BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 11/17/2020

Thiel: Wilson needs Carroll to show his trust

Of course Russell Wilson is pressing. So many Seahawks are hurt or out. Doesn’t help when Carroll backs away from the offense in a key moment against the nemesis.

Rams DB Darious Williams, who had two interceptions, tips away a potential touchdown pass for WR Tyler Lockett in the final minute Sunday in Los Angeles. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Absent evidence of physical injury, it is implausible that Russell Wilson could descend from the best quarterback in the NFL to an average one over the span of four games. More plausible is that the Seahawks have deteriorated around him.

So in answer to the popular question, “Is Wilson pressing?”, the answer is yes. Clearly. What premier quarterback wouldn’t?

Every team-sport athlete who has reached a pinnacle thinks that he can do something more to fix a team slide. But because the term is seen as a pejorative and a weakness, neither Wilson nor coach Pete Carroll will use it.

Asked again the question at his Monday presser following the 23-16 loss to the Rams Sunday that was Wilson’s worst game of the season, Carroll said, “I think that we made some mistakes in this game that just don’t look normal for us. There’s the one play that jumps out (the second quarter end-zone interception), when you could have taken off and run. He saw something and took a shot at it. That’s an indication that he couldn’t take what was in front of him.

“Russ and I talked about how he can follow his instincts of the first opportunity, then take advantage and go to the next play. That’s an illustration of one play that was like that.”

That’s a long way of saying he’s pressing.

But before Wilson’s game gets picked apart for his three turnovers, consider the Seahawks entering the weekend were leading the NFL in yards per play on early downs, as well as plays that resulted in a first down or a touchdown. And they still lead in points scored (32.3 ppg). Not a bad body of work.

Then they entered the Rams game. Some notes:

•Kyle Fuller started his first career game at center in place of Ethan Pocic (concussion) and then sprained his ankle in the second quarter. He stayed in the game. Said Carroll: “He just toughed it out and did a really nice job of hanging in there.” But he made a bad shotgun snap that went down as a Wilson fumble.

Even though the Seahawks double-teamed All-Pro DT Aaron Donald into a small output, Wilson was sacked six times and hit 12 times. Against Buffalo a week earlier it was five and 11. His 30 sacks are tied for fourth-most in the league. He’s getting pounded.

Also, LG Mike Iupati returned after a four-game absence and briefly had to come out, replaced by third-stringer Jamarco Jones because usual backup Jordan Simmons was hurt.

Good as he is, RG Damien Lewis is still a rookie. Good as he is, LT Duane Brown is still 35 with a sore knee.

•Because of injuries to Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde, the starting running back was Alex Collins, who hadn’t played in an NFL game since 2018. He was figuratively on the couch when GM John Schneider made his by-now-traditional emergency calls among former Seahawks running backs to see if they were free the next Sunday and had stayed out of the Krispy Kreme drive-thru (Eddie Lacy, you’re next!).

•Beyond go routes, second-year WR DK Metcalf hasn’t mastered making space for himself against superior corners such as LA’s Jalen Ramsey and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson. He had two catches Sunday on four targets for 28 yards. Three weeks earlier against Peterson, who’s in Seattle Thursday with the Cardinals, he had two on five for 23.

All of the foregoing are some of the things happening with the offense besides the highly visible misplays by Wilson. It’s true that every team has injuries and similar problems. It’s also true that every game has a winner and loser, and there are multiple reasons for each outcome that are not excuses.

The only portion of the offense that was near apex function was Wilson, but he can’t stay there without help. Specifically, a credible running game.

“I know all of the the publicity is going towards the throwing game,” Carroll said. “Russ has had a huge number starting this thing off, and we’re still probably close to the highest-scoring team in the NFL. We expect to get back to that, and we need all of our offense to get that done.

“We’ve got to function at a high level again. We need to continue to run the football. We need that as part of our offense. We need to do more than we did yesterday. We want to continue to always work for balance.”

But it was hard to see Monday how that happens in the short-week cruelty of the Thursday night tradition. Pocic and Carsonwere among 10 players that didn’t practice Monday. Carroll was a little more optimistic that Hyde’s hamstring will allow him to play. But Carroll admits he regularly over-estimates such things.

Since Carroll has never claimed to be a hands-on healer, there’s not much he can do for team health. What he can do is have a little more faith in Wilson. Given his somber post-game tone, Wilson can use it.

But words are cheap. Actions count.

If you followed the game, you know that Carroll made the controversial decision to punt on fourth-down-and-inches from the Seattle 42-yard line. Carroll defended the call by saying it was too early in the game to go for it on fourth down, and that failure would be equivalent to a turnover in Seattle territory.

But even though Wilson Sunday dismissed any dismay by saying he was “good either way” with the decision, common sense says that wasn’t true.

The Seahawks this season are seven of nine in fourth-down conversions, a rate fifth-best in the league. On third down, they have converted 39 percent, which ranks 25th. Obviously, each circumstance is different, and in this case the attempt in one’s own territory is higher risk.

An even higher risk is a seeming loss of faith in Wilson. He’s one of the most mentally tough athletes in any sport. But so much has been made of his 10 turnovers over the past four games being the primary cause of the three losses. He had only 11 all of last season. He may not have experienced a period of such vulnerability in his otherwise hugely successful pro career.

The Seahawks have scored one offensive touchdown in the past two games against the Rams — the one TD in the 28-12 loss in December was an interception return — and the teams meet again Dec. 27. The stakes presumably will be higher, as likely will be the Rams, knowing they have won five of the past six in the series and solved for the Wilson puzzle.

Even before losing Sunday to the nemesis, Wilson was already pressing. Then his coach backed away from the offense in a key moment to trust a defense that hadn’t merited the faith.

“Russ is busting his ass for this football team and he’s doing everything he can and I would never, ever think twice about anything but that,” Carroll said on 710 ESPN radio Monday morning, responding to the question. “But that doesn’t mean that he can’t fall prey to that, too. He wants to win too. So we’ve just got to keep him within himself and he’ll come back and he’ll be great.”

The words are good. Enabling the action is far better.

 


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YourThoughts

  • DJ

    Thanks Art. Brilliant and necessary message – like Pete Carroll’s assistant is printing copies of this article right now – ha ha. It’s a tender situation. We are so lucky to have Russell Wilson, and Pete Carroll. Fingers are crossed that they figure this out, clear the figurative clog in the fuel line and can punch-it through the end of the season. GO HAWKS!

    • art thiel

      My guess is if Carroll was sharing the work of a writer, it would be a career first, and the signal to retire.

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  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    Great article Art, once again you are the voice of reason and once again pointing out the obvious. Too many holes due to injuries and holes left unsealed by poor drafting in the past. There seems to little emphasis on the infrastructure, i.e. the defensive line, offensive line. It’s like John and Pete are fixated on the bright and shiny objects in the room, not the building blocks that keep your QB from being mauled to death week in and week out or being unable to maul your opponents QB week in and week out. These issues are killing the Hawks, just ask Russ about his near death experiences practically every time he gets the ball snapped to him. And I would venture to guess that these weaknesses will still be blatantly apparent in two more days. Go Hawks.

    • Chris Alexander

      . . . just ask Russ about his near death experiences practically every time he gets the ball snapped to him

      Against the Rams, I counted 51 plays with Russ in shotgun and only 15 with him under center. Part of this is Seattle’s scheme but the ratio of plays in shotgun seemed “heavier” than usual against the Rams. Methinks that having a backup center was part of that equation.

      • 2nd place is 1st loser

        Do you actually watch the game to enjoy it, or just to be analytical. Have a couple beers while you’re watching and just relax.

        • Chris Alexander

          I don’t drink. But to answer your question, yes, I watch the games to enjoy them. Then, afterwards, like most fans, I either bask in the glory or stew in the frustration. After that phase passes, I usually download the NFL game books, and rewatch the game while updating my own personal spreadsheets and ‘geeking out’ on the stats.

          Kinda like “having my cake and eating it too” :)

          • Husky73

            Just wondering—-when each season concludes and the Seahawks are eliminated, what do you do with those stats?

          • art thiel

            I shoiuldn’t speak for Chris, but I imagine he keeps them to compare year over year. It’s what all teams do.

          • art thiel

            Good for you. Cake and data make a fine Sundayv meal.

      • art thiel

        You’re right. Wilson needed the extra second vs. LA. When all OLs were healthy, more pre-snap mystery prevailed.

    • art thiel

      The bosses know the value of line play, they’ve just chosen poorly. Healthy, this year’s line is solid.

  • Tman

    Who is calling the shots?
    If anyone knows exactly what he is doing at all times it is Russell Wilson.
    Let Russell Cook.

    • art thiel

      Carroll calls the shots. And if RW knows exactly what he’s doing at all times, we need him in charge of the virus task force.

      • Tman

        Good idea. He’d demand a lot of the science guys. The restaurants might still be open for indoor dining..oh for the good old day of last week.

        Confusion is to be expected with so many substitutions. Players seeming to be lost on both sides of the ball. Then there’s 3 guys, Mr. Carroll, Mr. Shottenheimer (he does call plays, too, yes/no?) and Mr. Wilson making up plays. Remember the days in the huddle where a player says, “I can beat this guy” and the qb calls his number. Isn’t that what “Let Russ Cook” means?

  • Stephen Pitell

    Maybe Wilson needs to feel the power of the dark side. Maybe he can use anger to fuel him. I noticed the fall off of Wilson’s play almost since the second game. Wilson started off as super super great. Then he was just super great. Then he was just very very good, then very good, and then just good. From good he fell off to not very good, and then to not good at all, and then to fairly bad, and then just bad. If one graphed it, it is almost a straight line falling off from his first and best game. Why, I don’t know, but it is on him.

    • Chris Alexander

      As someone who tracks stats during the season, I’ve got to say that you’re mis-remembering things.

      More to the point though, the Hawks lost both Carson and Hyde during the Week 7 game in Arizona – which was the first game in their current 5-game “gauntlet” and the first of their “3 losses in the last 4 games” stretch.

      That Wilson’s performance has crated during that stretch is NOT a coincidence.

      • art thiel

        Exactly. The second half vs. AZ is when the absence of Carson/Hyde changed how defenses played SEA.

    • art thiel

      Actually, it is on the entire offensive unit. Injuries to the O-line, as I wrote about Wednesday, contributed to the decline I don’t think there’s a straight-line on Wilson’s decay, because it doesn’t account for team injuries and opponent scouting.

  • tor5

    Nice analysis, Art. I love Pete, but that 4th-and-inches call was maddening. Given that the Rams were scoring on every possession, you’d think you’d take a shot there at keeping your offense on the field. In fact, by my count it took the Rams 6 plays to get back to the same spot on the field, despite a good Dickson punt.

    • Chris Alexander

      You’re right. 6 plays after Dickson pinned them on their 12, the Rams had 1st and 10 on the Seattle 37. Of course, the defense did have a chance to get off the field when they put the Rams in a 3rd and 13 situation on their 25. But a 17-yard completion to Cooper Kupp (and a DPI flag for good measure), ended that opportunity.

      In the defense’s defense though, the Rams scored on their first 3 possessions (17 points and 240 yards of offense) but then the next 2 resulted in a turnover and a punt. And after the 14-play, 88-yard touchdown drive on the Rams’ first possession of the second half (the one following the punt), the defense held them to 21 yards on 16 plays over their next 3 possessions.

      It was the offense that cost us the game – which is the first time this season we’ve had to say that.

      • tor5

        You’ve always got astute details to add, Chris. The last few games have been tough… if we can just get O and D to click at the same time, there’s reason for optimism.

      • art thiel

        True. The defense played its best second half of the season. The offense scored one TD.

    • art thiel

      It backfired, certainly. I get Carroll’s risk fear, but the defense didn’t merit the trust.

  • Husky73

    Carroll needs to be replaced………with Benny Hinn.

    • 2nd place is 1st loser

      You sure you didn’t mean…..Benny Hill?

      • Chris Alexander

        Haha – I’m guessing he meant Benny Hinn.

        From Wikipedia:

        Toufik Benedictus “Benny” Hinn is an Israeli televangelist, best known for his regular “Miracle Crusades”—revival meeting or faith healing summits that are usually held in stadiums in major cities, which are later broadcast worldwide on his television program, This Is Your Day.

        • 2nd place is 1st loser

          I know who he meant, sheesh. Take a breath.

          • Chris Alexander

            Well, you are more worldly than I am then cuz I didn’t have a clue. But I thought it was funny when I Google’d ‘Benny Hinn’ so I thought I’d share the joke (so to speak) with the rest of the class – in case there were others who also had no clue about who he was.

            Sorry if I offended you.

          • 2nd place is 1st loser

            None taken.

          • Husky73

            Sadly, Benny Hill, like Elvis, has left the building.

    • Guy K. Browne

      Robert Tilton (aka Pastor Gas on YouTube) is my favorite televangelist/faith healer. He’s worth a lookup. He is as I stated, a faith healer and laughter is the best medicine.

      • art thiel

        I’ll take your word.

        • Guy K. Browne

          I did manage to intentionally avoid pasting the link to the video in my comment above so as not to sully your column with flatulence humor. “Pastor Gas” is absolutely LCD humor, but hey, gotta slum every now and then.

    • art thiel

      Please — no faith healers. There’s enough misinformation in the world.

  • Chris Alexander

    Yep, Russ is pressing. Yep, Carroll needs to trust Russ. But, nope, not on that 4th down play.

    Aside from all the observations Art makes – a backup center making his first start and nursing an ankle injury, playing with a backup guard on one side and a rookie guard on the other, a 6th string (?) running back who officially joined the team 11 days earlier, and Aaron-freaking-Donald salivating on the other side of the line, I would add the following:

    The personnel group that was in the game when Seattle was trying to draw the Rams offsides included 3 WRs (Metcalf, Lockett, and Moore), a Tight End (Olsen), and a Running Back (Collins). Sounds good, right?

    To that point, Collins had 30 yards on 8 carries; 20 of the 30 were on Seattle’s first possession and 13 of them came on his touchdown run. His last carry, on 1st and 10, had gained 3 yards. Three of his 4 previous carries had gone for 1 yard or less.

    Does anyone honestly believe that handing the ball to Collins on 4th down was the best decision the team could make?

    With the Rams’ D-line and Seattle’s suspect offensive line, calling Wilson’s number (on a sneak) would be a suicide play and potentially cost you your franchise player.

    So a pass play, right?

    To that point, DK Metcalf hadn’t been targeted once. Seattle had called 14 pass plays since the last time a wide receiver caught a pass. And the only passes that tight ends caught came in the first quarter. In fact, the only players that had caught passes since the 5:39 mark in the 2nd quarter were Travis Homer (2) and DeeJay Dallas (2) – neither of whom were in the game.

    The ball was on the 42, there were 28+ minutes still to play, it was a 4-point game, and the offense was struggling. I get wanting to show confidence in your offense (and your QB) by going for it there, but doing so would have been stupid. Pete gets paid the big bucks for having the guts to make the tough choices.

    Then there’s the defense.

    Yep, they’ve sucked this year. Yep, they gave up 17 points and 240 yards of offense on the Rams first 3 possessions. But heading into halftime, they’d tightened things up – getting a takeaway on the Rams 4th possession and forcing a punt on their 5th possession. There was reason to believe that they’d be up to the task if Dickson pinned the Rams deep. And they had their chances, starting with a 3rd and 13 play on the Rams 25. Didn’t work out though. Not on that possession.

    But the possession after the reviled 4th and short decision was also the last time the Rams scored and they netted only 21 yards on 16 plays over the final 3 “meaningful” possessions (which excludes them take a knee 3x after the failed onside kick). So it’s not like Pete’s faith in his defense was misplaced; it was just mis-timed.

    • Chris Alexander

      Also worth noting that Seattle had already burned a timeout with the ill-conceived challenge of the spot on Russ’s 3rd down scramble. So if the Rams didn’t jump offsides, Seattle’s only options were to snap the ball and run a play with the personnel group that was on the field or to take the delay of game penalty and kick it; they sure weren’t going to go for it on 4th and 6 from their 37.

      In theory, they had their best players in the game but none of those players, with the exception of Lockett (4 catches on 7 targets for 62 yards) and, to a lesser extent, Wilson (14 of 22 for 168) had done anything of consequence up to that point. Olsen and Moore both had 1 catch on 2 targets.

      • art thiel

        Carroll had the option of going right away with short-yardage personnel and skipping the hard-count stunt, something easily called out by defenders.

  • Hockeypuck

    The reason Russ hasn’t “kept within himself” is he knows he has to over-compensate for years of incompetence by Coach Wonka and his sidekick JS. The defense – as currently configured – has not added a quality player in over five years. They thought they were so clever – when they traded Frank Clark, they were sure they were going get Montez Sweat and Jonathan Abrams with their first two picks in the 2019 draft. Got outmaneuvered and ended up with Collier and Marquis Blair. And speedbump Cody Barton. PC and JS are so insecure in their abilities they repeatedly and desperately try to prove how smart they are with their quirky, one-off draft picks. Jordyn Brooks and Darrell Taylor are just more of the same.

    So PC had better tread gingerly when criticizing Russ. Any uncharacteristic mistakes by RW are purely a function of him KNOWING he has to score 35 points a game every week to have a chance of winning. I’ve noticed a change in him this year – more somber, less upbeat and (subtly) less willing to be coach Rah Rah’s water boy. It must be infuriating to him to see this team simultaneously implode and at the same time mortgage their future via desperation trades (Jamaal Adams). Made all the more nauseating by Coach Wonka’s incessant enthusiasm. My guess is he’s exasperated this dumpster fire of a team – and Jody Allen signing Coach Wonka for another five years may be the final straw.

    Russ’ change in attitude is partly of function of recognizing that the window of his peak-performing years will begin to close soon. Basically (football) mortality bites, and the clock is ticking. He’s 32, and recognizes he’ll never be more valuable as a franchise quarterback than he is at this very moment. All the while the Seahawks are mismanaging this franchise into the dirt. There are plenty of QBs that have won a single super bowl. For a QB, they way to football immortality is to win a second super bowl. And only one player has done it with two teams.

    Russ desperately wants to win another SB; he’ll be unable to tolerate the ongoing incompetence and buffoonery practiced by Coach Wonka and his sidekick any longer. After the season, he’ll approach the Seahawks (quietly and privately) with an ultimatum – 2020 was his last season in Seattle and he WILL be traded to (a few) select teams of his choosing. His leverage is he’ll give them a deadline (one month before the draft?) at which point his request will be made public, and the Seahawks will lose what little bargaining power they have.

    But don’t despair Seahawk fans; Coach Wonka and his sidekick will end up with draft picks and a plan for the future…

  • ll9956

    Last Sunday was undoubtedly the poorest performance by Russell Wilson that I can remember. I suspect that internally he’s thinking that he needs to make up for an inadequate defense, and that’s putting it politely. It’s a noble undertaking, but the reality is that Russell can’t do it all and that should not be expected of him. He can be criticized for errors like not seeing Metcalf when he was open, or at least in a position where he, with his size and skill, would have had a good chance to make a catch for a big gain. Metcalf’s frustration could not have been more obvious.

    The run game is another inadequacy. They need Chris Carson. It’s not his fault that he is injured. If only he could regain his health . . .

    As to the defense, I can’t control my fantasy machine. What the Hawks need is a couple of D-backs who are a composite of Kenny Easley, Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, all in their prime. Such an animal doesn’t exist. I also can’t help but wonder if there’s any chance Earl Thomas could rejoin the Hawks. Or is that simply not in the cards? Is he playing for anyone these days? I don’t put a lot of blame on Ken Norton. He has to do his best with the available talent.

    Thursday night is almost here. As I have ever since the Hawks’ inception, I’m rooting for them. They seem to be favored by at least some of the “experts”. I find that hard to believe, but what do I know?

    • art thiel

      Part of the problem is Wilson’s reluctance to throw to a covered Metcalf. He’s big and strong enough to out-fight most DBs for the ball, although OPI is always a risk with younger players. Wilson can’t do that all the time, but even one completion in those conditions helps unsettle a defense.

  • 1coolguy

    Interesting observation on DK not running crisp enough routes to gain separation. Obviously on long routes has simply outruns the db, but on shorter routes that require separation I saw the same thing last Sunday. Hopefully he can pick it up and learn from Lockett who runs such great routes.
    It is no coincidence in the past four games the O has struggled, which is when Carson has been out. Without the D focusing on BOTH Carson and RW, their job is simply “Meet at the quarterback” and to hell with whoever is running.
    My big question is What the heck has happened with Dissly? He was gangbusters last season until his injury – I think he had the most receptions. This year he’s lucky to have one target a game. I know we have Olsen now, but it doesn’t explain Dissly’s absence from the O. Are they using him as an additional O lineman, given his blocking skills? At any rate, I miss his seam routes that were automatics and took a lot of pressure off RW.

    • art thiel

      Dissly hasn’t recovered his form from a year ago. He’s serviceable, but lots of players with his injury take more than a season to get all the way back.