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posted by martyb on Wednesday February 04 2015, @03:15AM   Printer-friendly
from the [not]-everything-works-in-[game]-theory dept.

Justin Wolfers writes in the New York Times that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll's reasoning behind the play that led to the Patriots' interception that clinched Super Bowl XLIX is defensible in terms of game theory. The key insight of game theory for an NFL coach is that when you think about what choice you should make, you need to also consider the response from the opposing coach, understanding that he is also thinking strategically. There is no play that cannot be stopped if the defence knows it is coming. If the Seahawks were to sign a blood oath promising to have Mr Lynch run the ball, the Patriots could simply throw all 11 defenders at him and stop him in his tracks.

“This line of thinking suggests that you should not necessarily call a run play, even if you’re blessed with a great running back. Likewise, it’s not clear that you should definitely pass,” writes Wolfers. “Rather, your choice should be somewhat random — a choice that game theorists call a ‘mixed strategy.’” The logic is that if you always choose to run in this situation, then you make the opposing coach’s job too easy, as he will set a defensive formation aimed at stopping your running back. Instead, you need to keep your opponents guessing, and the only way to do this is to be unpredictable — essentially playing the football equivalent of Rock-Paper-Scissors. According to Wolfers this leads to the intriguing possibility that if that fateful final play were to be run in a dozen parallel universes, with each coach continuing to play the same mixed strategy, the actual plays called would differ, as would their outcomes. “And so the same teams pursuing the same strategies under the same circumstances might have yielded a different Super Bowl champion.” The only reason Carroll is being raked over the coals is because the play happened to end in an exceedingly improbable interception. Not one of the previous 106 passing plays that NFL teams launched from the one-yard line in 2014 was picked off.

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  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04 2015, @03:55AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04 2015, @03:55AM (#140998)

    Here were the problems:

    - New England's defensive secondary is highly experienced and well-coached, among the very best in the league (as is Seattle's).

    - There is very little margin for error at the goal line, simply because the entire defense is stacked up within a few yards of the line of scrimmage, and there's not much room to run behind them. And not enough time to loft a skyball into the corner of the endzone for your tall wide receiver, the pretty throw that teams like to do from about 20 yards out. Funny things can happen when the ball is thrown in that cramped space. Even if Malcom Butler hadn't jumped in front of the receiver, the ball could've been deflected, batted around, and been essentially a jump ball.

    - Seattle QB Russell Wilson, while likely destined for a long career in the NFL and perhaps the Hall of Fame, is relatively inexperienced. In his previous playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, he threw four interceptions. So he's made that play in practice, maybe in a game, before but he wasn't familiar with all the things that can turn up in a game with everything on the line.

    - New England hadn't been able to stop "Beast Mode" Lynch all day. On the previous play, he took it from the five down to the 1 1/2. And had he been stopped short of the goal line, Seattle still had a time out, enough time to throw a pass AND (if that didn't work) give it back to Lynch, for a total of three plays (instead of one).

    So yeah, it was a bad call. Now if it worked, it would've been a great call, but it was a longer shot than Seattle had available.

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by gnuman on Wednesday February 04 2015, @04:09AM

    by gnuman (5013) on Wednesday February 04 2015, @04:09AM (#141003)

    So yeah, it was a bad call.

    I don't think it was a bad call. It's just that someone was going to win. So the other team had to lose.

    In the end, it was hell of a game and I hope that players understand that they are purely entertainment. And in this both teams delivered.

    • (Score: 2) by fadrian on Wednesday February 04 2015, @03:33PM

      by fadrian (3194) on Wednesday February 04 2015, @03:33PM (#141155) Homepage

      Yeah. It was definitely one of the better Super Bowls as far as the football went. Not a blowout. Pretty exciting at the ends of the halfs, in between? Well, not so much - the two teams are so good defensively that you didn't have a lot of action at other times. So it was a pretty good game - OK football with an exciting ending, relatively competent half-time show with no power outages. Not amazing, but compared with other Super Bowls, not too bad.

      That is all.
  • (Score: 2) by frojack on Wednesday February 04 2015, @06:29AM

    by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday February 04 2015, @06:29AM (#141024) Journal

    New England hadn't been able to stop "Beast Mode" Lynch all day.

    That's not true. Review the game recording and you will see several instances where Beast Mode was stopped for zero gain, and actually for a loss behind the line of scrimmage. They stopped him when ever they seriously needed to.

    On the fatal last play, Lynch ran to the left side goal line and was pretty much lightly covered. He was a decoy, but the Pats weren't buying it. Wilson never looked in that direction, because he was so focused on the up the gut pass that he was told to do. The one time he should have used the read option, he didn't. He probably didn't have time.

    No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04 2015, @07:07AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04 2015, @07:07AM (#141029)

    - Seattle QB Russell Wilson, while likely destined for a long career in the NFL and perhaps the Hall of Fame, is relatively inexperienced.

    Malcolm Butler [] was an un-drafted free agent and has very little experience, even when compared with Russell Wilson. His biggest headline prior to his game-saving interception in the Super Bowl was being named a starter in the third preseason game back in September.