Pete Carroll is different than most football coaches in many ways, one being that Chögyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism is among his favorite books. But my favorite Carroll unorthodoxy was on display Saturday, on the long pass that clinched the New Orleans game.
The Hawks faced a 3rd and 3 with an eight-point lead and 2:57 left. Conventional wisdom says you run the ball. That’s the “smart” play. Thankfully, Carroll doesn’t let what’s “smart” interfere with what makes sense.
Russell Wilson dropped back and lofted a long pass down the sideline that Doug Baldwin caught for a first down. And those slaves to conventional wisdom—the TV announcers—were astounded. FOX play-by-play man Kevin Burkhardt spouted: “How about the guts to throw it on third down!” Sputtered analyst John Lynch: “When they go back to throw I’m thinking, ‘What are they thinking?’”
The play call—made by Russell Wilson, planned by offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, and encouraged by Carroll—wasn’t gutsy or crazy. It was the smart play. It just takes an unorthodox mind like Carroll’s to recognize it.
The Seahawks had lined up with two wide receivers (Golden Tate and Baldwin), two tight ends, and one running back. This is a common personnel grouping. Defenses usually counter it by positioning at least one safety well behind the ball to prevent a deep pass.
But on this play, the Saints put no one deep. Nine defenders were up close to the line of scrimmage, waiting for the run. The other two were matched man-to-man against the Seahawks’ two receivers.
So you tell me: What’s the smart move here? You can run, despite the fact that the Saints have stacked their defense specifically to stop it. Or you can throw, taking advantage of the unmistakable man coverage that defenses usually try to hide.
To Carroll (and, you’d assume, Chögyam Trungpa) the answer is obvious. Baldwin was able to get a step ahead of Saints cornerback Corey White, creating the space he needed to catch Wilson’s soft, high pass. After the game, Wilson revealed that the Hawks expected this coverage from the Saints and had worked on it all week. And now Carroll is just two wins away from having something else that makes him different from most coaches—a résumé with both a Super Bowl title and an NCAA national championship on it.