Pete Carroll Needs A Data Guy, Better Respect For Statistics Or A Puppy

Bank Risk Management

We were underwhelmed by the creativity of last night’s Super Bowl commercials, but it makes sense that Budweiser’s top rated commercial took first place. While it was basically the same ad as last year, the data shows that if you put a puppy in an ad, the odds of success go way up. Further, if you put that puppy in peril and then have a cross-species rescue, what could be cuter?  Budweiser played the odds and garnered 45 million views and the top ranked ad spot while Pete Carroll, well, did the opposite.


While everyone knows the story by now, the play call is a poignant lesson in risk management. Second down, there was less than a minute remaining and a Super Bowl victory is 1.5 feet away.  With the game on the line, Seattle’s offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, sees that the Patriots, are stacked to defend the run. The employed logic is that the odds are that one play needs to be a pass in order to manage the clock, so it might as well be on second down. We are good with all that except, here is the thing - if you are going to play probabilities, play the probabilities - correctly. In this case, the less than 10% statistical edge you gain by calling for a pass on second down versus third or fourth down is eroded by a) being near the goal line so that your offense does not have the ability to spread out the defense, and b) you call a pass at the front of the end zone, the most dangerous place to put the ball.


If you are the Seahawks and reside in one of the most technologically advanced locations, and your owner is Paul Allen and it’s the Super Bowl, you easily have the following statistics at your fingertips: On second down and one, the odds of completing a successful running play are 70.3%. The odds of a successful pass play are 57.7% - That is a compelling difference. Since the ball was on the half-yard line, your odds of a run success go up, while your pass odds remain the same. This doesn’t include the fact that your team happens to have Marshawn Lynch, the premier runner in the League. Lynch had converted 85% of his short yardage plays this season and has been stopped for no gain just 17% of the time. Lynch was going against a team that has allowed opponents to score 81% of the time in power situations where the runner as less than two yards to go for a first or a touchdown. That is dead last in the NFL.


To be fair, Pete Carroll made another play against the odds right before halftime when he decided to pass into the end zone instead of kicking a field goal for a largely assured three points. The odds were very much against that play, but he pulled it off and no one is talking about that bad call. The difference we point out is that that call was done with half a football game, and a Katy Perry halftime performance, to go. If you don’t complete that pass, you still have 30 minutes of football to play. You call a pass play with the Super Bowl on the line with a half-minute to go and you are betting your whole year on a play where the odds are stacked against you. The odds are that the play in question was going to result in an incomplete pass. If not, it was going to be a sack or an interception.


We hate to Monday morning coach, but Pete Carroll and his offensive coaching staff gives the best argument for the fact that  you can only fly in the face of data for so long before probabilities catch up to you. This is the same when it comes to banking. Whether it is interest rate management, credit or strategy, sometimes you have to go with the play that is going to give you the best probability of a favorable outcome. Announcer Cris Collinsworth had it right immediately –"You have Marshawn Lynch. You have a guy who's been borderline unstoppable. ... If I lose this Super Bowl because Marshawn Lynch can't get into the end zone, so be it. ”


Someone needs to get Pete Carroll a puppy. He is going to need it.