Twitter continues to discuss the Seahawks crucial fourth quarter decision to punt the ball on 4th-and-11.
Here's a quick recap of the situation (not that you need it). Russell Wilson was sacked on 3rd-and-5 for a loss of six yards. That set up 4th-and-11 from Seattle's 36-yard line. The Seahawks, trailing 28-23, opted to punt the ball back to the Packers with 2:41 remaining rather than go for it.
Many of my colleagues agree with the decision -- Jake Heaps, Aaron Levine and Gregg Bell, most notably. I have tremendous respect for all three of those gentlemen. I just happen to disagree with them in this particular scenario. Rather than jump into the Twitter discourse, I decided to put pen to paper and explain my thought process, understanding fully that I may be in the minority here. (This is also beside the fact that Seattle wasted 41 seconds getting the punt team on the field and getting the punt away. That lack of urgency is for another story on another day...)
For starters, I understand why Seattle punted. The Seahawks had all three timeouts. They had faith that Michael Dickson would be able to pin the Packers deep and then their defense would be able to force a quick three-and-out. Dickson wasn't able to do so (his punt went into the end zone for a touchback), and the defense also failed to get a stop (Aaron Rodgers converted two key third downs). Thus, Wilson stood on the sideline as the clock ticked to 0:00 and the Seahawks season ended.
My take isn't one of hindsight. I believed the Seahawks should have gone for it in the moment as well, and my thinking is pretty straightforward. I believe it was unwise to take the ball out of your best player's hand (Wilson, obviously) and put your trust in a defense that didn't deserve it. Seattle's defense was shaky for most of the 2019 season and ranked 18th in DVOA. The Packers routinely whipped the Seahawks on third down and although Seattle had a few second-half stops, betting on that defense to beat Aaron Rodgers with the game on the line was unwise.
"But all the Seahawks had to do was get one stop on two separate third-and-longs."
I get it. But are you really that surprised that Rodgers converted? Seattle was satisfied to let Ugo Amadi go 1-on-1 against Davante Adams on the most critical play of the game. Advantage Packers... by a landslide. Green Bay finished the game 9-of-14 on third down.
My biggest point of confusion with the "punting was the right decision" crew is the notion that going for it would have put the entire game on one play. Let's pretend the Seahawks didn't convert. Two first downs still would have ended the game anyway. Had Seattle gotten a stop and Green Bay kicked a field goal, it would have been an eight-point game and the Seahawks still would have had the chance to force overtime. There's also a realistic chance Green Bay would have missed a long field goal attempt.
Now for the optimistic outlook. Why is it so crazy to think Wilson could have converted 4th-and-11? In the playoffs alone, the Seahawks were 4-of-7 converting on plays of 3rd-and-10 or longer. FOUR OF SEVEN. That's 57%. Wilson carved up the Packers the entire second half by engineering three-straight touchdown drives. He averaged 8.94 yards per pass attempt in the game and 9.14 yards per rush attempt. Especially given his ability in the scramble drill, converting on 4th-and-11 was far from an impossible feat. I promise you there were Packers fans who were relieved to see Seattle bring on the punting unit in that situation.
Let me conclude with this. The decision wasn't egregious. As ESPN's Seth Walder pointed out, the decision to punt didn't change Seattle's chances of winning from an analytical standpoint. In fact, for other teams with different personnel, it would have been the clear-cut correct decision.
To me the biggest takeaway is the added evidence to Pete Carroll's peculiar approach to the entire season. He continually put faith in Seattle's defense without recognizing he no longer possessed an elite group on that side of the football. Contrarily, Wilson was an MVP candidate and carried the Seahawks for most of the season. To take the ball out of his hands with the season on the line remains confusing to me for that reason.