Is Richard Sherman Right About Throwing at the 1-Yard Line?

BY Fansided and Joe Soriano/FanSided via NFL Spin Zone • December 17, 2016

Does Richard Sherman have a point about throwing the ball from the 1-yard line, or is the Seattle Seahawks cornerback mistaken?

The Seattle Seahawks made one of the most infamous mistakes in Super Bowl history in 2015, throwing an interception at the one-yard line to Malcolm Butler instead of simply running the football with Marshawn Lynch. Since that day, Pete Carroll is second-guessed whenever a passing play at the goal-line fails.

On Thursday Night Football, the Seattle Seahawks kicked off Week 15 with a 24-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams, avenging a 9-3 loss in Week 2. However, one of the talking points after the game had nothing to do with Tyler Lockett‘s big day or Russell Wilson‘s bounce-back performance from a five-interception game. No, it had to do with a near-interception at the 1-yard line from Wilson.

In the third quarter, Wilson nearly threw an interception from one yard out. The Seahawks ran with Marcel Reece, but it was a touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin that would close out the drive on third-and-goal.

The Seahawks didn’t lose possession on that sequence of plays, but cornerback Richard Sherman wasn’t a fan of the team’s strategy. He made sure the coaching staff knew how he felt, getting in the face of his offensive coordinator about not running the ball.

Pete Carroll, of course, had no problems with Sherman voicing his opinion. Seattle is known for being open to criticism from its players, regardless of how public it becomes, and Sherman is one of the team’s leaders. However, it would be wise for the Seahawks to explain to Sherman that his line of thinking is wrong in this case, because the Seahawks overall goal-line strategy over the past four years (the Wilson era) has been correct.

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    To examine the argument Sherman makes, which is shared by many other football fans, I took a look at the goal-line data on Pro-Football Reference for both running plays and for passing plays.

    Sherman’s assertion that the Seahawks are less willing to run the football than other teams in these situations is grounded in stats. On average, NFL teams, since 2012, pass the ball 21.3 percent of the time at the 1-yard line, but the Seahawks call passing plays 28.9 percent of the time. The New England Patriots pass 35.7 percent of the time, the Carolina Panthers toss it 25.5 percent of the time, the Denver Broncos throw 40.7 percent of the time,  and the Green Bay Packers pass 29.8 percent of the time.

    In short, the Seahawks run vs. pass split at the 1-yard line is similar to other top teams with strong passing games and capable rushers in between the tackles. However, is throwing the football at the one-yard line actually effective? Based on the data at hand, I would argue that it is.

    NFL teams score a touchdown on 50.5 pecent of their passing plays from one yard away. That average drops to 34.9 percent for rushing plays. About 2.2 percent of passing plays result in a turnover (fumble or interception), while 1.2 percent of rushing plays end in a turnover (fumble).

    As expected, passing plays are slightly more risky. On fourth downs, rushing plays result in a score 31.9 perccent of the time, and that shifts down to 22.9 percent on passing plays, highlighting the risks involved in throwing the ball at the goal-line.

    The Seahawks average touchdown conversion rate on passing plays form the 1-yard line is 38.5 percent, while their average on rushing plays is 30.2 percent. They have thrown one interception (you’ve seen it, trust me) and have never lost a fumble on these types of plays.

    That said, you can see that they, like most other teams, are more efficient at converting touchdowns on passing plays. But because throwing the ball does involve more of a risk, particularly on fourth downs, teams will draw far more criticism if they are unlucky enough to turn the ball over. Just eight teams have actually thrown an interception at the goal-line since 2012, and only one team, the Buffalo Bills, has done this twice.

    Seattle threw perhaps the most memorable goal-line interception in NFL history, so any mishap or near-mishap on a passing play at the one-yard line will be met with scrutiny. It’s a shame that few people are as interested in digging into the numbers, because the Seahawks goal-line frequency and effectiveness is on par with teams around the league.

    Those other teams, by the way, should be throwing the ball more often. There have been 1,863 rushing plays and 505 passing plays from the goal line, despite the fact that more passing plays result in touchdowns. That’s some food for thought the next time you overreact to a rare interception or near-pick from the 1-yard line.

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