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Going Ultra-Conservative Can Cost You the Game – In NFL and Business

Going Ultra-Conservative Can Cost You the Game – In NFL and Business

I watched a maddening game this weekend as the Seattle Seahawks edged out my Denver Broncos. Since I’ve lived in both cities, I will hear plenty from my Seattle friends about how awesome and unstoppable the Seahawks are. They are an excellent team, with an incredible home-field advantage (19-1 in last 20 home games), but the Denver Broncos approach of “going ultra-conservative” probably cost them this game.

Here are my three takeaways from the game – and one call to action:

1. Go with what got you there

Coaches conceived of football’s “draw plays and screen plays” to fool defenses on obvious passing downs. The play would develop like a passing play, the linemen would fall back into a more passive pass block and appear to get beat by the defender, and then the quarterback would handoff or make a short toss to the running back for a huge gain up the middle. Those are still great plays – when the defense is not expecting it.

However, the Broncos ran multiple times on obvious passing downs (2nd and 10, 3rd and 8, 3rd and 10). There wasn’t much disguise, and some fans could even “feel it coming”. They didn’t trust a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, who has thrown for almost 66,000 yards with a 65% completion rate in his career, to move the chains without a mistake. They didn’t trust a receiving corp that helped make the Broncos the #1 offense in the league last year. Instead, they fell into the “field position” game reserved for defensive-minded football teams with mediocre quarterbacks. End Result: They punted many times.

Business Lesson: Go with your strengths, and trust your teammates and your organization. How many yards and potential points, and how much time for the Broncos defense to “rest” so they could have intensity in overtime, were lost because the Broncos played ultra-conservative? One of my favorite expressions, besides “go with what got you there”, is “go with Plan A until your competition proves that Plan A will not work for you.” If you try to mix in your “Plan B” and “Plan C” options, then you never get into a rhythm executing on your strengths…and your opposition develops confidence that they are in your heads and are going to beat you!

2. Your fears may be realized anyway

So the Broncos spend the first three quarters going ultra-conservative, and then they have to open up the offense to catch up. Since they are behind, the offense has to become “one-dimensional” - everybody knows they need to pass the ball to move down the field and score quickly. Because they no longer have balance, the defense can focus on defending the pass. As a result, Peyton Manning throws a late interception as the Broncos are moving into scoring position with an opportunity to actually take a lead in the game.

Business Lesson: Challenge your fear, do not give it greater impact by running from it! I wrote a Fear of Failure Leads to Failure blog post after the Broncos lost to the Ravens in the 2013 playoffs. In that case, they went away from playing aggressive football, and they started to protect the lead using a prevent defense. The prevent defense is designed to prevent the big play – although John Madden once said “the only thing the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.” In that case, the Broncos ended up losing on a big play…exactly what the prevent defense was supposed to prevent. In this case, the Broncos threw an interception…the exact scenario they tried to prevent by going ultra-conservative.

One of the most powerful quotes I ever heard was from Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”

3. Too little, too late

The Denver Broncos played with a sense of urgency in the fourth quarter, and they outscored the Seahawks 17-3 to send the game into overtime. And, even though the NFL no longer has “sudden death” in overtime unless there is a touchdown, their fate still rested with a coin toss. Yes, they could have stopped the Seahawks, or made them settle for a field goal, but the odds of winning a coin toss still allowed the Seahawks to take the field first. With the Broncos’ belief and momentum, after scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, they ALSO had the very real chance of marching downfield and scoring a touchdown to win the game. It came down to a coin toss, a tired defense, and intelligent execution by the Seahawks to show the Broncos that their efforts were “too little, too late.”

Business Lesson: Play like every play could be your last. How do you want to be remembered in business? Do you want people to say “well, he never made any major mistakes”? How much potential are you letting go to waste? Will you settle for “good enough” and let your competition get wins that could be YOURS? Do not save your efforts for a rainy day or fire drill. Give your best effort, based upon your strengths, so you are not left with the realization that you gave “too little, too late.”

4. Call to Action – check out ProKarma

ProKarma is an intriguing solution provider. With development centers across the US, near-shore in Argentina, and off-shore in India, we are not a boutique development firm. However, we are also not the size of the likes of Accenture and Deloitte. One of my insightful colleagues once said, “Nobody was ever fired for hiring an Accenture or Deloitte.”

If you are going ultra-conservative, and perhaps care more for job security than providing the most cost-effective, competent solution partner for your organization, then go with the bigger boys. However, if you want to go with a company that is big enough to provide solutions across a broad spectrum of areas (software and mobile application development, business intelligence and big data, test and test automation, and Sharepoint to name a few) – a company that believes in business beyond transactions - then check out ProKarma.

By the way, that insightful colleague with the “nobody was ever fired” quote…he won the business against the bigger competitors, and we are now doing a nice Business Intelligence Strategy project for a company that has a brand that is a “household name”.

BRONCOS FAN NOTE: Because of that Seahawks home record, I had already chalked this game up as a probable loss for the Broncos. My hope was that they could get the bitter taste of the Super Bowl out of their system, and “play the Seahawks tough” in a hostile environment. I still like the Broncos’ chances at a neutral site, so let’s hope for another spectacularly exciting game between the Seahawks and Broncos in February 2015 – at Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona…with the Broncos hoisting the Lombardi trophy, of course. Bonus: Here is a Pulse fAnalytics screenshot from this morning (imagine the social listening, analytics, and gamification we could do for YOUR brand with our Pulse products).

Pulse Fanalytics screenshot after the #DENvsSEA game


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Brian Vickery

I love my Vickery Girls - and grandsons! My career has blessed me to the point I was able to start a new consultancy in 2018: Analytic Integrity. I look to provide analytic experience, and business integrity, to an Analytics world while helping data-driven organizations mature. I enjoy teaching and coaching, watching football and basketball, and playing tennis. I graduated UT-Austin.

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