BY Art Thiel 06:01PM 01/10/2018

Thiel: Bevell couldn’t fix the Wilson problem

It’s not about the playcalling. When an offensive coordinator is fired, something isn’t working between the coach and the quarterback.

Darrell Bevell couldn’t change Russell Wilson’s game. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

In what proved to be Darrell Bevell’s final game as Seahawks offensive coordinator, here are the yardage numbers for each of the seven possessions of the first half of the Arizona game (not counting Tyler Lockett’s return of a kickoff for a touchdown): 0, 9, -9, 26, 6, 9, -17. After deducting a 10-yard penalty, total yards: 24. Points: 0.

That’s 24 yards in a half for an adult men’s professional tackle football team. Not just any team of bartenders and fork-lift drivers, but one that had been to five consecutive playoffs where it won at least one game, and needed to beat the Cardinals Dec. 31 to have a shot at No. 6.

In the second half, here are the yardage numbers for each of the seven possessions: 80, 7, 46, 29, 60, 5, 45. After deducting 25 yards in penalties, total yards: 247. Points: 17.

What happened? Coach Pete Carroll sat briefly with QB Russell Wilson at halftime, down 20-7, and got in his grill.

“It hasn’t happened often, no,” said Carroll two days after the 26-24 loss to the mediocre Cardinals. Carroll usually leaves specific player instructions to his coordinators, but not this time. What exactly was said isn’t known, but the first drive of the second half was remarkable: 10 plays, 80 yards to a touchdown — despite a fumble, a penalty and a sack.

“We had a quick, good conversation,” Carroll said. “We communicate very quickly and efficiently. We talked about the problems that happened and he had his thoughts about it. He missed a couple opportunities, but he was also under duress with the pass rush.

“Things settled down. The guys did better up front, they gave him a better shot, he grooved right into it and turned the game around, from his end of it. We started to make our catches and everything started to work again. Put us back in the game. I just think (the slow game starts are) nothing new. I think it’s one of the stats that I don’t know how to . . . I wish I could tell you how this happened.”

The fact Carroll admitted publicly he can’t deduce after 17 weeks why his offense was always so miserable so early is the biggest reason why Bevell lost his job Wednesday. Gone with him was assistant head coach Tom Cable.

As the offensive line coach who coordinated the run game, Cable was unlikely to be kept to work with a new OC, and even less likely to have succeeded Bevell, given that the Seahawks would have finished last in the NFL in rushing were it not for Wilson’s team-leading 568 yards.

The 240 by Mike Davis were the fewest yards for a team’s leading running back since the NFL began a 16-game schedule in 1978.

A decision as important to a football team as the firing of an OC who helped take the team to two Super Bowls and set numerous club production records along the way is layered well beyond a single game, even a final game.

But the season’s dubious denouement established that the Seahawks staff, despite a preseason belief by Carroll that this was as deep a roster as he’s had in Seattle, couldn’t coach its way around the injuries and talent shortcomings — especially with the franchise quarterback’s ability to dominate on occasion — in the crucible of a win-or-else game.

That made change mandatory. That is, if a ghastly 42-7 home loss to the Los Angeles Rams hadn’t already.

It’s easy to say Blair Walsh’s eight missed field goals kept the Seahawks from a 12-4 finish. But the degree of Walsh’s responsibility is far secondary to the primary problem of persistent in-game offensive failures that left matters too many times to a bargain-basement kicker.

In his answer a week ago, Carroll credited some of the second-half uptick against Arizona to the play of the line and receivers, which was true to a point. But Wilson, as was the case several times after intermission deficits this season and last, provided the biggest impact by lifting his eyes from the pass rush to look downfield and releasing the ball more quickly despite the tight windows.

In part because Carroll demanded it, Wilson took chances with his arm that he feared to take earlier in games. The reluctance to make a turnover is understandable, especially given Carroll’s main mantra: It’s all about the ball. But the upshot was that Wilson too many times sought to solve problems with what he could trust: His legs.

Wilson’s scramble runs have saved the Seahawks on countless occasions. But football life for the Seahawks in 2017 is not as it was in the second half of 2015, when they first began compensating for a diminished or unavailable Marshawn Lynch with a quick passing game that surprised defensive coordinators for a time.

Seattle won five of its final six regular-season games that season because Wilson completed more than 67 percent of his throws and, in the five wins, had at least three touchdowns and zero interceptions in each. But after a freakish playoff win in sub-zero conditions in Minnesota (turns out it was also the Walsh tryout camp), the Seahawks were exposed by a good Panthers defense in Carolina.

Remember the 31-0 deficit at the half? Things haven’t been the same since.

In 2016 with no Lynch and a weak line, defenses began denying the shallow crossing routes because they had little respect for the threat-less running attack compromised by a gimpy Wilson and a coterie of mediocre blockers and backs.

Perhaps subconsciously, Wilson started to fail in the tricky navigation between throwing or running — the easiest thing to second-guess in real time from the stands as well as at home with TV replay. Bevell couldn’t find a way to help him through it.

Fans’ lamentations over the OC’s playcalling — a tradition that plays out in every market with every team, college or pro — misses a larger point. The most critical aspect of an OC’s effectiveness is the ability to get a quarterback in position to succeed; to let him do what he does best. Wilson’s second half of 2015 made the case that the offense operated best when he threw quickly from the pocket and ran only as a last resort.

From 2012 through 2015, Bevell and Wilson survived, then thrived, then flourished. From then on, injuries, the departure of the formidable Lynch and management mistakes with personnel began a decay that bottomed out in December against the Rams and Cowboys.

In the month where Carroll’s teams have glistened, this one was dull as dirt — 149 yards of offense against LA, 136 against Dallas, then 24 in the first half against Arizona before Carroll gave Wilson something between a tongue-lashing and a butt-kicking.

That should have been a task for Bevell. But for whatever reason — friendship, comfort, haplessness — Carroll had to resort to playing bad cop.

As often happens in the extreme intensity of professional team sports, the relationship between Bevell and Wilson ran its course.

No bad guys here. Nor was the fraying unusual. Ask the Patriots’ QB Tom Brady and OC Josh McDaniels about their recent sideline dust-up that was seen by the world. Brady felt compelled to apologize publicly.

The Seahawks issues ran deeper, longer and quieter. Carroll acted. The action likely will not please WR Doug Baldwin, who in a day-after interview at his locker, made clear his allegiance.

“You guys can blame Bev all you want to,” he said to reporters. “But the truth of the matter is, Bev is not the problem.”

Left unsaid was that Wilson is a part of the problem. But firing him would be unwise. Change was required to give Wilson the chance to get back to what he does best without doing his worst.

Managing a resource like Wilson is mindful of the wisdom of Homer Simpson, speaking about booze: “Alcohol is the source of, and the answer to, all the world’s problems.”

The best bartender knows when to say when.


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YourThoughts

  • Steed

    I think the lack of a running game is not Wilson’s fault. And that is at least half of the problem.

    If Wilson is responsible for the other half of the problem with the offense, then we are in good shape. He will get it figured out. He can go from very good to truly great. Leading the league in TD passes as he did, is a good “floor” for his performance. Stay tuned.

    • Vincent Lee

      I’m not even sure why you even thought the running game was the fault of Wilson.

      The run game is the job of the O/L and the RB and they were BOTH terrible.

      The O/L was so terrible, I thought I saw plays this year where the D/Linemen was in so quickly they could have taken the hand-off from the QB faster then the RB.

      Yes, it was that bad……..

      In almost all cases, the QB job is not to be the RB unlike in Seattle where the designated play is called the Forest Gump play….. “Run for your life Wilson, Run!!

      • art thiel

        I’m certain Tom Hanks will get the lead in the movie of Wilson’s life.

      • Steed

        “I’m not even sure why you even thought the running game was the fault of Wilson.”

        I’m not even sure why are posting that sentence in response to me posting:

        “I think the lack of a running game is not Wilson’s fault”.

        Your reading comprehension failed you.

    • art thiel

      I didn’t connect the poor run game to Wilson. He’s a victim, not a perp.

      • Steed

        “When an offensive coordinator is fired, something isn’t working between the coach and the quarterback.”

        Bevell got fired because the offense was bad I don’t think the “Wilson problem” was the biggest issue with the offense, so it was not the main reason he was fired, in my opinion.

  • Ron
    • art thiel

      Did you bring the 12-pack? I know you’d throw away the key.

  • Effzee

    The only thing I don’t necessarily agree with is that “firing Wilson
    would be unwise.” If anything, Wilson proves that they can fire a Super Bowl QB, replace him with a young guy, and get better fast. Carroll has voiced the expectations of and frustration with Wilson numerous times. Certain defensive players on the Seahawks have also had disparaging things to say about Wilson in the past. I can’t count the times I’ve heard Warren Moon say during games “Wilson had him open but he just couldn’t see it.” Perhaps Carroll thinks he’s seen the limit to what Wilson can do. Perhaps Carroll is doesn’t want to tether his legacy to Wilson’s limitations. Carroll has seen Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Jared Goff and other big, stud QBs first-hand. This draft has a few of them. Carroll said of Wilson when they drafted him, “It was Darrell’s project.” I have to wonder if getting rid of the offensive coaching means not just a change in philosophy, but a change to the face of the franchise as well. Maybe its time to put the emphasis back on Pete and John. Maybe they convince the Browns or the Jets that Wilson is their savior, and swap him for one of the top QB’s in the draft. Plug him in and, as Pete likes to say: “Its time to go, now.” To rebuild the Hawks again in the twilight of his career would make him look like a genius.

    • art thiel

      Carroll isn’t quitting on Wilson; he wants to make him better. He has missed open receivers partly because he’s looking at the pass rush, understandably. It’s not Wilson’s fault, but he has to be coached when he slides into bad habits.

      There’s always good young QBs every year, but Wilson does so many things well that the right voice in his ear will aid the fixes.

      Carroll understands that change for Wilson is due, and good.

      • Tman

        Wilson is incredible. His long passes are perfect spirals, lead runner on the team..Would Carson Wentz or Tom Brady or anybody else done as well with the Seahawks this year?

        Help me with Jimmy Graham. He is a monster with the ball. Scores at will. He dropped a few that hit him in the hands, but all receivers do. Why didn’t they punish opponents with frequent throws to Graham and Willson, another hard to bring down big man, opening the door for more Baldwin TD’s?

        Also, what is up with Devon Boykin? He is like Wilson, only bigger. He played great for TCU and the Seahawks when given the chance. What in the world is he doing on the practice squad?

        • art thiel

          Graham’s drops were second-most in the NFL. His concentration seems to wane on occasion and I don’t think he likes getting hit in crosses over the middle. Bevell clearly didn’t make him better, either.

          • Tman

            Thank you Sir.

      • John M

        I think you’re into it here, Art. The various triangles, squares and other esoteric relationships between coaches and players had lost it’s positive frequency somehow – maybe coaches have SB hangovers the same as players. Wilson’s problems passing are not new – it’s hard to focus downfield when you’ve got drooling 300# linemen in your face before you can take a set; it’s made many seasoned QB’s become twitchy and lose their timing. Much more change anticipated and it will be interesting to see how Pete and John reform this complex situation . . .

        • art thiel

          Every year the mix changes because of health, ego, contracts, money and team needs. It’s asking a lot to expect coach-player relationships to remain identical.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Excellent summation. You have to rebuild the line with guys who actually open up holes for running. The money for that comes from the defense. You HAVE to trade or CUT anyone who made a million dollars per game for just showing up last year, injuries be damned. The focus needs to be on players who show up and play hard.

    • art thiel

      I saw very few occasions of players not playing hard. I saw a lot more foolish plays, including one from Bobby Wagner on the late hit to AZ’s Stanton that keyed their final drive. That is fixable.

      • Ron

        Foolish, or stupid? He is a six year, All Pro, team captain veteran making $10Mil per year. Foolish is rookie stuff. You can’t fix stupid.

        • John M

          Bobby’s a terrific player and with KJ they are more than the sum of their parts. You can pick at any individual’s play . . .

          • Ron

            But he has made some stupid decisions, such as the one that cost us the AZ game, and his decision to play injured/ineffective in the Rams 42-7 loss.

          • art thiel

            Earl’s imagination is a powerful thing, but Wagner should have known better than to call him out on social media. But the remark has no impact on something Thomas has been quietly talking about since Chancellor got his extension.

          • Ron

            Spill the beans.

  • jafabian

    Wilson is not where he was a few years ago. Sports Illustrated wrote that when he met Drew Brees for the first time at the Pro Bowl Brees pointed out some flaws he noticed in Wilson’s footwork. When Wilson returned from SeaTac in the evening instead of going home he went straight to the V-Mac to correct the issue. I don’t see Wilson being that dedicated today. When the team lost to the Rams he pointed out that there’s bigger issues in life than football and he himself still had a wonderful wife to go home to. He said that more than once on social media. Losing is understandable but not acceptable. Baldwin gets it but the rest of the core group of players had too many outside distractions, their QB not withstanding. That comes with Super Bowl teams and the coaching staff unfortunately is paying the price for that. Today’s purge puts everything on Carroll and Schneider. If the team doesn’t win the division and at least go to the NFC Championship they’re gone as well as many players also. A playoff appearance isn’t enough.

    • art thiel

      I agree that marriage and fatherhood change any man, but I can’t see in his play indications that he is any less committed to the task at hand. He led some spectacular wins this year. I saw a story that said Wilson has been sacked/hit more times than any QB over the past two seasons. Now THAT will affect his play, which goes to my point that Carroll felt the need to intervene vs. AZ. If hesitation creeps into his play judgment, he will have truly lost something.

      • jafabian

        I once heard an interview with Matt Hasselback that he liked what Green Bay would do and draft a QB or at least bring in a few undrafted QBs of note to bring in some competition for Favre. You can’t argue with some of the ones they’d bring in such as Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell and Kurt Warner. I think it’s time to do that approach on the Hawks. Carroll always says he believes in the spirit of competition but doesn’t do that with Wilson.

        • Guy K. Browne

          My guess is that they can’t afford it. It would take resources that they don’t currently have to bring in a “competitive” QB. Resources that I would argue, would be better applied to the OL.

        • art thiel

          I get Matt’s point, but when you’re paying the guy $21M, to manufacture a training camp threat would look a little silly to the rest of the players when the money could be better spent elsewhere.

  • ss

    The Wilson problem… is the same problem that’s plagued almost every Seahawk quarterback – crappy O line play. Longtime Seahawk fans may recall Pete Gross describing Dave Kreig, Jim Zorn, and others as having “happy feet” as they’d dance nervously as the pocket collapsed and they’d get sacked again. Wilson at least has better escape-ability than most of his predecessors. Still, ‘Run, Russell, Run’ is not a sustainable offensive game plan. Purging these coaches is a start. But keeping the matadors upfront probably won’t stop defensive tackles from being in our backfield in time to fight our running backs for the hand-off, or stupid false start penalties that force the offense into 2nd or 3rd and forever situations. Hopefully, Pete gets back to his ‘always compete at every position’ modus operandi so this team can impose its will on both sides of the ball for 60 minutes. Who’s he going to hire?

    • art thiel

      The O-line problems have been so obvious and persistent that I felt no need to go there. The Wilson-Bevell matter is less understood, and more worthy of discussion.

      Speculation of an OC successor includes Eagles QB coach John DeFilippo, the Carson Wentz whisperer who is suddenly a hot item. But it’s hard to know because Carroll’s never quite been in this position before. I’m sure he keeps a short list of every top position coach, but the old USC pipeline should be a dead end.

      No Lane Kiffin. Please.

      • Ron

        Mike Shula.

    • jafabian

      Every team has O-Line issues to varying degrees. The college game does not adequately prepare players for that position anymore. Good teams overcome that. Some teams have a solid O-Line but sacrifice other areas, much like how the Hawks have invested in their defense at the expense of the O-Line. If you can’t find a balance then you wallow in a sea of mediocrity.

  • 1coolguy

    It’s a new day and there will be a new scheme through new eyes. If the hire is good, the Hawks will do well. I applaud Pete for following through on what is not an easy decision and action. Art – Didn’t we bet on this? I think you owe me either a call out or a $1, whichever is easier.

    • art thiel

      You might get a beer out of me sometime. You’ll enjoy the therapy.

      • 1coolguy

        You’re on Art – When I’m back in Seattle I’ll give you a shout. It will be my pleasure!

  • ll9956

    Art, I’m impressed by your insight that Bevell couldn’t fix the “Wilson problem”. I credit Carroll for taking the bull by the horns and having a heart-to-heart with Wilson during halftime of the Arizona game, which “should have been a task for Bevell.” To me this is the fundamental reason why Bevell lost his job. I never really agreed with all the darts thrown at Bevell for his play calling, The relationship with Wilson and recognizing the need to get firm with him at that juncture is more important.

    • art thiel

      Thanks. I credit Carroll for being assertive in the AZ game, and summoning the guts to let go respected friends and colleagues for the greater good. It’s too bad the decisions had to wait until the offense fell off the edge of the earth in December.

  • Alan Harrison

    Art, I have thought since the beginning that Russell Wilson’s most attractive asset would also serve to be his most devastating failure; that is, his ability to make something out of nothing. Because he has that, he has exposed that he has little trust in his receiving corps. With rare exception (red zone excluded) and unlike less mobile — but extremely successful — quarterbacks, he scrambles unless his receivers are at least a couple of steps open, rather than trusting that the receiver would fight to catch it. That’s why he holds the ball too long and why the 3-step-and-throw method doesn’t work with him right now. Maybe a new OC can help that happen.

    • art thiel

      You have it right, Alan. On a philosophical level, nearly all good leaders in any endeavor have a great asset that can become a great weakness.

      On a practical football level, Wilson has been battered to the point of having lost trust in his line, and has become hesitant regarding tight windows on receivers. He has to be coached out of that, because it’s been going on for more than this season.

  • Guy K. Browne

    I tend to leave the judgement on coaching matters to those who do this professionally, if it was a needed change, the people in the front office know this better than I do. However, to me what it all really boils down to is this; after paying the “stars” their market value there was no cash left to assemble an NFL caliber offensive line. This accounts for Russell Wilson constantly running for his life and not being able to focus downfield, and for the lack of a running game. The additional consequence being, teams could rush 4 and drop 7 into coverage. No coach will consistently overcome, a consistently sub-par offensive line. The bloated star-player salaries are the crux of the problem.

    • art thiel

      It is always thus with every NFL team under a hard salary cap, which is why it’s hard to stay good a long time, as the Seahawks have. Fant’s injury, the overpayment to damaged-goods free agent Joeckel and the inability to get growth from Ifedi were the line’s three biggest problems.

      • Bruce McDermott

        Pocic was also misplaced at RG. Some day, he might be fit for that position, but he was not this past year. Not enough sand in the pants. I still believe that he’d eventually be better than Ifedi at RT if they gave him a shot there. Cable was obviously enamored of Ifedi. Perhaps the new guy will be more skeptical.

  • d3s

    Are you kidding? ” The Wilson problem?” We are so lucky to have a quarterback of his caliber in Seattle. This team could have easily been 11-4 between Walsh, stupid penalties, and some incredibly questionable play calls.

    • art thiel

      See answer above. Every quarterbacks has shortcomings that need to be called out by a quality coach.

  • Jon

    Walsh’s incompetence cannot be minimized. He single handedly kept the Seahawks out of the playoffs and possibly even cost them home-field advantage. But Schneider needs to take the foul on that.

    Of course, if the Seahawks were a better team, their margin for error would not have been so slight that a “placekicker” could cause so much damage. Schneider should raise his hand on that one, too.

    But, Art, blaming Russell Wilson (again)? There is no rational basis for assigning any material blame to him (except maybe for having the audacity to finally get paid at-market). Just because Pete supposedly got into Russell’s grill at halftime does not mean there is a “Wilson problem”.

    I’ll tell what a problem would be. Getting rid of Wilson or failing to harness his winning abilities.

    • art thiel

      You miss the point, Jon: Wilson’s erratic decisions were a problem, not a fireable offense. Every quarterback, Brady included, needs good coaching because even great athletes fall into habits and patterns of which they are unaware.

      Bevell didn’t seem able to confront Wilson with his shortcomings in a way that would have kept Carroll from having to jump him at halftime. Wilson is a wonderful quarterback, not a perfect one. His teammates are well aware of his shortcomings and need to see he’s being held as accountable as they are.

  • coug73

    Geez, all Russ needs is 6′ 4″, 233 on his frame and his confidence will improve but not, as fast as, giving him a competent OL.

    • art thiel

      The Stretch-O-Matic tool has been banned in the NFL for years.

  • Warchild_70

    A good a## chewing will wake y’all up get your blood a flowing sharpen your focus. Yes the OL was the most reason that our beloved QB went like a berserk tornado at times however, Coach C needed to wake the Dangeruss up and stop giving up on the play call and then go into a twist and shout. Bottom line is the Coach has lost his players trust for Bev. As for Coach Cable well the OC and the OLC go hand and hand so that’s the way it is. I will say good luck Coach Cable you’ll have either a job soon or a splendid retirement. GO HAWKS!!

    • art thiel

      Cable remains a good coach, thwarted by a limited amount of salary for the OLs and a handful of talent misjudgments.

  • Ken S.

    Cable’s firing should not have happened, but the Hawks let fiscal matters get in the way of good protection for the QB. They gave Cable a Sow’s Ear and asked to make silk sheets. When you’re given a sow’s ear to work with don’t expect to be sleeping on silk. Maybe burlap sacks! Ouch!!!Best of luck to Tom Cable – he ain’t no miracle worker but give him something a bit more than that sow’s ear and he’ll give you an acceptable night’s sleep. It wasn’t Cable that let down the team. I’ve never seen such an inept OL’man as Ifedi. False starts are the bane of any successful drive and Ifedi seems incapable of controlling himself.The Hawks have shot themselves in the foot so many times they’re walking on stumps. If they don’t start rebuilding now they’re likely to be as pathetic next season as they were this past season. Or worse.

    https://www.fieldgulls.com/2017/12/13/16758254/seahawks-germain-ifedi-flags-most-penalized

    • Bruce McDermott

      First, by the end of this year, Cable had 1) Brown, a top ten LT, 2) Joeckel, a former very high first round draft choice Cable himself said was playing like the best LG in the league before his injury the year before, 3) a decent center in Britt, a second round draft choice, 4) a second round draft choice in Pocic at RG, and a first round draft choice in Ifedi at RT. That is two first rounders and three second rounders. If that’s a “sow’s ear” I’ll eat my hat. And yet their running backs could not manage to gain 10 yards on the ground in the first half of a must win game against Arizona, and that was just the latest in a series of simply horrible run game performances. Without Wilson scrambles they would have finished last in the league in rushing. Their leading RB rusher for the season had the lowest number of yards of any leading rusher for any team for decades. They had one rushing towuchdown by a running back all year. The parade of horribles is almost endless.

      Second, if the problem instead was player evaluation, by all accounts Cable played a strong hand in the selection or signing of all of these players. The guy just lost it, unfortunately. So many other teams did more with less than the Hawks this last couple of years that it is hard to count them all. It is much easier to count how many did worse. I think the answer to that, overall, is zero.

      Carrol had to do something. It was just too obvious. Retaining Cable, the “run game coordinator,” would have given the lie to the “always compete” mantra–the very core of Pete’s identity as a coach–more than just about anything else.

  • Husky73

    Tremendous writing and insight, Art. IMHO there have been only a handful of Seattle sports writers with the ability to write such a piece….Georg N. Myers, Blaine Newnham, J Michael Kenyon, John Owen and yourself.