Thoughts on SB XLIX Coaching, Unabridged!

THE APOTHEOSIS OF BELICHICK:

THE DEFINITIVE BREAKDOWN OF THE END OF SUPER BOWL X LIX 

Pay attention and we can get through this. It’s wordy, but it’s simple.

Let’s first focus on Marshawn Lynch’s short-yardage touchdown in the first half. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll learn something about the end of the game.

Situation: The Seahawks had a 2nd and 6 at the Patriots 7 yard line.

Personnel: The Seahawks used 21 personnel. 2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR

The Patriots countered with a base 34 with 2 corners and 2 safeties. The safeties were near the linebackers, giving a “9 in the box” look.

1sthalf2nd5

Result: The Seahawks ran for four yards, leading to the following play:

Situation: The Seahawks had a 3rd and 2 at the Patriots 3 yard line.

Personnel: The Seahawks went from 21 to 11 personnel. 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR

The Patriots countered with a 4-2 nickel with 3 corners and 2 safeties, with 7 in the box:

1sthalf3rd2

Result: With Wilson in the gun and Lynch to his left, Seattle’s typical zone-read look… Lynch crossed in front of Wilson, got the handoff, ran around the right end AND SCORED A TOUCHDOWN.

Seattle won the matchup and Belichick paid attention. That will matter later!

There aren’t many good football writers, and some of the few (Bill Barnwell, Andy Benoit, Benjamin Morris) are writing that Belichick should have called a timeout before the Seahawks 2nd and 1. This is a case of smart people being too stubborn for real analysis and treating every game the same instead of evaluating the situation in THAT game. In most games, Belichick should call a timeout there, and he would have. But in THIS situation, Belichick knew to hold his water and NOT call it. Sure, there’d be more time on the clock. But that’s not the only thing that matters. A better chance of winning is what matters.

Remembering the first half Lynch TD sequence, appreciate the coaching adjustment:

Situation: The Seahawks had first and goal at the 5 with 1:06 remaining and one timeout.

Personnel: The Seahawks used 21 personnel. 2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR (same as first half)

The Patriots countered with the same base 3-4 with 2 corners and 2 safeties “9 in the box” look they used in the first half. Look at it, it’s not only the same personnel group in the same formation, it’s the same players!:

2ndhalf_1stGend2

The Seahawks are in a varation of the same formation, a Pro Set I. Same running gaps, with the tight end on the line tight to the left side.

Result: The Seahawks ran successfully, getting four yards (same as the last time).

In the screenshot below, you can see that the Patriots, while focusing on a Lynch power run, are prepared for Wilson to play-fake and either bootleg out or throw the slant. Even on this play, Seattle had 2 WRs stacked to the right. Ninkovich (50) has containment on Wilson, Revis (24) is prepared for the slant to Baldwin, with McCourty (32) underneath to help. Browner is jamming just as well as he did on the following play.

previousplay

Lynch was tackled at the 1, due mostly to an incredible block-shedding effort from Dont’a Hightower. The whistle blew with 1:01 on the clock, so let’s assume Belichick gets the timeout at 1:00. And hell, we’ve all seen enough football, let’s say he DID call the timeout. The Seahawks, realizing they have an abundance of time, would either:

  • run the read option (advantage Seahawks)
  • go Jumbo personnel and run power (advantage Seahawks)
  • go Jumbo personnel and run a bootleg (advantage Seahawks)
  • spread out and take advantage of the Patriots linebackers in coverage. On that very possession, Lynch had beaten Collins on a slant-and-go that Chris Collinsworth inexplicably called a wheel route (advantage Seahawks)

And remember, they get THREE CHANCES. Odds are, the Seahawks win the Super Bowl, convincing idiots everywhere that Belichick “did the right thing” by calling a timeout.

This is where Belichick took over, by doing something unexpected and by NOT doing something expected. As the Seahawks followed a 21 personnel I-formation 4 yard power run against a base 34 defense by subbing to 11 personnel – expecting Belichick to counter with his nickel that he used in the first half – Belichick instead sent out an overloaded goal line defense and DIDN’T call timeout. He sent 4 big defensive tackles (Wilfork, Siliga, Branch, Chris Jones), 4 DE/LB types (Chandler Jones, Ninkovich, Hightower, Collins), and 3 cornerbacks (Revis, Browner, Butler). Zero safeties. BTW this can’t be seen on the TV broadcast because NBC showed close-ups of Pete Carroll and then Bill Belichick, as if they were Johnny Unitas and Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday. SHOW THE FIELD! Fans can be forgiven for not understanding what happened because NBC DIDN’T SHOW IT.

Belichick knew:

  • the Seahawks had Marshawn Lynch, the best power runner in the NFL
  • the Patriots had the worst power run defense in the NFL
  • the Seahawks had three wide receivers (wrong for power running) on the field
  • the Patriots had three cornerbacks on the field to cover the WRs
  • the clock was running and the Seahawks had only one timeout

Which meant that on 2nd down against heavy defensive personnel, confused and seeing a ticking clock, the Seahawks might overthink. CHECK

And they might throw the ball. CHECK

Using a predictable pick/slant two-man route combination. CHECKMATE

The Patriots knew what was coming AND that calling a timeout would cause the Seahawks to change it. Why call a timeout to put the Seahawks in better position? The Patriots ran that same play in practice, because they’re prepared. Unprepared teams panic and call timeout there. Unprepared writers agree, but that’s their mistake, not Belichick’s.

Seeing the oversized defensive front, Bevell/Carroll send in the pass play (a play that according to Russell Wilson doesn’t give him the opportunity for checking out of).

The Seahawks break the huddle with :38 on the game clock, :17 on the play clock. The defense is fine, reading the formation, and at :15 on the play clock the quarterback’s headset automatically switches off.

huddle

The TV broadcast cuts to the wide view at :33 and :12. In the screenshot below you can see the stack forming. Belichick knows he’s got what he wants, it’s just up to Browner and Butler to make a play.

stackforming

With :31 on the game clock and :10 on the play clock, Wilson tells Lynch and Baldwin where to line up. By the snap, Lynch will be to Wilson’s left. Look at the stack at the bottom of the screen. The Patriots WANT it thrown there. The corners are ready and Baldwin hasn’t even lined up (in the below screenshot he’s behind the right tackle; at the snap, he was on the left side of the formation).

31and10left

Just after the snap (Browner already has his hands on Kearse)…

jam3

…and then (Browner still jamming, Lockette faking outside, Butler not biting)…

jam2

…and just before the throw (Butler already driving on the ball)

lynchopen

The three defenders at the top of the screen (Chandler Jones on Lynch…Jaime Collins on the TE…Revis on WR Baldwin) are all playing pass. The two at the bottom are playing the pick/slant, without help. Hightower is also playing pass, without knowing the call it’s hard to say but it looks as if he’s got in-breaking routes; maybe Lynch if Lynch breaks inside on an angle route, maybe disrupting Baldwin on a crosser so the ref can’t pick Revis? Either way, at the snap he starts to the strong side, watches Wilson then steps towards the throw. Wilson decided pre-snap that he’d throw the slant. Brandon Browner gets his hands on Kearse by the time Wilson gets the snap. Wilson’s throw being a bit late (according to some) or Lockette’s route-running being a bit off (according to some) is irrelevant, as the play’s design depends mostly on Kearse cutting off Butler. Kearse fails and Butler breaks on the slant before it’s thrown, with a clear path to the ball. If Lockette is running a whirl or fade it’s an easy TD. But he’s not. He’s running what the Patriots want him to run, where they want him to run it, when they want him to run it. Thems the breaks!

If ANYONE should have called a timeout, it’s SEATTLE. “Oh no,” scream the ignorant masses, “they only had one left.” No matter. They were down by 4 so they didn’t need to save one for a FG. By calling the timeout at 1:00, they’d have plenty of time for three running plays, or two running plays and a wacky pass play. Three plays from the one yard line, with the best power running back in the NFL, against the worst power running defense in the NFL? The parade would be in Seattle instead of Boston.

A lot of people are saying that pass play made sense. Sure, 100 or so passes had been thrown at the one yard line this season, with zero intercepted. But how many of those were by a great running team against the worst run defense and best coach ever? That number is far from 100. In fact, it’s ZERO. Marshawn Lynch [according to stats that should be ignored] is “not good” from the one yard line. Those stats aren’t against the worst run defense. If you’re crazy enough to throw it there, run read option play-action and throw it to the outside. If you (for some ridiculous reason) don’t want to play-fake, fine, Marshawn Lynch has his man beat. If you want to throw it, lob it to Lynch for a TD. It’s still stupid, an unnecessary risk, but it woulda worked.

Or just run it and win the Super Bowl. Dance with who brung ya, and all that jazz!

Some post-game quotes make it even worse for the Seahawks:

Pete Carroll said “One of those plays, you knew you were gonna have to throw it because you need to stop the clock so you can get the other two plays run.” THIS IS NONSENSE. You don’t “have to” or “need to” run the clock from 1:00 to :26! For instance, even without calling a timeout, you can run a play at :40 or so. If it’s a run, and it fails to get the ONE YARD, you can run again at :15 or so, and if you still fail (odds are by now you’d have a TD) you can call your final timeout and run or throw on 4th down. If the Eagles and Patriots can run a play ten to fifteen seconds after the previous play, the Seahawks can too. Instead they used 35 seconds! THIRTY-FIVE SECONDS.

Russell Wilson said, “On that play, there wasn’t really a check out of it…I thought it was going to be a touchdown.” WHAT?! On the 1 yard line with the Super Bowl hanging in the balance, Bevell and Carroll called a play that doesn’t allow the quarterback to make a check at the line?! Not even for a read option? I’m just gonna move on, because this is inexplicable. It’s the NFL – EVERY PLAY SHOULD HAVE A CHECK.

Another thing Carroll said, “That was a miraculous play [by Butler].” It was NOT miraculous, it was classic Belichick. A ballsy call based on film study. He’s been doing that since the 1980s. Westward the wagons! As Belichick said during the game, as aired on Inside the NFL, “There’s no new plays.” The Seahawks were running exactly what the Patriots expected all game. It was just a matter of execution.

If you’re a Seahawks fan or an idiot, Belichick shoulda called a timeout and hurt his team. If you understand football personnel and situations, Belichick did his job. Belichick wasn’t dumb enough to counter the Seahawks 11 personnel with another destined-to-fail nickel package, or call a timeout so the Seahawks could insert their jumbo personnel and win. He not only went bigger, he went way bigger. Not to stop a run, but to prevent a run call. Belichick isn’t banking on an interception. He’s simply hoping to face 1 or 2 or 3 pass plays, instead of watching Marshawn Lynch run for a touchdown. That’s why he’s the best head coach in football history. And to quote the best, “When you get wet, it usually means something good.”

bbgatoraded

Three more things Belichick knew:

1. Pete Carroll has a reputation for being “Big Balls Pete,” but most of the time he’s among the most conservative coaches, only breaking the pattern to make stupid mistakes. In the 2006 NCAA National Championship game, Pete went for a 4th and 2 at the end to ice the game. That part of the decision was correct. But in doing so, he kept his best player (Reggie Bush) on the sidelines, and ran a predictable running play up the middle with a less-talented player. He did exactly what the defense expected him to do. It was nuts, it failed, and Pete’s team lost. Contrary to what Split Enz told you, sometimes history does repeat.

2. Pete Carroll was scared of scoring too fast because of what happened in the 2012 playoffs against the Atlanta Falcons. He was overthinking instead of being prepared. He was trying to outsmart Belichick, when Belichick had already outsmarted Carroll.

3. Darrell Bevell has a tendency to call a pass play when a run would win. In that 2010 game, with 19 seconds left, needing only a FG, Bevell ran exactly what the Saints defense expected. It is hilarious that people forget these things so quickly, maybe even Bevell forgot. Belichick doesn’t forget. That’s why he’s renaming his boat again.

In short, Carroll and Bevell not only failed to learn from the past, they failed to learn from their past(s).

BRIEFLY, ON COACHING UNRELATED TO THE FINAL SEAHAWKS PLAY

Patriots Offense versus Seahawks Defense:

Failure to adjust the defensive game plan backfired on the Seahawks. Brady was 13 for 15 in the 4th; he was 21 of 23 for 170 yards and 3 TD when his first read was open. Make him go to his second read! Get him off his spot! It’s like nobody told Tharold “Not Harold” Simon to watch out for Edelman on the whirl route. The Patriots missed the first one, but not the second. The zone blitz late in the fourth with Dobbs dropping into coverage? Probably the easiest crossing route Brady threw all year. The pass rush was largely a one-man show, and once Michael Bennett was gassed, Brady got comfortable. A lot of people think it’s an excuse that Cliff Avril left the game injured, but football players always get injured. If the Seahawks hadn’t overpaid Sherman, they could have had the same great pass rush as last year, with Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. Instead, it was a one man show all year. It finally caught up to them, facing 52 pass plays (50 attempts plus 1 sack and 1 penalty) after the Seahawks only faced an average of 31 pass plays per game during the season. Most of the pass rushes were stunts, which take longer to develop. Against a quarterback who gets rid of the ball quickly, this makes no sense. It’s a bad game plan AND terrible lack of adjustment. One great call: Brady’s first interception, a great stunt by Bennett and a rare quarters coverage by the Seahawks.

Patriots Defense versus Seahawks Offense:

The Seahawks disappointing offensive game plan featured the same plays they ran all year, power runs for Lynch combined with isolation routes out of spread formations. The Patriots were one of the worst teams at defending tight ends; the Seahawks threw ZERO passes to their tight end. The Patriots mostly played man, altering their pass rushes, with Hightower spying in early downs and McCourty spying on 3rd downs, usually in a Cover 1 Robber. The Patriots used base 3-4, different nickels, and a heavy dime package. They usually put their defensive tackles in the B gaps, but other times they’d rush a defensive tackle wide. Even Vince Wilfork! They had, at various times, 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 or 9 players in the box. When faced with a read option look, the Patriots simply kept a defensive end out wide so that Wilson would hand it off. The Seahawks only ran a few, and didn’t seem to consider it at the end.

Carroll gets points for aggressiveness and smarts at the end of the first half, but that’s about it. Most teams would have kicked the FG with :06 on the clock. Knowing he had time for two snaps, Carroll got a touchdown on a quick pass. Congrats, bro! (EDITOR: Oops! On Wednesday it was revealed that Pete DIDN’T know he had time, that Russell Wilson convinced him to throw with :06 left. Just shows we should never give Carroll the benefit of the doubt.)

Overall:

Most of the game was dictated by gameplans and injuries, with no crucial coaching decisions to be evaluated. The Patriots dinked and dunked like they have since Randy Moss left, with no success in the running game but none required, while the Seahawks did what the Seahawks do. I’d have liked to see Carroll show a 6 man blitz to Brady, to force Vereen and/or Gronk to stay in and block, put Sherman on Edelman, with four defenders to cover the other two receivers. That wasn’t done even once. That’s a high school caliber adjustment. Maybe even junior varsity. Many people say the Seahawks had no more defensive backs. But when Belichick faces that problem, he makes adjustments anyway, like a coach is supposed to. An Edelman in coverage here, a Troy Brown in coverage there. Maybe a double A gap blitz, also not seen from the Seahawks. The Patriots mixed personnel and formations as always, with the only real adjustment being Brandon Browner replacing Kyle Arrington in covering Chris Matthews.

If Russell Wilson doesn’t burn the Seahawks first timeout with 1:50 remaining and the clock already stopped, the Seahawks have TWO left at the end, and have no need to throw. The biggest timeout debate should center around that, not Belichick’s decision, which is obvious to anyone with enough football knowledge. Wilson took that timeout to avoid a 5 yard penalty. On a drive in which he had plays of 31 yards and 33 yards, 5 extra yards is nothing to fear, and certainly nothing to waste a valuable time out on.

But I digress…before you claim “hater,” understand that I like Pete Carroll. Compared to most NFL coaches, he is – to use the parlance of our times – fucking brilliant. But not brilliant enough. Not for nothing did Robert Kraft fire Pete Carroll so he could hire Bill Belichick.

note: all screenshots are from NFL Game Rewind, as per usual…

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