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