that this is a strategy that involves an element of randomness in play-calling. This leads to the intriguing possibility that if that fateful final play were to be run in a dozen parallel universes, with each coach continuing to play the same mixed strategy, the actual plays called would differ, as would their outcomes.

The basic argument here — that optimal strategy isn’t always the optimal strategy because other players will respond to it — is familiar and true enough in some circumstances. If a poker player establishes that she always plays the percentages, she’s actually not likely to be profitable against other good players because nobody will bet into her unless they have the nuts. (Part of what makes poker interesting to many people is that it’s not enough to have the best hand — you need to get other people to pay you for it.)

This is a genuine game theory insight, but it’s also one of limited applicability. The first problem, which Wolfers alludes to but doesn’t consider nearly enough, is that the value of intentionally suboptimal* strategy depends on the time horizon. If you play poker with the same players every week and they know what they’re doing, it’s important to vary your betting strategy. If you’re sitting down at a one-shot game for an hour or two, the value of intentionally bad play is limited to non-existent. It’s generally dumb to waste a hand so you can flip over your 3-8 unsuited and establish your reputation as a wild bluffer when you might not get a hand that allows you to make use of it and will never see the other players again.

The applicability of this to Carroll’s decision should be obvious. The potential long-term advantages gained by using sub-optimal strategy in an iterated game should be given no consideration whatsoever. It’s the last minute of the goddamned Super Bowl. You don’t make a suboptimal tactical choice to slightly increase the chances that a running play will succeed at the goal line in a game next October.

As for the potential short term advantages of a suboptimal choice, the proof is in the pudding and again Wolfers’s argument obviously fails. Remember that that the other player matters. In poker, there’s no point in making intentionally irrational bets against players who aren’t sophisticated enough to follow your betting patterns. Carroll had the opposite problem. His post game comments suggested that he thought that sending out a formation with one tight end and three wideouts would cause Belichick to keep his basic defensive package on the field. The problem is that Belichick — regrettably for the Seahawks — was thinking like a great football coach and not like a freak, and hence was focused on the talent matchups. Given that a running play would put the best running back in the league against a lousy short-yardage defense, and a pass play would involve one decent wideout covered by a first-ballot Hall of Fame corner and two other wideouts who may be working in the insurance industry this time next year (the slightly better of whom would also be covered by an excellent corner), Belichick sent a goal-line defense onto the field, presumably reasoning that if he guarded against the run he could live with man coverage and no safety help against Seattle’s weak receiving unit. It’s possibly true that given Belichick’s response and only one time out a pass play was the best call out of that formation, but of course Carroll and Bevell screwed up by sending a formation that have New England an advantage against the run if they (as one should expect) sent their goalline defense onto the field. There was a game theory advantage here — but it was Belichick’s. His response meant that Bevell was either running into a run defense without enough blockers, or was taking the ball out of the hands of his best player and putting it into the hands of replacement-level players.

And I’ve already written too much on this so I won’t go into elaborate detail again, but the other problem with Wolfers’s analysis you is that you get an advantage from deception only if you try to deceive the opponent. There’s no deceptive strategic advantage being gained when you run a plain-vanilla inside slant out of an obvious passing formation.

Wolfers’s analysis, in other words, is the kind of thing that gives both sabermetrics and pop ecomomics a bad name — abstractions that fail to take into account the specific details of the choices at hand.

*I won’t correct every instance, but as a commenter notes this is obviously a poor choice of words. Obviously, you always want to play an optimal strategy. What I mean is that an apparently poor percentage play can be part of an optimal strategy because predictability gives a strategic advantage to your opponents.

The Shame Of American Parental Leave Policies

[ 116 ] February 3, 2015 |

The core argument of Rebecca Traister’s must-read article:

But it’s also true that these companies are capitalizing on a serious weakness in our social contract. The United States and its corporate structures were built with one kind of workerfrankly, with one kind of citizenin mind. That citizen wage-earner was a white man. That this weakness is being addressed by employers faster than it is being addressed by Congress contributes to the widening of the class chasm. Policies that account for the fact that women now give birth and earn wages on which their families dependand, for that matter, that men now earn wages and provide childcare on which their families dependshould not be crafted by individual bosses or corporations on a piecemeal basis that inevitably favors already privileged populations. They should be available to every American. But until we see a large-scale, national refashioning of family leave, the economic fates of childbearers will be left in the hands of the private entities that employ them.

But, really, read the whole etc.

The Moops-Invaded-Spain Argument Is Farcical, But Not Funny

[ 68 ] February 3, 2015 |

How many people would die were a bare majority of the Supreme Court to accept the risible argument that the ACA did not make tax credits available on federally established exchanges? The answer is a grim one:

In a brief to the Supreme Court, dozens of public health scholars, along with the American Public Health Association, detail the harm the Court would create by ruling for the challengers in King vs. Burwell. Most of their analysis is rooted in the basic point that stripping insurance away from eight million people would dramatically impede their access to the health system. But they also flesh out the corollary argument that an adverse ruling would have deadly consequences, and ballpark the number of avoidable deaths such a ruling would cause.

“Researchers found that, in the first four years of the [health care reform] law in Massachusetts, for every 830 adults gaining insurance coverage there was one fewer death per year,” the brief reads. “Using the national estimate that 8.2 million people can be expected to lose health insurance in the absence of subsidies on the federal marketplace, this ratio equates to over 9,800 additional Americans dying each year. Although the specific policy context and population impacts of any policy cannot be directly extrapolated from one setting to another, the general magnitude and power of these findings from the Massachusetts study demonstrate that even when approached cautiously, these earlier findings carry enormous public health implications for withdrawing subsidies and coverage from millions of Americans.”

The Moops-invaded-Spain argument might be a joke, but the consequences of the Supreme Court buying it would be anything but.

I also see that Michael Strain has a reply to his critics. It seems to consist of inhabiting the moderate Republican equivalent of the lefty alternate reality where Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman were ready to nationalize the American health insurance industry had Barack Obama only been willing to ask them in the right way:

Responding to critics in a followup article, Strain brushes this all aside by stipulating that Republicans would never allow all this suffering. “I think it’s very likely that the congressional GOP would enact some sort of replacement if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare,” he writes. “They would very likely take measures to address the needs of those who lost their subsidies as a result of the Court’s action.”

To back up his suspicions, he cites a suspiciously limited set of news reports, quoting Republicans who claim to be working on such a plan—or, at least “talking about how to build consensus on a replacement.”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Sorry, my mistake — it’s the precise equivalent of lefties who think that Lincoln Chafee was a fair representative of Republican health care policy thinking, and Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich were totally serious about advancing his ideas.

It’s just amazing that anyone could write that with a straight face. We’ve repeatedly seen that the Republican offer to the uninsured is “nothing.” We have seen one Republican statehouse after another refuse a very generously funded Medicaid expansion. We have seen a legal argument based on tendentious misreadings and outright lies that would result in 10,000 or so deaths a year be taken seriously by federal judges. But congressional Republicans would never let anyone die because they lack health coverage, heavens no!

I’ll leave the punchline to Brian:

He does not quote from this Wall Street Journal article titled, “Republicans to Block Legislative Fix to Health-Care Law,” or this article by TPM’s Sahil Kapur titled, “Republicans Are At A Loss On What To Do If SCOTUS Nixes Obamacare Subsidies.”

I’ll give Adler and Cannon this: they may be lying to others, but at least they’re not lying to themselves about what they want to accomplish.

“A child would know it, he’s right. You’re going to make something up, be sure it will help or keep your mouth closed.”

[ 39 ] February 3, 2015 |

Above: Michael Cannon (5)

ACA Troofers-in-Chief Adler and Cannon claim to have a letter showing that 11 House Democrats thought that tax credits would not be available on the federally established exchanges.  You may not be entirely surprised to find out that the letter does not say what they say it does:

While a different brief for the ACA’s opponents continues to beat the Gruber dead horse, he is mercifully absent from the Adler/Cannon brief. Instead, the lawsuit’s architects cite a letter sent by 11 Texas House Democrats, which they say constitutes evidence for the assertion that “[m]any House members disapproved of the Senate passed PPACA, some because they recognized it conditioned subsidies on states creating Exchanges.”

Adler and Cannon’s characterization of the letter is blatantly dishonest. It says absolutely nothing about subsidies being unavailable on federally established exchanges. The letter’s argument that under the Senate bill “millions of people will be left no better off than before Congress acted” — which Adler and Cannon quote — is preceded by a discussion of how some conservative states have cut or failed to expand benefits under Medicaid and CHIPRA.

In other words, the concern of the Texas Democrats is not that federally established exchanges would not provide subsidies to insurance purchasers. Rather, their concern is that if conservative states established exchanges they would do so badly, and hence make it impossible for some residents to obtain affordable insurance. Adler and Cannon stand the meaning of the letter on its head.

Tacitly recognizing that the argument they attribute to the House Democrats is not remotely supported by the text, Adler and Cannon attempt to conscript one of the country’s foremost health care reporters into their crusade, citing an NPR report by Julie Rovner to buttress their misreading of the letter’s meaning. But, again, nothing in Rovner’s story says that the Senate bill would not provide subsidies on federally established exchanges. I contacted Rovner by email, and she confirmed that “there was never any discussion about only state exchanges offering subsidies that I was party to. I never meant to imply it in my story.”

Wait — it gets even worse for Adler and Cannon. The letter not only fails to lend a shred of support for their argument, it also destroys another of their key claims. One of the many problems with their approach is that it nonsensically assumes that Congress established a federal backstop that was intended to fail. Responding to this obvious objection, Adler and Cannon have suggested that Congress “reasonably expected that states” would establish exchanges, which explains why they didn’t bother to provide the subsidies. The letter cited by Adler and Cannon in this brief, however, makes clear that this assumption is erroneous.  “A number of states opposed to health reform have already expressed an interest in obstruction,” the Texas Democrats correctly observe.

The federal backstop was not created by accident — it was in the bill because it was well understood that not every state would establish an exchange before the deadline, and because failing to create a workable federal exchange would provide strong incentives for conservative state governments to obstruct the ACA.

As things stand, then, the only evidence for the Moops-invaded-Spain theory is the comments of President, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Secretary of State, Governor of all 50 states, and Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Jonathan Gruber.  (Note: offer void in 2010 or 2014.)

One footnote about this double own-goal is that I believe that for a long time Adler’s position was that evidence about the intent of House members was irrelevant because the ACA was a Senate bill. Apparently, this “principle” was applicable until he thought he found “evidence” that supported his interpretation of the statute. (This kind of thing is apparently more widespread than you’d prefer to think.) I’d hope that if I was going to make things up in a brief submitted to the Supreme Court I’d have a better cause than “kicking millions of people off their health insurance,” though.

Finally, let us turn things over to Daniel Davies:

Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.

…since there’s been some confusion on this on social media, I should clarify that I didn’t write the title. On the question of how the Supreme Court is likely to rule, I remain a doomsayer.

America’s Progressive Alternative in 2016 Defends Inalienable Right of Children to Contract Whooping Cough

[ 135 ] February 2, 2015 |

America’s foremost civil libertarian stands up for the most important liberties once again, trumping that squish Chris Christie:

The default position of most Republicans, and Republican candidates, is that individuals can be trusted and the government can’t. How does that manifest when Republicans are asked about vaccine mandates? Kentucky Senator Rand Paul gave a demonstration on Monday when conservative radio host Laura Ingraham asked him to respond to the measles story.

“I’m not anti-vaccine at all, but particularly, most of them ought to be voluntary,” said Paul. “What happens if you have somebody not wanting to take the smallpox vaccine and it ruins it for everybody else? I think there are times in which there can be some rules, but for the first part it ought to be voluntary.”

And surely this principled libertarian stand also has a sound scientific basis?

More crankishly, Paul actually endorsed the belief that vaccines can cause autism. “I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” he argued very, very wrongly.

Since he also opposes Obama’s bailout of the health insurance industry, I think your vote in 2016 should be obvious.

Can The Worst Play Call In Super Bowl History Be Defended? (SPOILER: No.)

[ 156 ] February 2, 2015 |

Before we get to the #Slatepitch #Voxpitch, you should read Barnwell if you haven’t. In particular, Edelman and especially Hightower aren’t getting enough credit. He also persuades me that Lockette deserves more blame for the decisive pick than Wilson. (My general point on that still stands: Lockette is what he is. Not only is he a very marginal player, the reason he draws an NFL paycheck is his downfield speed. If Bevell thought he was good at winning one-on-one battles in tight spaces with corners he wouldn’t be a backup player among one of the weakest groups of wideouts in the league. It’s wrong on multiple levels for Bevell to try to deflect the blame onto Lockette.)

On the issue of The Play, he makes some attempts to defend the abstract logic of the play, but this is the key point that leads him to his conclusion that it can’t be defended:

The key phrase there, of course, is “in a vacuum.” This wasn’t a vacuum. This was the Seahawks and the Patriots, and while the size of the stage shouldn’t matter, the matchups should. As I mentioned in my Super Bowl preview, this was a matchup specifically built for running the football with Lynch in short yardage. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots were the worst team in the league in power-running situations and fifth-worst in terms of stuffing the opposition for no gain or a loss. Seattle was the second-best power running team and the sixth-best team at avoiding stuffs. If there was ever a matchup that called for a team to live and die on the back of its running game from the 1-yard line, this was it.

Right. It’s not hard to construct a general argument in favor of a pass. But on one hand, Lynch against the Patriots short-yardage rush defense is the most favorable matchup the Seahwaks have. And on the other, the Seattle wideouts against the Patriots secondary is by far the most favorable matchup for New England. If New England is in that situation, a pass makes perfect sense. Brady has a case as the greatest QB in history because of his laser-precise short passes, and he has multiple viable targets on any pass play, allowing him to search for a bad matchup. For Seattle, it’s a different story. You’re obviously not challenging Revis with Baldwin, Kearse didn’t get open and also isn’t very good, leaving only one viable target who isn’t the one you want to have to make a play. And while Wilson isn’t Tim Tebow on short passes or anything, he’s also not Brady — having him try to make an absolutely perfect throw on an inside slant isn’t a good use of his strengths.

With all that, there’s still a possible case. Barnwell made this point, but I think the contrarian floor belongs properly to Yglesias here:

In incomplete pass stops the game clock. An unsuccessful run does not. A timeout also stops the clock, and Seattle only had one timeout left. So if the Seahawks had run on second down and failed to get a touchdown, they would have had to call timeout.

Now, it’s third down, and they have no timeouts left. So if they run on third and fail, the game is over. But if they pass on third and fail, the clock will stop, and they can run another play. So they basically have to pass on third, and the New England defense knows they have to pass.

By contrast, if you throw on second down and fail, the clock stops. Now it’s third down, and you still have your time out. That means you could run on third, fail, and use the timeout to stop the clock and run another play on fourth down. That means New England has to defend against both the pass and the run, which puts Seattle in a more advantageous strategic position than they would be had they run and failed.

Unlike Bevell’s gibberish, this makes a certain amount of sense. Because of two unnecessarily burned timeouts from the School of Andy Reid, Seattle probably couldn’t have run the ball three times. If you can’t run three times, why not do it on the down where you gain the most strategic advantage?

I still don’t really buy it because of the matchup question. But, again, while the logic can defend calling a pass it certainly can’t defend the play that Bevell actually called. The argument collapses on itself because they made no attempt to disguise that the play was a pass. The formation was a shotgun with three wideouts, not a goaline formation that would signal a run. There was no attempt to fake to Lynch or roll Wilson out, which would create deception as well as being better tailored to Wilson’s strengths. There are pass plays in that context that are potentially defensible — but a pass out of a passing formation so obviously telegraphed that a rookie with fewer than 200 pro snaps could read the play perfectly is very definitely not one of them. They didn’t get any strategic advantage from calling that play on 2nd down, and so we’re left with them passing on their most favorable talent matchup and getting their worst.

There’s a related issue that returns me to the most important takeaway to the game. Carroll suggested that he was surprised by how the Patriots reacted to the personnel they sent on to the field, hence Carroll talking about “wasting a down” before they could get a better matchup for the running game. I’m genuinely baffled by what they could have been expecting (4 DBS? 5?) It’s been repeated to the point of cliche, but it’s still true — Belichick is committed to doing what he can to minimize the other team’s strengths. If you decide that you’d rather put the game in Ricardo Lockette or Jermaine Kerse’s hands rather than Marshawn Lynch’s at the goal line, Belichick is giving you that matchup 100 times out of 100. The fact that Carroll and Bevell apparently thought that Belichick would get out of his goal line defense if they sent another shitty wideout onto the field is almost as jaw-dropping as the play call itself.

And this is what puts Belichick on another level. As Brien says in comments, the focus and discipline with which Belichick exploits weaknesses and favorable matchups is remarkable. It’s harder than it sounds. Jim Harbaugh is a fantastic coach, but he pissed away multiple games to Seattle in part because he couldn’t resist challenging Richard Sherman, with predictable results. And of course Pete Carroll isn’t a bum; he’s very likely headed to the Hall of Fame, and Seattle was in the Super Bowl in part because he completely outmatched another Super Bowl-winning coach in the previous game. But it’s very hard for creative coaches to avoid the temptation to get cute or to prove something rather than just focusing logically on the best play in a given situation. Carroll has done a fantastic job in Seattle, but he made a ghastly error at the worst possible time. Belichick’s 4 rings aren’t an accident.

UPDATE: 538’s analysis. which a couple commenters have linked, has similar problems. It focuses way too much on general probabilities rather than the specific context, and it meaninglessly judges the efficacy of a generic “pass” play as opposed to the actual play Seattle called.

Update II [PC]: Haven’t read through all the comments so don’t know if it’s been pointed out that Seattle absolutely could have run Lynch four times on that series — Yglesias is wrong that if they had run on second down they would have to pass on third. Seattle snapped the ball on second down with 26 seconds left. A run by Lynch doesn’t take more than five or six seconds, even if there’s a big scrum. If Seattle uses its last time out at that point they have 20 seconds left. That’s an eternity in a goal line situation where all your players are already at the line of scrimmage. A third down run would have left them a good 15 seconds left to line up and run any fourth down play, including Lynch again. 15 seconds to get a play off isn’t even a particularly fast snap in a contemporary hurryup situation. And if the Patriots would have tried to stop guys from lining up by staying on top of them the refs were going to stop the clock.

Chris Christie’s History of Troofer-Curiosity

[ 40 ] February 2, 2015 |


The vaccine troofer-curisoity from Chris Christie Erik mentioned early today isn’t new:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suggested Monday that officials find a “balance” between requiring vaccinations and allowing parents to turn them down. But his run in with the issue may go back much longer.

Louise Kuo Habakus, an anti-vaccination activist who runs the site, provided a letter to MSNBC Monday in which Christie purportedly endorsed her concern that vaccines may be linked to autism – a concern long discredited by public health officials. She shared a photo showing Christie meeting with her and what she said were other anti-vaccination activists with her organization, the NJ Vaccination Choice Coalition, as well as other autism groups at a meeting they organized with the then-candidate in August 2009.

Christie won election twice in a blue state, and is likely to run for president. Conservatives making vaccinating your kids a conspiracy liberal elitists inflict on your kids, like global warming or evolution, is just going to be awesome if you like lots of unnecessary death and suffering. (Hey, at least when you don’t vaccinate you save a few bucks on the front end!)

…And while we’re here, let us also consider Christie’s disgraceful killing of the new Hudson tunnel.  In fairness, he’s not opposed to all infrastructure: wherever there’s a casino in an over-saturated market or a useless mall, he’ll be there will taxpayer money.  He’s just opposed to useful infrastructure.

Whatever the Problem Is, Jim Webb Is Not the Solution

[ 119 ] February 2, 2015 |

Charles Pierce half-defends Jim Webb:

OK, so what’s half-true about what Webb said?

There is no question that the Democratic party has done a god-awful job of explaining to white working people who’s screwing them and why. Most of the people who have tried that have found themselves marginalized, and not always by Republicans, either. Senator Professor Warren is one of the few of them who has managed to explain these matters in such a way that they are both easily understood, and in such a way that she doesn’t sound like she’s talking down to anyone. And she still has a long push up a dirt road before she moves the political dialogue to the point where white working class voters actually act on what she’s saying to them. Sooner or later, it’s up to the voters to decide to stop being stupid about their own self-interest, and to stop falling for scams about how the Poors and Browns are the ones stealing all their money.

The party has to do better at this. Webb’s right about that, although I think he’s more right at the local and state level than he is at the national level, at least for the moment, since the Republicans seem hellbent on torching any appeal they had to minority and women voters. If he runs for president as a “Reagan Democrat,” he won’t be worth listening to. If he runs as a guy who can convince poor and middle-class voters of all races that they share a common adversary, then Jim Webb could make this a very interesting campaign. I’m inclined to give him half-a-shot.

In the abstract, I can see the point. But:

  • Webb is a concern troll who thinks that the indignities of running for office are fundamentally beneath him.  As a presidential candidate, in other words, he’d be a cross between Jon Hunstman and Fred Thompson.  The point here is not that he’d be drawing dead against Clinton — duh — but that he’d be such a bad candidate he’d if anything discredit a good campaign message if he happened to come up with one.
  • I have no problem with the idea that Democrats should think about how to broaden their appeal, particularly with an eye towards making their appeal less selective in midterm years.  The problem is that Webb doesn’t actually have any ideas about how to do this; he just thinks it would be a good idea, which is useless.  In fairness, Webb has shown sporadic commitment to two worthy ideas that need more advocates: reducing mass incarceration and reducing military spending. But while they’re both good and important ideas, they’re far more appealing to the existing Democratic coalition than they are to border-state and Southern white men.   This dilemma is older than the Democratic Party itself, but the problem with getting more Southern whites in the Democratic coalition is that it’s never been a free lunch.  Even leaving aside the issues with the New Deal coalition (Charles is excellent on this in the first part of his post), the coalition that elected Jimmy Carter was a lot more conservative than the one that elected Barack Obama. (Incidentally, this is exactly why I distrust solutions based on “messaging” or “framing” or “moving the Overton Window” or whatever.  The point is generally to assume an available free lunch that doesn’t actually exist.)
  • And because his ruminations about appealing to “white working people” are not paired with any actual content, my initial snarky reaction still stands.  When you talk about the need to appeal to white voters with no ideas about how to do so, it ineluctably (whether intentionally or not) plays into the all-too-common meme that the people of color who are the bedrock of the Democratic coalition aren’t real American voters.

If Jim Webb can come up with concrete ways of broadening Democratic appeal to the Southern white working class, that would be great, although it would be better if he’d pass them along to someone who’s serious about running for president.  But until he does, talking about the desirability of doing so in the way he does isn’t merely unhelpful but pernicious.

Today In Incomprehensible Defenses Of Idiotic Decisions

[ 64 ] February 2, 2015 |

Darrell Bevell, everybody!

Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell says the play call that may have ultimately cost his team the Super Bowl was made with the game clock in mind.

The Seahawks had second-and-goal at the New England 1 with 26 seconds to go Sunday, but instead of giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch, Seattle ran a slant route intended for Ricardo Lockette that was intercepted by Malcolm Butler in the 28-24 loss to the New England Patriots.

“We were conscious of how much time was on the clock and we wanted to use it all,” Bevell said. “It didn’t turn out the way I hoped it would.

I’ve read more convincing defenses of Shelby County. Let’s think this through, shall we? Four things can happen if you throw in that situation:

  • Incomplete pass.  Since this stops the clock, this is…distinctly suboptimal when it comes to burning clock.
  • Pass complete for TD.  Does not burn substantially more time than running for a TD.
  • Pass complete short of the end zone.  Much less likely than a run short of the end zone, so again, if the idea is to burn clock what the hell?
  • Interception.  Disturbingly likely when you throw a slant into congested coverage to a receiver of, ah, modest accomplishment.  On the upside, the time-remaining-on-the-clock problem takes care of itself!  On the downside, you lose.

As a commenter noted, this belongs next to the “Moops invaded Spain” variant of anti-ACA litigation in the Making an Indefensible Argument Worse Hall of Fame.  If you buy what seems to me Bevell’s excessive focus on burning clock with less than a minute left and Belichick not using his timeouts, this counsels even more strongly for a running play.   For that matter, a read option or play action pass — calls that actually would be perfectly defensible — would burn more clock than a quick slant.  There’s no possible way this justification can make any sense.

While we’re here, I mentioned this in an update to the other thread, but also when you cost your team the Super Bowl you should probably avoid attacking your players in the media.  I think Bevell needs to be Grady Littled.


Well, That Was Horrible

[ 125 ] February 1, 2015 |

Congrats to the Pats, solidarity with Packer fans! Some notes:

  • I’ll have more about chance and Patriots Super Bowls when I finish my BallGhazi post, but let me say that however sick people get about hearing about Brady and Belichick, they’ve earned all the hype.  As I said in the comment thread, watching the Pats on offense was simultaneously painful to watch as a Seahawks fan, but also beautiful as a football fan.  The Lane injury was obviously critical, making a lot of bad matchups inevitable, but B/B and McDaniels exploited the holes with ruthless precision again and again.  (OTOH, if I were a Falcons fan I wouldn’t be thrilled with what I saw out of Quinn today — as Collinsworth pointed out, the number of times Gronkowski was left in vanilla man coverage against linebackers was bizarre.)  It’s impossible to resolve the Peyton/Brady debate because of the unanswerable counterfactual of what Manning would look like if he was working with Belichick, but it’s just a remarkable body of work the two have put together.  I think only Montana/Walsh can measure up, and that league was more easily dominated.  And if you think that the winning is based on taping defensive signals or slightly underinflated footballs, you’re going to keep losing to them.
  • On The Play — for once, I’m going to fully agree with the conventional wisdom.  It’s not that I always think you should run in that situation.  But the Seahawks have the best running game in the league by 20 percentage points of DVOA, and the Pats have a pedestrian run defense.  And it’s important to observe here what makes Lynch great — greater than his yards-per-carry numbers — is that he’s not a boom-or-bust back like Barry Sanders; some highlight reel runs aside his strength is consistently getting positive yardage.  There should be a very strong presumption in favor of the running play there.  It would be one thing if the call was a clever play action pass that left someone wide open in the endzone, but not only was passing a bad idea that particular, high-risk pass call was inexplicable and abysmal.  And as big a fan as I am of Wilson, he shouldn’t escape blame — whatever they expected to happen didn’t happen, and that ball had to be sent out of the endzone.
  • It’s irrelevant now, but I didn’t understand why Belichick didn’t use a timeout after Lynch was stopped at the 1 — Seattle wasn’t getting the ball back if they got stuffed, and if they punched it in New England only needed a field goal.  I suppose one could argue that Belichick didn’t want to give Seattle time to think through a play call, and if so you’d have to say it worked brilliantly.  As much as I admire Belichick, I’m more inclined to think he got lucky.
  • Hopefully we won’t be hearing the “they should just let him score!!!!!1!!!!!!” line with a defense ahead again for a while.
  • It will also be largely forgotten, but as horribly as Carroll and Wilson screwed up the biggest play of the game the way they played the end of the first half was beautiful.  The contrast to how McCarthy played for a field goal at the end of the NFC Championship is telling.
  • One downside of having a strong rooting interest: it’s hard to appreciate how good that game was.

…I still can’t find the text (video here), but Carroll’s explanation after the game was bizarre.  You’re going to waste second down? Because the other team is selling out against the run on the goal line?  His 9/11 trooferism is more coherent.

…Personal to Darrell Bevell: when you call a bafflingly poorly-designed play to a marginal third-string wide receiver, it’s really bad form to throw the receiver under the bus. You presumably knew that Lockette wasn’t Calvin Johnson when you called the damned play.  As Brien says in comments, this is exactly the kind of thing Belichick doesn’t do; he plays to his players’ strengths and doesn’t demand things they aren’t capable of.  Rodger Sherman: “This is a bad look for Bevell. He made a call. That call was for a converted track star with 18 career receptions to fight for a ball on the goal line.”

Game Thread

[ 264 ] February 1, 2015 |

Should be fun.


Super Bowl Open Thread/Prediction

[ 59 ] February 1, 2015 |

If only this game had happened last year:

Your 2013 record: 12-4, featuring an AFC title game curb-stomping at the hands of the Broncos, who were themselves curb-stomped by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl two weeks later. Obviously, this means that if the Patriots had played the Seahawks, they would have lost 945-6. God, I would love to see that happen in a Super Bowl one day. I’d love to see Pats fans get all stammery and annoying just because Pete Carroll beat them senseless. HE’S NAWT REALLY A GOOD COACH! WE KNOW BETTAH!

As the sarcastic “obviously” suggests, you can’t take the chain literally — the same logic can show that the Raiders (who beat the Chiefs, who beat the Seahawks and the Patriots) were the best team in the NFL this year. But it certainly would have been very hard to see the Patriots beating the Seahawks in the Super Bowl last year. This year, of course, it’s very easy to see. New England is substantially better, Seattle not quite as good. Schatz claims that it could be the closest Super Bowl matchup ever, and it’s not implausible.

I assume if you care you’ve read Barnwell already. The opening insight — that both teams have defenses largely constructed to stop things their opposition in this game doesn’t really do — makes the game especially hard to call. What this near-coin flip comes down to for me is that I think the market is overreacting slightly to last week. The Green Bay game, admittedly, did reveal some real issues. Most notably, Seattle’s receivers are a real problem — if I was making a case for New England, I’d assume Revis takes Baldwin out of the game and ask who’s making plays for Seattle. And Green Bay shut down Seattle’s thinner pass rush — if Rodgers had been healthy, even Mike McCarthy couldn’t have given away enough points to keep Seattle in the game.* New England’s offensive line isn’t Green Bay’s, though, and Wilson isn’t going to play football that would embarrass Ryan Lindley for 50 minutes again. And note that Seattle turned the ball over twice five times and gave up only 22 points to the Packers — as you may have heard, Seattle can play some defense. Looking at the season as a whole, Seattle is a better team than New England — not much better, but better. And they’re mild underdogs. I think you have to take the point for what should be a terrific game. Seahawks (+1) over Patriots.

*For those who missed them, I think these thoughtful comments from fellow master of strategery Jim Caldwell — exclusive to LGM! — deserve careful consideration:

My biggest issue with McCarthy’s otherwise excellent coaching is I don’t think he used his punter effectively. That’s an awfully big weapon to leave just sitting on the sideline, especially late in the game. For example, on the last drive in regulation, I would have considered punting instead of kicking the field goal. McCarthy still had a timeout, and if he really pinned Seattle deep and trusted his defense, he could have forced a safety or a turnover. Then overtime wouldn’t have even been necessary.

Though it is pretty hard to dispute that McCarthy coached circles around Carroll. I like Carroll’s idea to fake the field goal, but he completely botched it. The better call there is to have the punter/holder take the snap and pooch kick it. That’s what you do when you trust your defense. Having him throw it is a sign of serious weakness and lack of trust.

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