Changing the Pattern

photo courtesy of Business Insider
photo courtesy of Business Insider/FOX Sports

Don’t Get Caught Napping

Matthew Stafford – the Quarterback of the Detroit Lions – performed a brilliant sleight of hand on the Dallas Cowboys today. With just a few seconds remaining in the 4th quarter and his team down 6 points having no timeouts, Stafford had an obvious chance to win the same and the clock was in danger of running out. The obvious choice was to spike the ball and stop the clock, giving his team one more chance to win. And that’s what everyone expected him to do.

Stafford ran up to the line shouting to his team to line up so he could spike the ball. And then he did the unexpected – took a quick snap and dove over his offensive linemen for a game tying (and eventually winning) touchdown. The Cowboys were caught absolutely flat-footed, and lost the game.

Was this an Anti-Pattern?

Software developers use the idea of a design pattern – a best practice for approaching a standard problem – as a first step to solving a problem like the one Stafford faced at the goal line. In the case the proper choice might have been either to take a quick pass at the end zone or to stop the clock. An “anti-pattern”, then, is a commonly used method to solve the problem that doesn’t work so well. The typical anti-pattern to an end of the game is one last attempt to make a touchdown, often on a fade or a “jump-ball” effort from the Quarterback to the team’s best receiver at the corner of the end zone.

Both the Cowboys and the Lions teams expected Stafford to spike the ball and stop the clock because that’s what usually happens at the end of a game. But they also should have both known that any play that late in the game and that close to the goal line could be a QB sneak. This wasn’t an anti-pattern or a crazy unexpected move by Stafford – it was just smart football.

What would have a made a difference? If the Cowboys defense had the presence of mind and the ability to focus on the quarterback, they might have been ready for the sneak. And it also might not have made a difference. The defense had just been beaten on a long play to set up the goal line situation, and they might have been demoralized or just ready to give up. Or maybe they were genuinely surprised. In either case the Lions pulled one over on the Cowboys. And Stafford looked like the MVP.

Be Unpredictable while Making a Logical Choice

Stafford succeeded and won the game because he guessed right. There are lots of times everyday in the course of a business when we can do the same. Choosing the unexpected while ensuring that it’s a logical and non-sensical choice is a good way to get a new result. Hopefully it’s the result you want 😉

To see a classic version of the same sort of play, see Dan Marino’s fake spike and TD pass.


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