Extra points: Breaking down my criticism of Pete Carroll
Posted by Jerry Brewer
This is not the kind of column that I enjoy writing.
If you read me regularly, then you know that I'm not an armchair quarterback. I don't write flippant commentaries that ignore the difficulty of sports. I respect the athletes who play these games at a high level, the coaches who are constantly strategizing, motivating and evaluating, and the front office personnel who must make tough, multifaceted decisions under intense scrutiny.
So, it's rare that I devote entire columns to heavy questioning of a sports figure, especially when I'm writing off a game and only have a couple of hours to process my thoughts. Today's column is the exception, and ones like this will always be the exception with me because I'm more of a thinker than a knee-jerk reactor. That's just my style. Some might consider it soft. It's just who I am, and I'm always going to tell the reader exactly what I think when I've had time to examine the entire issue.
In this case, I was strongly opposed to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll's decision to have Steven Hauschka try a 61-yard field goal on fourth and 8 with 13 seconds remaining. I would've rather seen Carroll allow quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who was having a career day, attempt a fourth-down conversion. The Seahawks had a timeout. If they converted, they had enough time left to use that timeout and give Hauschka a more manageable kick.
As I expressed in the column, this was a difficult decision. Carroll called it a "hard situation" afterward.
"I didn't want to not have a chance to win the game," Carroll said. "We had an opportunity, and an old coach told me that if you have a chance to win on the last play of the game, you go for it."
As I wrote, I understand Carroll's logic. But this excerpt frames the reason I disagree with it.
The Atlanta Falcons beat the Seahawks 30-28 Sunday at CenturyLink Field mostly because of their fast start. But the end will be the biggest storyline. To be fair, you should resist oversimplifying Carroll's choice and saying it cost the Seahawks the game. A victory would have required an amazing play either way. But consider what Carroll requested by giving the order to attempt what would have been a franchise-record field goal.
The Seahawks have made only one field goal longer than 55 yards in franchise history. That was Josh Brown's 58-yarder in 2003. The longest field goal in this stadium's history was a 55-yarder from Brown in 2005. Only nine players in NFL history have made field goals of 60 yards or longer. Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski made a 63-yarder, which is tied for the NFL's longest, three weeks ago to beat Denver. But that attempt broke a tie score. In the Seahawks' case, Carroll put everything on Hauschka's desperate try.
We've seen nine 60-plus yard field goals in the history of the league. And none of those happened at CenturyLink Field, kicking toward the Hawks Nest, where the wind is an opponent, and kickers have suffered many hardships over the years. On the other hand, I've seen a lot of dramatic fourth-down conversions with the clock operating as the enemy, many of them longer than eight yards.
I weaved a point throughout that column: Unlikely trumps unprecedented. I know that Hauschka has a strong leg, and he was booming some of his kickoffs during that game. But those kickoffs were in the other direction, and he has much more of a running start than he does on a field-goal try.
I had a nice Twitter debate last night with someone I respect, Scott Enyeart, a writer and a football savant who has coached high school and Division I football and has ties to Carroll's coaching staff. Enyeart argued the other side and pointed me (via James Santelli) to Brian Burke's this post on AdvancedNFLStats.com, which crunched some numbers to explain the difficulty of the decision.
In the piece, Burke writes: "At very best, SEA could hope for a 20% shot from 61 yds, and that's very generous, allowing for solid footing and good weather." Then he goes on to put the chances of converting on fourth and 8 at 37 percent, and if the Seahawks did that, the odds of Hauschka making a kick from 53 yards (assuming the Seahawks only got eight yards on fourth down and not, say, 15 or 20) would've been 50 percent "at least."
Do the math, and that means the Seahawks would've had a 19 percent chance -- "at least," Burke notes -- of pulling off a conversion/field goal double. And they would've had a 20 percent -- "at most," Burke notes -- of making the 61-yard field goal.
So, that's how tough the decision was. It's basically a coin flip if you look at those numbers. But the numbers don't factor in the difficulty of making long field goals when you're facing the Hawks Nest at that stadium and other CenturyLink Field-specific information (like the fact that no one has ever kicked a field goal longer than 55 yards in the stadium's history). And there's no way to measure whether Jackson's hot hand (25 of 38 for 319 yards and three touchdowns) dramatically changes the likelihood of a fourth-down conversion.
Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't. My belief is that Jackson deserved the chance because he was so good, especially in the second half. And I feel that a franchise quarterback -- Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, etc. -- would've been given that opportunity. But the Seahawks don't have a franchise quarterback, so that's a moot point.
I hope I adequately expressed in the column that, while I think Carroll was wrong, it's not an easy decision. Carroll didn't cost the Seahawks a victory. In fact, he helped put them in a position to win with the adjustments he made after the Seahawks fell behind 27-7. They just came up short in this 30-28 loss to Atlanta. I left this game feeling a lot better about where the Seahawks are overall. They're making progress, tangible progress. I just disagreed with Carroll's last-ditch effort there on fourth down.
A couple of final tidbits that you may find interesting:
1. If I had a looser deadline Sunday night or space to write longer, I probably would've devoted more words to receiver Sidney Rice's painful five-yard false start penalty on that final drive, as well as the Seahawks' overall inefficiency on that possession. Rice had a nice game, which including a 52-yard touchdown catch, and he owned up to the mistake afterward. His accountability is admirable. Those five yards were huge. I also would've written more about the Seahawks burning those two second-half timeouts because they had 12 defensive players on the field. One is understandable. Two? C'mon, get organized. Jackson wouldn't have had to lose a down spiking the ball if he had an extra timeout.
2. You may have noticed the column had a very narrow focus for a game that offered so many dimensions. That's because we had four writers covering the game -- reporters Danny O'Neil and Percy Allen and fellow columnist Steve Kelley -- and we all must work as a team and write specific angles to make sure the newspaper's coverage is varied. We can't all write sprawling, comprehensive reports on what happened. There would be too much overlap. Before we head to the locker room, Kelley and I always have a discussion, and we tell each other which opinion we'll pursue. Kelley chose to focus on the positives, specifically the no-huddle offense in the second half. I wanted to write about the way the game ended. We successfully avoided repetition, which is the goal. If this had been a road game, only one of us would've been there to write an opinion, and O'Neil would've been the only reporter. In that case, the risk for overlap isn't quite as high. In that case, I have the freedom to give a broader opinion. And I probably would've written a mash-up perspective that included the thrill of the comeback and the agony of Carroll's tough (and I still think wrong) decision at the end.
The reason for this post is to provide complete transparency on how I, as a columnist, thought through a difficult piece to write. I try to do this after every controversial column. Once again, I hate being the armchair quarterback, but I owe it to you to stay true to what I think and not hold back. Your reaction, whether positive or negative, to my columns aren't my concern. The integrity of my thoughts are.
I don't play games with readers. You're too important. I'll never write something negative just to get a reaction, and I'll never write with fake positivity just to protect or develop a source, or just to make the public happy. I do my research, mull over my opinion and try to express myself as clearly and genuinely as possible, and I want to write with flair. This is my standard of success.
I hope you appreciate the honesty.
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