BY Art Thiel 08:07PM 10/19/2015

Thiel: Seahawks’ ‘next men up’ aren’t as good

The Seahawks pride themselves in preparing backups to become starters, but after paying the stars under the salary cap, the reality is the “next men up” aren’t as good as those in 2014 and 2013.

For 12s who need a little picker-upper: Ricardo WR Lockette made the catch of the season in the end zone to complete a 40-yard touchdown play Sunday against Carolina. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

As the hyperventilation among the 12s nears a blue swoon, here’s another way to look at the Seahawks’ 2-4 record: If SS Kam Chancellor had come to his senses two games earlier, the Seahawks likely would have beaten the St. Louis Rams in the opener. His replacement, Dion Bailey, wouldn’t have had the chance to fall down in coverage on the game-tying touchdown.

That would have made the Seahawks a non-crisis 3-3 heading into Thursday’s suddenly important game in Santa Clara against the 49ers (2-4). A fully engaged Chancellor through six games likely would have improved chances at being better than 3-3.

It’s true that the if-then game could be played with multiple situations, and the Seahawks attempted to treat Chancellor’s holdout merely as an injury, deploying their next-man-up credo.

Here’s the problem with those two assertions: The next men up with the Seahawks in 2015 aren’t as good as the next men up were in 2013 and 2014, because the biggest dawgs in the kennel are now paid under the NFL’s hard salary cap. There’s little money for quality backups to mitigate the inevitable roster attrition that affects successful NFL teams.

And since the Seahawks have been in every contest with fourth-quarter leads, and lost by three, ten, three and four points, the if-then game is plausible, because outcomes can be re-imagined by reversals of single plays many times across the four defeats.

The conclusion: The Seahawks are still a good team, but the margins in the NFL are so thin that playing a lesser player here and there will compromise the day, if not the year.

Under the cap, star players — Sonics guard Rickey Pierce’s nickname was the best description: Big Paper Daddy — have to deliver all the time to keep good teams good. This season, Chancellor wasn’t around for the first two losses, and MLB Bobby Wagner was injured Sunday.

Lo and behold, the Seahawks had a breakdown in communication on Carolina’s game-winning touchdown pass when their defensive QB, Wagner, was out. I’m sure K.J. Wright was doing his best, but he’s not Wagner. Nor is second-year LB Kevin Pierre-Louis quite ready to fill in for Wright on the weakside.

In fact, Pierre-Louis was joined on the field for that fateful play by CB DeShawn Shead, DE Cassius Marsh and DT Will Tukuafu — the latter for his first and only defensive play of the game after subbing all game for missing FB Derrick Coleman — when Panthers QB Cam Newton dropped back undisturbed to launch the 26-yard TD pass to TE Greg Olsen.

Those Seahawks on the play are solid but perhaps not even average NFL players.

When injuries, holdouts and car accidents take away some veterans after free-agency losses and cap casualties, mess can ensue.

And this is a mess that is unique in Carroll’s college and pro coaching experience.

“I haven’t really been in this kind of situation with a really good team,” he said Monday, “where it felt so much different, and the results are flipping in terms of some of the factors (like turnover margin), this is new in that regard.’’

The biggest factor that he’s never dealt with before is the change wrought by money. It does weird things to people — even seemingly level-headed types like Chancellor who abruptly wanted more money even though he was getting top dollar for his position.

When the story of 2015 is written honestly, the Chancellor holdout will loom large as the wrinkle for which Carroll had no iron.

I asked him Monday about whether success and money causes changes in player behavior, especially among those who have always played with the chip-on-shoulder mantra.

“It could be; it could be,” he said, then referenced UCLA coaching legend John Wooden. “He told me one time: ‘Every year the players change; you don’t change your philosophy, you don’t change your approach. Because the players adapt as they go through their years and things fit together.’

“But in that, times change. Guys grow up, they mature, they get paid, they’re heading into their contract year. There are a lot of things that factor into guys’ makeup. We have to be adaptable, and communicate and counsel all the way through that. It’s really one of the exciting challenges in coaching.”

But it’s one challenge that Carroll hasn’t experienced. He wasn’t around long enough in his previous NFL jobs in New York and New England, and there was no big money at USC for kids.

Try as he must have, with every tactic of persuasion in his considerable arsenal, he could not convince Chancellor to end his holdout in time to avert behavior that was self- and team-destructive.  The unplanned absence forced a new defensive coordinator, Kris Richard, to force-feed an undrafted free agent, Bailey, into a starting assignment.

It nearly worked, but for one play.

For different reasons, the same thing is in play on the offense, where the Seahawks risked trading leader and veteran C Max Unger in the hope that assistant coach Tom Cable could take C Drew Nowak, LG Justin Britt and RT Garry Gilliam and make them into close to average NFL linemen.

It hasn’t worked.

QB Russell Wilson has been sacked an NFL-high 26 times, plus many more hits and hurries. The offense is unable to sustain drives in the fourth quarter, which forces the short-handed defense to save the game. And it makes Wilson prone to the yips when it comes to the critical decision to throw or go.

Carroll knows he can’t hide the fact that, despite a 69 percent completion rate and a 98.7 rating, Wilson is making fewer good decisions in the crucible.

“(The sacks do) impact him, just naturally,” he said. “He’s got the results of what just happened in the first or second quarter, where the pressure’s coming from, so it will move him some, naturally.

“There’s only a couple plays a game – I think I say this every week — where we say, ‘Well, you could have hung in there this time, if you would have slipped to the left’ or something. Sometimes he sees the flash happen and his first instinct is to move to find space.

“We’re trying to quiet the whole thing down so that we can limit those plays.”

In the losses to Cincinnati and Carolina, the Seahawks had the ball and the lead late, needing only a first down to drain the clock and go home winners. Couldn’t get it done.

A play or two on offense, a play or two on defense, and the Seahawks are 5-1. But unless all the big-money players are accounted for and going full throttle, the chance to succeed is greatly reduced in the NFL because in Seattle, the “next man up” isn’t ready.


YourThoughts

  • ll9956

    Great analysis, Art. Incisive, for sure.

    “And it makes Wilson prone to the yips when it comes to the critical decision to throw or go.” I almost fell off the chair and suffocated, cackling at this gem. Let’s hope the “next man up” grows into the role very soon.

    • art thiel

      Thanks. Please don’t call me when coffee goes through your nose. Can’t be responsible.

  • 1coolguy

    We have the same D players as last year: The one major change is the new DC, who has NEVER been a DC and has no experience other than under the Carroll system, so there is nothing that proved Richard is a quality DC.

    Time for Carroll to take over the defense.
    The only significant change from last year on defense is Quinn, the DC, left and is doing very well as Atlanta’s HC. Like Bradley before him, Quinn brought much outside experience to the position. Richard has none: He is a Carroll prodigy, never having coached anywhere else, and learned from Carroll, Bradley and Quinn, BUT has never been “the guy” until this year.
    This year we are allowing five (5) more points per game on D (21 vs 16). The offense is averaging two (2) PPG less. 2014 rank: 10th, 2015 rank: 17th.
    Blaming the offense under the fairly average OC Bevell is not all that wrong: The offense should be picking up the slack, scoring a few more PPG and holding onto the ball longer, yet to expect a homegrown DC to be the imaginative, very high level DC that Bradley and Quinn were, is just asking too much. This goes all the way through the D: How they practice, the game plan, the in-game adjustments, the one or two critical adjustments during crunch time.
    That performance is why Bradley and Quinn are head coaches. Richard is clearely not HC material and try as he might, he’s not a DC of his predecessors quality.
    At this point, the ONLY solution is for Carroll to take over the defense, especially during the game.

    • art thiel

      I’m sure Carroll has input, and I’m sure Richard has made mistakes in his first year. The only change I’d recommend is Richard moving from the field to the booth. Some physical/emotional distance is required to remain cool and detached.

      • 1coolguy

        I suggest Richard is not the same high level DC Bradley and Quinn were – shoes very big to fill. Carroll did not do what a good CEO should: When a critical job is open, you look for the BEST and the BRIGHTEST in the marketplace as a whole, not just in your backyard. Big, big mistake, especially with Allen’s open checkbook and commitment to winning.
        Now it becomes that much more difficult to replace Richard, which would mean a demotion or letting him go.
        Carroll needs to take over the defense if this year is to get turned around. No time to dither.

  • 3 Lions

    It’s a shame the cap isn’t 30 million higher. That would give teams the flexibility to bring in more talent. It’s not like there is a shortage of money in the NFL. No doubt, a couple players make a huge difference but we have also succeeded with our own share of good fortune over the last couple years. In the end, I’m surprised the O line is not a higher priority given how we want to play. They seem to think they can coach anybody up.

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    • Bruce McDermott

      The trouble with that is a higher cap would simply make the big dogs ask for even more when their contracts were up.

      • art thiel

        The cap is a burden to the successful and a help to the unsuccessful. Would that our tax system work as well.

    • art thiel

      The cap’s purpose is to distribute at least a chance at a championship to all 32 teams independent of reckless spending on players. Owners can still spend without restriction on coaches and facilities. Paul Allen has done so. What is happening to the Seahawks happens to every champ. Carroll/Schneider believe they can outsmart everyone. We shall see.

      • MrPrimeMinister

        That’s what they thought at the one yard line.

      • 2nd place is 1st loser

        Not every champ, The Pats have somehow averted the hangover of the SB and not overpaid players. It appears that it has caught up to the Hawks.

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  • Scott Crosser

    I think you are on target Art. Any thoughts as to if the next man up as the D coordinator and LB coach are up to the task?

    • art thiel

      I don’t think any coaches need changing.

      • Scott Crosser

        Some of that consistent confusion on Defensive side before the snap seems new.

  • Scott Crosser

    One exception…Rawls.

    • art thiel

      Rawls is a solid get, but he doesn’t yet know a tenth of what he needs to know, particularly as a pass blocker or catcher.

  • ss

    When the uncertainty of just ‘a play or two on offense, a play or two on defense’ means the difference between leading the division or being in the division cellar, then it’s a great sport for keeping fans on the edge. Too bad most fans prefer to see their teams dominate the opposition like the Seahawks did Denver in the Super Bowl.

    • art thiel

      Exactly, ss. That is the main reason why the NFL is the No. 1 spectator sport. Every team can use brains, not just money, to climb the ladder.

    • Lodowick

      Interesting comparison, Seattle and Denver. In the last year and a half they have both paid defensive stars and allowed the offensive lines to get thin. Russell looks a lot better than Peyton in his throws but Russell has the 2-4 team and Peyton is 6-0. Denver, for once, did not play a tough schedule in the first 6 games and Seattle did. Seattle has been fortunate getting tough teams at home in past years but not this year. Peyton definitely has a stronger leadership quotient.

  • Matt712

    Sure, as a Seahawks fan, the cap situation is lamentable. But as a football fan, I think the formula is working beautifully. In a league where every division is won with a 9-7 record (take it easy math nerds – this is just an example), every fan from every city can feel like their team is in it until the end of the season. Obviously that’s the goal of NFL parody. That’s what keeps the most fans in the seats and on the couches.

    Year in and year out, the best teams are the ones with the best programs and a talent ‘anchor’ at each position group. The rest of the talent will always be shifting around the league. The Seahawks traded away their anchor on the offensive line and have lost their balance. In that regard, Unger was more valuable to the team than is Graham.

    • art thiel

      Good points, Matt. I sorta like your use of parody instead of parity, even if unintentional.

  • Rj Smith

    How can the cap be blamed for their struggles? New England wins 12-14 games EVERY year & is always in SB contention, same as Green Bay. It’s not really the cap….. the Hawks seem to have similar issues as the M’s….. poor recent drafting & player development. Just like the M’s when led by that sorry azz Trader Jack Z couldn’t produce offense thru their homegrown players, the Hawks cannot produce decent OL or WR. They have a lack of good players on offense & that extremely overrated defense has been busy believing their own & national hype instead of making plays. I wonder if these teams continuing to easily march up & down the field on the so-called Legion of Boom has humbled these guys yet? If not…. we’re in for 7-8 wins. Even if they miraculously get to 10 wins, they are not a SB contender, because they have NO CHANCE to win in GB. None!

    • art thiel

      Ever the cheery optimist, RJ. There’s no cap limit on brainpower, and Belichick has proven his brain, even if his heart makes him cheat.

      No proof that Carroll and Schneider are dead yet. Remember after the Pats’ fourth loss in KC a year ago everyone presumed they were dead?

      • Rj Smith

        So if these guys back into the playoffs at 10-6, you think they can win road games at Atlanta & GB? Let’s be real here….. there is no way this team can get it done on the road. Even the last 2 SB teams were ordinary on the road. They are not winning 10 straight, it’s that’s simple, which means road playoff games, which means loss.

      • Bayview Herb

        The expression on Belichick’s face makes me think his undershorts are two sizes too small.

    • Bayview Herb

      Two very good receivers were not a factor in this game. #15 and #89.

  • Bayview Herb

    All the Hawks needed to run out the clock was one 1st down. The 25 sacks lead the league, which tends to make me feel the offensive line is offensive.

  • Buggy White

    Maybe the ‘Next Coaches Up’ aren’t as good either, Art.

  • Rupert

    Great column, Art. Thank you for bringing up money and the team’s mentality, when you wrote: “I asked him Monday about whether success and money causes changes in player behavior, especially among those who have always played with the chip-on-shoulder mantra.”

    I know we lost some veterans and have questionable depth in some areas and a terrible offensive line. But most of what I see is what you alluding to: players have gotten selfish, there exists a void in leadership, and the desire for wins that fueled the hungry teams of the last few years has been replaced with complacency or entitlement.

    I feel like we can see some of the dynamics: Kam abdicated some of his leadership status with his holdout. Bennett doesn’t really care. Wagner got paid. Sherman is checked out. And I don’t think RW is really a leader on offense, that is, I don’t think he commands the locker room in the style of a Brady, Rodgers or Manning.

    Basically, it seems the members of this team has stopped playing for each other. Do you get that sense?