Russell Wilson became the first player this season to throw an interception from the 1-yard line.The biggest play of Super Bowl XLIX was the Seahawks’ pass play on 2nd-and-goal from the New England 1-yard line with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Russell Wilson’s pass to Ricardo Lockette was intercepted by Malcolm Butler.
Was it the worst play call in Super Bowl history, as some contend, or was it a smart decision with poor execution? We go inside the numbers on both sides of the debate.
Why the Seahawks should have run
In the past five seasons, including the playoffs entering last night, teams on the opponent’s 1-yard line ran the ball on 71 percent of all plays. On those plays, teams scored a touchdown 54 percent of the time while turning the ball over 1.5 percent of the time.
When passing from the 1, teams scored a touchdown just under 50 percent of the time while turning the ball over at a slightly higher rate.
The Patriots allowed five touchdowns on six rushes from their 1-yard line this season, including the playoffs (83 percent). Only the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins (both 100 percent) allowed touchdowns on a higher percentage of rushing plays from the 1-yard line.
If Seattle ran on second down, called a timeout and ran on third down, based on the league average touchdown percentage, two rushes would have resulted in a touchdown 79 percent of the time.
Why they shouldn't have run
For starters, interceptions on pass plays at the 1-yard line are very rare. Wilson’s was the 109th pass attempt from the 1-yard line in the NFL this season and the first to be picked off.
In the past 10 seasons, including the playoffs, quarterbacks have thrown 270 passes on second down from the opponent’s 1. They combined for 129 touchdowns and just five interceptions (Wilson’s on Sunday being the fifth).
Additionally, Marshawn Lynch has not been particularly good at punching it in from the 1-yard line in the past five seasons.
Among 39 running backs with at least 10 carries from the 1-yard line in the past five seasons (including playoffs), Lynch’s touchdown percentage (45 percent) ranks 30th. Also consider that this season, Lynch scored a touchdown on 1-of-5 rushes from the 1-yard line.
From the 1-yard line
Past 5 seasons, including playoffs
It is important to note the change in philosophy on plays from the 1-yard line for NFL offenses as well. Teams have been throwing more often and had their most success throwing in 2014, as the chart shows.
A bigger question could be the play call. As Darrelle Revis said after the game: “I think the run’s coming with Marshawn. I just figured that they were just going to try to pound it with Marshawn Lynch for the touchdown, and they did not and it was in our favor.”
If most players on the Patriots expected the run, why not throw in a play-action fake, like on the Doug Baldwin touchdown from the 3-yard line? In the past five seasons, teams have scored a touchdown on 57 percent of their pass attempts from the 1-yard line after play action and 45 percent without a run fake.
Wilson was 6-for-7 for 132 yards and a touchdown on play-action passes Sunday, but did not use a play fake on the final offensive snap for the Seahawks.