BY Art Thiel 02:47PM 09/18/2018

Thiel: Seahawks’ coaching mistakes cut deep

Three coaching errors contributed to mystery and misplay in the loss in Chicago. Russell Wilson is clearly pressing, but coaches and teammates have to come through too.

Russell Wilson is “over-trying,” according to coach Pete Carroll. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Turns out Chris Carson did not retire at halftime of the Monday night game. Instead,  coach Pete Carroll admitted Tuesday that he mishandled the Seahawks’ starting running back. Perhaps it was the football equivalent of losing a baseball pop-up in the lights. Monday night TV, and all.

After six carries for 24 yards in the first 18 minutes of what became a 24-17 loss to the Bears in Chicago, Carson never was heard from again. He was neither injured nor being punished, creating the largest of several mysteries that hung over a winnable game that instead left the Seahawks 0-2.

Compounding the puzzle, Carroll claimed after the game that Carson was “gassed” after having done extra work on special teams because of the injury absences of several players. But when the official snap counts emerged post-game, it showed Carson with only two special teams snaps.

It turned out Carroll didn’t know what was going on with Carson.

“I didn’t read it right,” he said on his weekly radio show on ESPN 710 Tuesday morning. “I was off on the thing I said about Chris . . . When I commented about that (post-game Monday), I wasn’t clear. I just misread the situation.

“I make mistakes. I need to do better.”

Carroll said he thought Carson’s sideline body language indicated he was tired, when in fact offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer pulled him from special teams assignments because he was running so well.

“I misread a little bit of something happening,” Carroll said. “He was on special teams a couple plays. He looked like he was kind of worn down a little bit. I thought that’s what happened when I looked at him. But it wasn’t to bench him. It wasn’t like I was disappointed with him.

“I just wanted to give (backup RB Rashaad Penny) a chance, and Chris never really gets back in the game. It feels like, ‘What, did you bench him or something?’ That didn’t happen. It was just the way that things turned, so I missed it a little bit.”

Penny finished with 30 yards in 10 carries, but the ground game as a whole produced just 74 yards in 22 carries, a paltry uptick from from the 64 in 16 a week earlier in Denver. The Seahawks’ 138 yards are 28th in the NFL’s first two weeks, a regression from last season when they finished 23rd. The outcome was not helped by the unintentional grounding of the more effective back.

Carroll also took some blame post-game for playcalling in the opening two possessions of the second half that helped force three-and-outs each time. Rather than run, he wanted to take “shots” against the Bears cornerbacks, but the Seahawks didn’t get either the pass protection or the separation by receivers to make anything work for as much as a first down.

“I shouldn’t have done that,” he said Monday.

There was a third mystery that may have had the most consequential outcome.

With about eight minutes left in the game and trailing 17-10, the Seahawks made a first down at the Seattle 45-yard line after two rushes by Penny. But because of a misalignment on the next play, the coaches burned a timeout. QB Russell Wilson was clearly irked, flinging his hands up at his sides as he walked toward the coaches on the sidelines, TV cameras catching Wilson muttering in anger.

Carroll said Wilson was upset over the failure to trust him to get players realigned.

“He didn’t want to have to use the timeout,” he said.  “We were misaligned a little and didn’t want to waste a play. What he said was, ‘I could have fixed it, and we didn’t need to call a timeout,’ but we needed to fix it.

“Just competitive thoughts, ‘Maybe we can do this, maybe we can get them this way.'”

The discussion produced no good results.

After the timeout, Penny rushed for a third consecutive time, this for one yard. Then came the game-breaking play: On second-and-9, Wilson dropped back while staring left at Penny along the sideline. Veteran CB Prince Amukamara, reading an unhurried Wilson’s eyes before he threw, closed his gap and stepped in front of Penny or an interception and a 49-yard return for a touchdown.

It was the first pick-six of a Wilson pass since his rookie year of 2012. Whether Wilson was distracted by the coaches’ playcalling or the timeout wasn’t clear, only that he made a mistake rarely seen from  him.

“We’ve thrown tons of those routes in the past, I don’t ever recall that happening,” Carroll said. “He just got fooled on it.”

In the fourth quarter, Wilson sliced up the tiring Bears’ defense with 13 of 14 completions for 157 yards, but the one miss was the pick-six, followed on the next possession by a strip-sack that caused a lost fumble.

It was Wilson’s sixth and final sack of the game, matching the total against Denver. The 12 sacks lead the NFL. At the beginning of the radio interview, Carroll, unprompted, made the point that Wilson is sometimes forcing things.

“I’m finding Russ over-trying a little bit,” he said. “He’s pressing in difficult situations to try and see if he can come up with a way to make something happen, instead of just getting rid of the football. In the long-yardage situations, he needs to throw (away) the football a couple times. We need to get rid of the ball and just give up on a play because it’s not happening and not take an additional pressure.

“That does go right to Russell’s competitiveness — he’s a battler and he’s going to try to figure it out. He has so many times. But maybe not then, not now, so we don’t have to take the negatives. The negative plays are really difficult.”

After two games, it seems Wilson is struggling more than he ever has with the fight-or-flight decision that is a big part of the job. One reason for the slower uptake likely is executing on new ideas is taking more time, especially including making him more of a pocket passer so that less rests on his shoulders.

But for now, the implementation seems to have added, not reduced, stress. Particularly if Wilson also feels obliged to put a sticky note to Carroll’s forehead to remind him to call more running plays, while keeping the leading rusher in the game.

Another loss: DT Johnson goes back to Vikings

Desperate because of injuries, the Seahawks Friday had to let go well-regarded veteran DT Tom Johnson, but hoped to re-sign him out of free agency perhaps as soon as this week, once regular players returned to active duty and temp help could be jettisoned.

But his old club, Minnesota, beat the Seahawks to him, compounding a grim week for the Seahawks.

Media reports say Johnson, 34, signed a one-year deal with the Vikings for $1.5 million after starting the opener for Seattle in Denver. In March, he was signed out of free agency to give the Seahawks depth on a D-line that had lost DEs Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, and DT Sheldon Richardson.

The Seahawks used the roster to room to hire SS Shalom Luani, the former Washington State star, to help with depth in the secondary. But despite being active Monday, Luani didn’t play in Chicago.

Asked Saturday if he wanted Johnson back, Carroll said, “Yeah, there definitely could be a chance for that . . . Tom did a great job for us. We love him. We hated to have to separate like that. He’s a good ballplayer.”

 


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YourThoughts

  • Alan Harrison

    Excellent piece, Art, as usual, and I’m thinking you wrote it several times (each time removing the vitriol from the time before, like a 2-in-the-morning breakup letter). I guess with all the injuries, all the mistakes on player personnel, and the lack of improvement for Russell Wilson, I didn’t expect the coaching staff to go all 1976 Buccaneers. RW still won’t throw unless a receiver is open unless he stares at him (causing a high school pick-six). John Wooden once said that a blown basketball pass is always the passer’s fault, no matter what, even if the receiver drops it (it was a metaphor for communication and a good one at that). RW trusts Doug Baldwin and now, probably, Will Dissly, at least a bit, but that’s it. Everyone else has to be wide open. That’s a rookie mistake and isn’t going to get better without real coaching – which is debatable in that RW may not listen in year 7.

    • art thiel

      Actually, I wrote it once, in two hours early this afternoon. I’ve done such things a time or two, and seen plenty of mediocre teams.

      Wilson is having a hard time, but it’s not unfixable. But they have to let him run when he feels it,

  • Ron

    Coach Carroll looked haggard in the post-game presser. I’ve never seen him look so gassed. This may be his final season with the Hawks.

    • art thiel

      Things have been hard for him since the 42-7 loss to the Rams in December. I think he underestimated the time and degree of difficulty of the transition. But if they beat the Cowboys, happy days are back. Sorta.

  • Diamond Mask

    Our power went out at 5:06pm last night. I’m going to send Tacoma Power a thank you note.

    • Husky73

      The Seahawks’ power went out in 2016.

    • art thiel

      Cold, brutha.

  • Zebb

    Great article Art! Carson wasn’t put in because Carroll thought he looked “gassed”? I’m sorry you don’t sit (for the rest of the game) a professionally conditioned/trained athlete who you are paying large sums of money to and was doing well in the game….I think there is more to that story that Carroll is not saying. As for the game, the offense had all week to prep for Mack and the Bears and looking at the O-line play and lack of creative offensive play (pass or run)they didn’t. That’s on the coaches.

  • jafabian

    More than once since Training Camp broke has Coach Carroll been caught contradicting himself. This latest episode with Carson, if taken at face value, could severely undermine his authority on the team. Not sure I buy that a coach with his experience misread Carson.

    Considering the lack of a pass rush I didn’t like letting Johnson go, gambling that he could be re-signed. He’s already this season’s Dwight Freeney.

    • Husky73

      I give Coach Carroll some credit–he had three less explanations than Urban Meyer.

  • ll9956

    Thanks for another well-written and well-organized piece, Art.

    I can’t recall where I read it, but I did read an opinion piece that picked eight teams who might as well pack it in, having zero chance of making the playoffs. The Hawks and Dallas were among them. My gut tells me that with the home crowd and a chip on their shoulders, the Hawks have a good chance to come out on top next Sunday.

  • 1coolguy

    RW completed 13 or 14, as mentioned, in the 4th qtr, and ran 2 excellent TD drives of 76 and 99 yards. What I saw in each drive was an uptempo offense, where RW threw the ball quickly and had a rhythm. This style doesn’t require as much talent from the O line and seemed the Hawks had hit on a solution. But the rest of the game, RW was holding onto the ball, looking for receivers and the offense had less of a flow.
    Presumably the coaches see this and will make adjustments. RW is a top 5 QB and given the right play calling and (hopefully) an improving O line, we should see better results as the season progresses.
    With K.J. and Wagner back, the D will be much, much better.

  • Talkjoc

    So, Carroll said he though Carson was gassed. Earth to Carroll, did you ask him if he was gassed? Good grief, looks like a bunch of high school coaches. PC is starting to wear thin. Maybe comments by former players on coaching style IS starting to wear thin.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art! CSI Seahawks, what a drama.
    Let’s hope that the coaches are taking notes on lessons learned and roll that into improvements on the sidelines. They’ve got 14 more chances this season to get it right.

    Pete’s always been a little out there on game day, willing to take chances, etc. Did the prior assistants temper his wildness and help to cover his mistakes and we’re now seeing what an unfiltered Pete Carroll is like? I’m not saying this is the case, and I’ll give PC the benefit of the doubt – he’s earned it. But what is happening game time and his explanations for it just don’t hold water.

  • Ken S.

    I get the impression that Carroll is now running around accessing how everyone is doing, second-guessing actually. Sounds like a new phase in his coaching strategy. Time to load up on the popcorn, should be a very interesting season. Carroll should enjoy the limelight while he can. I hear grumbling from my golfing buds that follow the Hawks regularly.