On the concept of 'players, not plays'

Belichick Defends Seahawks' Play Calling (2:17)

ESPN insiders Mark Dominik, Dan Graziano and Field Yates discuss Patriots coach Bill Belichick's comments that criticism of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is "totally out of line." (2:17)

Something has been ringing in my ears since the wild ending to the Super Bowl on Sunday night, and I want to make sure to present it in the appropriate way. Pete Carroll's explanation for calling a pass play on second-and-goal from the 1-yard line instead of running it with Marshawn Lynch has been broken down a million different ways, and some have pointed out that there is a logical case to be made in support of the decision. And there may well be.

But there's a difference between a logical explanation and a practical one, and no matter what the numbers say, Carroll's decision made no sense from a practical standpoint. The reason is that Lynch is his running back, and a near-certain bet to gain that 1 yard given multiple chances.

So I keep flashing back to something I wrote in December, at the tail end of a lost New York Giants season. I asked Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo what he'd learned in his first year as a coordinator and play-caller, and his answer is relevant to this discussion:

"You don't fall into the trap where you think the system is everything. In tough times, you think about players, not plays. That's the first thing that comes to mind. ... Simply, the best play may not be the best play because it doesn't get the person the ball who gives you the best chance to win the game. Getting the ball to the right guy at the right time is critical."

Now, please don't misunderstand me here. I understand completely that McAdoo is at the completely opposite end of the coaching experience spectrum from Pete Carroll, and I am in no way comparing the merits of the two as NFL coaches. McAdoo someday might boast accomplishments that compare to Carroll's, but even if that's to happen it's a long way off.

My point is just that I think McAdoo's words articulate the argument in favor of giving Lynch the ball in that situation. If you'd told Carroll in August that he'd be on the 1-yard line down four points in the final minute of the Super Bowl, he'd likely have said, "Great. We win," and the reason would be because of his confidence in Lynch to get that yard. In the moment, though, he outcoached himself and made things more complicated than they needed to be. Had he been thinking about his best player, as opposed to trying to figure out the best play, the outcome for the Seahawks might have been different.