Blame McCarthy for Lighting Points on Fire

Yesterday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy made more than a few questionable in-game decisions during the course of his team’s epic collapse to the Seattle Seahawks, costing them what seemed to be an all-but-guaranteed trip to Phoenix for Super Bowl XLIX.  Bill Barnwell has a nice take today up on Grantland, which is quite explicit about the shortcomings of McCarthyism.

The whole situation was enough to get me a little agitated, as I expressed via Twitter:

Let’s all just sit here and think about it for a second to review the basics. There are really only two levers of control that a team has in influencing the outcome of an NFL football game.

One is the performance of the players on the field. Through coaching, training, and practice throughout each week, players prepare to perform to the best of their abilities to shift the outcome of the game in their favor.

The second sphere of influence is in-game decision-making. Play-calling, timeout strategy, substitutions, and offensive tempo all fall under this umbrella. These are the things that you might not explicitly see with your eyes unless you are looking closely.

When it comes to performance of players on the field, there are only so many things you can do without breaching the rules and getting suspended, fined, or penalized in some way. For example, performance-enhancing drugs are explicitly illegal under the current CBA & league rules. If these rules weren’t in place, it’s reasonable to assume that most players would partake in the consumption of these substances in order to increase their influence on the outcome of a game (actually, some players even do this in spite of the rules). Taken a step further, let’s pretend that robots and other wearable technology were allowed on the field with the players to influence the outcome of a game. If this were the case, don’t you think teams would be putting some serious capital investment and R&D into these arenas? A robot that could play quarterback better than Aaron Rodgers would probably be a hot commodity on the free-agent market. But unfortunately, robots are illegal on the field.

What happens when we extend this line of thinking to in-game decision-making? Well, unless I’m mistaken, there are no rules that prohibit robots from helping coaches with play-calling, timeout strategy, substitutions, and how to set the offensive tempo. In fact, the New York Times already has a robot that makes pretty good judgments on fourth-down decisions. Why are more teams in the NFL not taking advantage of these legal, performance-enhancing methods? Your guess is as good as mine.

Listen, I know that this stuff shouldn’t drive me crazy. I know that I’m really fighting the good fight by blogging about fourth-down decision-making on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. But when an NFL coach lights 2.6 expected points on fire in the first quarter of a high-stakes game where his team is the underdog, there should be some immediate form of consequence, especially for the team’s fans who contribute so much time, money, and emotion to that coach’s employer. If people can make such destructive and preventable decisions in broad daylight without any form of real consequence from the people charged with holding them responsible, what does that say about the version of society which we’re currently a part of?

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