Consider the feeling you get when you’re on Netflix trying to choose between the endless options on your screen. There’s dozens of new shows a year, thousands of movies. They’ve got Disney on there, for now, and a little bit of Star Wars, and a bunch of shows from the 90s. You scroll and you scroll. An hour passes. There’s too much. You’re paralyzed by the magnitude of the possibilities. You put on Frasier and fall asleep.
The Saints’ secondary is like that now that rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore is out.
Through two games, Lattimore has been good. He held Brandin Cooks, the only able-bodied receiver left on the Patriots’ roster, to pretty much nothing. That, of course, didn’t stop the Patriots from producing numbers that were roughly equivalent to those an offense would have if it were playing against air. And there’s the issue.
Remember: The human brain doesn’t instantly respond to stimuli. Responses require time. Scientific American published an experiment you can try at home:
On average, reaction time takes between 150 and 300 milliseconds. If that sounds like a long time, think about how much has to happen for you to react. When your eye sees the ruler falling, information travels from sensory cells called neurons from the eye to the brain’s visual cortex, an area devoted to understanding what you see. Next, the motor cortex—the part of the brain that directs movement—has to send signals along your spinal cord and to your arm, hand and finger muscles, telling them to respond in the proper sequence to catch the ruler—quick!
It’s not hard to translate this stimuli response time to the football field. Give a quarterback more options to choose from and his ultimate decision will come more slowly, thus slowing his release and so giving the defense more time to respond.
Not convinced? Let’s look at the problem from another angle: overchoice. Simply put, overchoice is what happens when you can’t find something to watch on Netflix. Psychology Today notes:
In an experiment examining the effects of choice on happiness, Iyengar and Lepper randomized individuals to either a group in which they could choose from 30 types of chocolate or a group in which they could choose from six types of chocolate. While subjects initially reported liking having the choice of 30 chocolates, they ended up being more dissatisfied and regretful of the choices they made than those who only had the choice of six. Barry Schwartz, the author of The Paradox of Choice, elaborates on this phenomenon, emphasizing that regret avoidance and anticipated regret are some of the most detrimental effects of overchoice. He states, “the more options there are, the more likely one will make a non-optimal choice, and this prospect undermines whatever pleasure one may get from one’s actual choice.”
Fast Company phrases it more simply: “Too many choices exhaust us, make us unhappy and lead us to sometimes abscond from making a decision all together.”
Sans Lattimore, the Saints’ secondary will maximize the number of choices for opposing quarterbacks. Dropping back, they will survey the field and find every option they could imagine open to them. That’s where overchoice comes into play. Previously the quarterback may have simply thrown the ball at the guy De’Vante Harris was attempting to cover, but now human brain wiring dictates he experience exhaustion, unhappiness, and preemptive regret for his decision. And so he will delay, uncertain of what to do. Yes, he can throw the football at the guy Harris is attempting to cover, but what about the guy Ken Crawley is attempting to cover? What about the one Arthur Maulet is attempting to cover?
For Carolina and Cam Newton the situation is even more complicated. The Netflix issue can be solved by the presence of standby options, safe choices you can always make. For me, on Netflix, that choice is usually Frasier. It’s safe. (On Hulu, it’s Community). For Newton, the standby choice is tight end Greg Olsen, who is hurt.
And so tomorrow the Panthers face the worst possible situation: An endless number of choices for Cam Newton to make combined with the elimination of the safe one he would have fallen back on. The Panthers are in trouble. They face a deadly overchoice issue, and the Saints will reap the benefits.