After the Packers loss to the Seattle Seahawks, tons of ink was spent analyzing what happened. I believe most of the analysis suffers from “availability bias”: our tendency to treat recent events (the things most “available” in memory) as the primary cause. We tend to look at the last major play or two and give them outsized credit – the Seahawks’ two-point conversion, or their successful onside kick, for example (and we blame the individual players involved).
The outcome of a game, of course, isn’t because of a single play or a single player. It’s the result the entire game – and in this case, it’s the result of game-long conservative coaching.
I wrote off the game after the first series, when Green Bay didn’t go for a TD on fourth and inches. Obviously that series worked out (recovering a fumble on the kick return), but it was representative of an overall conservative outlook. The final score wasn’t the result of poor play by the players – especially poor Brandon Bostick – but poor coaching. It’s tempting to identify a single play or two, but if your gameplan rests on a single play or two, it’s not a good game plan.
The dagger for Green Bay was self-inflicted and came early in the fourth quarter, when the Packers had two three-and-out series in a row. In both, they basically tried to run it up the middle for no gain or a loss of yards, and eventually kicked it. After the first, they got an interception and another chance. A lot of columnists are blaming the guy who intercepted the ball for going down instead of running.
It’s a key play, but there is green in front of Burnett for yards and yards and if he had continued to return it, he might have at least put the Packers in field goal position. All he had to do was get around a couple of offensive linemen and get a block on Russell Wilson and the game may have been over.
Sure, he could have gained a few extra yards (or more). But the real blame lies with the Green Bay offense (and coaching), which took over and decided to do the same thing for three more downs, finally punting it away. The safety got an interception; that’s outstanding. It’s not up to him to put points on the board; it’s up to the offense to capitalize on his great play and put the game away. Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers and an elite offense; instead, they just handed it to Starks (not even Lacy) for lost yardage each play. If we have a problem with the defense – who just intercepted the ball! – not playing aggressively enough, we should have a much bigger problem with the Green Bay offense not playing aggressively after having time to think about it.
One might argue that their defense had played very well all day, so it makes sense to leave it up to them. But the truth is that Packers were very lucky – Seattle has one of the lowest turnover ratios in the league, and to suddenly turn it over a zillion times is uncharacteristic. Part of that can be attributed to a Packers defense that had them dialed, but there’s no way that turnover ratio is sustainable. Russell Wilson isn’t some third string yahoo. He’s one of the league’s best quarterbacks, leading one of the league’s best offenses. There’s going to be a regression to the mean.
Anyway, that’s what it comes down to for me: a conservative game plan and conservative play calling. You don’t win championships like that. The gameplan has to set up players for success, not count on them to make miraculous plays.
Can you imagine what Bill Belichick would have done with this? Not only would he have gone for it on fourth and inches, but he would have made every effort to put a dagger in Seattle’s heart, running up the score. You can call it classless, but it wins games. When your opponents are reeling and on their heals, you finish them off. You don’t lollygag around and wait for them to gather their wits. Overall, Seattle is a better team than Green Bay – Green Bay needed to get lucky and be smart. They got lucky but weren’t smart.