BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 01/12/2021

Thiel: There’s two words for Seahawks season

Pete Carroll wants the Seahawks to run more, not less, next season, and wants Russell Wilson to get rid of the ball more quickly. Oh, the sacks . . .

LB Leonard Floyd gets one of the Rams’ six sacks in their 23-16 win over the Seahawks in Los Angeles Nov. 15. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Here’s my attempt to summarize in two words the state of the Seahawks, based on developments and conversations over the past several days, as well as recent history, that concluded the weirdest season in the club’s history:

Yes, but.

Yes, the Seahawks have been to the playoffs nine times in Pete Carroll’s 11 years. But they haven’t been to the Super Bowl since the 2014 season.

Yes, the Seahawks were 12-4 and won the NFC West. But they are out of the playoffs, dominated at home by a division rival they beat two weeks earlier that was stymied by injuries at quarterback.

Yes, the Seahawks’ more rigid COVID-19 protocols kept them free of positive tests. But the intensity of the protocols added a hard-to-document, but palpable emotional fatigue.

Yes, Russell Wilson remains a great quarterback. But he completed 11 of 27 passes in a loser-out game, including a pick-six (that wasn’t his fault).

Yes, Carroll remains a good coach. But his longtime methodology goes against a strong current of analytics that says a run-first style is less efficient than a pass-first style.

I could go on, but you catch the drift: An entertaining, complex season that ended in such a profoundly dreary manner, it’s hard to look around, behind or over it.

Just sits there, a stinking yesbut.

“In the NFL, it’s so strange in that one playoff game can almost outweigh the entirety of the regular season,” Carroll said Monday. True, but on the scale of football strangeness, it’s no more absurd than an offense that set a franchise single-season record for points and is almost completely healthy, can get just two third-down conversions in 14 attempts.

On his 710 ESPN radio show, followed by a season-ending post-mortem on Zoom, Carroll patiently withstood query after query about how his offense could have saved its worst for last.

He was eager to point out that the Seahawks were up against “the best defense in the world,” as if going global somehow mitigated the head-on intensity of the collision. Inevitably, some of his critique went toward Wilson, of whom he said Saturday, “It was really hard on him. The pressure was hard, the coverage is good, and we weren’t able to function clean enough.”

Monday, Carroll was more pointed: He wanted Wilson to throw more quickly.

NFL top 25 list of most career sacks. / Pro Football Reference

“Ultimately, it was really our inability to pass-protect against them,” he said. “There’s enough quick game in this offense now that we needed to throw the ball quicker to get some efficiency. We missed a couple chances on the quick game when we didn’t connect . . . Russ was a little bit off, low and away.

“I wish we were able to get the ball out quicker. We did take our shots, a couple good looks, and they weren’t there. They did a nice job on the deep end . . . We’ve taken negative plays because we’ve been sacked a lot. So if you follow back to the reasons, it kind of comes out of that a little bit more.”

So following back, Carroll is right about sacks. The five sacks and 10 QB hits Saturday brought Wilson’s totals for the three Rams games to 16 and 30. Overall in the regular season, Wilson was sacked 47 times, third in the NFL behind the 50 of NFL leader Carson Wentz (and four behind Wilson’s career high). And he moved up to No. 20 on the career list.

The Seahawks finished with the fourth-highest rate of times sacked at 7.9 percent. What is notable about that is that only one other playoff team, the Baltimore Ravens with run-dominant QB Lamar Jackson, is in the top 10 (let’s not count the 7-9 Washington Football Team).

Seahawks had the fourth-highest percentage sack rate in the 2020 regular season. / Pro Football Reference

Not saying there’s a one-to-one correlation between sack ratio and winning. But it is instructive to note that the seven teams with the best (lowest) sack ratios are all in the playoffs. You can see the complete sack rankings at Pro Football Reference here.

Sacks are usually drive-killers, and Wilson has more than most because he’s the NFL’s best deep-ball thrower and loves the bombs that take longer to develop. He’s willing to take the risk for the reward. Carroll generally is not, and put his foot down after after the Seahawks lost three of four mid-season games, principally because of 10 turnovers.

The interceptions happened in part because defenses developed the countermeasure of two-deep safeties to slow record-setting receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.

As explained by Lockett Saturday, the Rams “make you have to play one-on-one in the boundary because they do a good job dropping a lot of people back (to) stop the deep routes. They do a good job taking over all the routes from the other side of the field. They just got a really good game plan.”

As the 30-20 final score attests, the Seahawks did not have a good game plan. The goal next season, according to Carroll, is to run more and better, not less, in order to force defenses to bring a safety out of coverage to stop the ground game.

“I’d like to not play against two-deep looks all next season,” he said. “I know the fans aren’t jacked about hearing (of more running). But Russ knows it too. We need to be able to knock those (defenders) into the scheme that we want to throw at.  I want to see if we can force them to do things like we like them to do.

“That doesn’t mean we’re gonna run the ball to 50 times a game. It means we need to run the ball with with direction and focus and style that allows us to dictate the game.”

Against the Rams, the scoring consisted of two 50-yards-plus field goals, a freelance pass-play TD abetted by busted Rams coverage, and a garbage-time TD after going down 30-13. The game wasn’t that far from a shutout. So something has to change.

Part of Carroll’s revival plan includes inserting the preacher into the proceedings.

“I feel like I need to help our coaches do a better job, and force the issue,” he said. “I feel like I have to factor in. I gotta be more a contributing factor than I was.”

Damn the analytics, the Rams and any hurt feelings on the offense. If a good NFL season can be outweighed by a single bad result, Carroll from now on will do it his way.

Yes, but  . . .


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YourThoughts

  • Jonathan M Perez

    Not gonna complain too much about a 12-5 season, 18 other NFL teams would have liked Seattle’s record. But this is the first season since Pete Carroll took over that I feel the team was almost always thoroughly outcoached and out-prepared. Only coach who seemed to recognize there was a problem and made adjustments was Ken Norton, Jr, who should get credit for turning the defense around.

    The team desperately needs more dynamism in its coaching, especially on offense. I feel though that the Seahawks and Pete Carroll will learn this too late.

    • art thiel

      The offensive regression is on Carroll/Schottenheimer and Wilson. I’m not smart enough to provide a percentage. I also think pass-pro degraded as the seasonal wounds piled up.

  • BB46

    That quick passing game did connect for a touchdown,,,,,,,,,,……… Unfortunately the guy who scored was wearing the wrong color jersey.
    Never could recover from that play.

    • art thiel

      Responsibility for the pick went to Swain for failure to block Williams. But the OC had gone to that high-risk play too many times on Williams’ film study.

      • Bruce McDermott

        Also, DK needs to feel the pressure and move toward that ball. Swain’s angle was very difficult without DK moving….

        • art thiel

          DK probably has to learn that part of the bubble or smoke screen because the long horizontal throw is so vulnerable.

      • Scott Columbo

        The issue with that play is Moore was lined up directly in front of Williams and blocking Williams would have been simple, instead dumb design to have Moore do a crossing route and expect Swain to shift to the left 3yards to get the block. Why Swains route wasn’t to cross into the middle and have Moore to just run straight to block Williams is beyond me. If it wasn’t a blown route then it was a stupid design.

        • art thiel

          The “stupid” design has worked multiple times this year to get Metcalf space and blockers. But because it’s worked so often is why Williams was ready. Got to break tendencies.

  • Talkjoc

    Always wondered why, after the season is over, that the Hawks always say “we should have, could have” yada yada. WHY didn’t they? EVERYBODY ELSE in the league did in stopping the deep ball. Is it Russell changing the play at the line? Where were the short crossing patterns and what in the h*ll happened to Dissley? It’s coaching. Period. Yes, but…..

    • Jessica
    • art thiel

      Every team that goes one-and-done has the same exercise in hand-wringing. Nothing different in Seattle. And the Seahawks won four in a row to close despite the two-high safety adoption by defenses. But a great D on a very bad day for Wilson magnifies everything.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Interesting sack list. If Russell’s sacks fall from 47 to 30 and stay at that number for the next 6 years he will be 50 sacks above the #1 guy (Favre). And those guys at the top of the list have all had 15 to 20 year careers. Russ should watch some film of Marino and Peyton Manning. Both had very quick releases. And neither of them are on the all-time sack list Art posted in this column.

    • Coop

      Dan Marino – 6’4″
      Payton Manning – 6’5″
      Tom Brady – 6’4″

      • art thiel

        Amazingly, they were also that tall when Wilson was in back to back Super Bowls.

        • Tman

          In 2012 a bad defensive call by the coaching staff allowed Atlanta to keep the Hawks out of the super bowl in wilson’s first year.

          2013 hawks beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos to win SB 43 to 8.
          2014 bad offensive call on last play cost Hawks 2nd SB in a row.
          2021 Hawks run the ball when they have unstoppable passing game. One and done. Coach wants to run more next year. Let Russ Cook. He doesn’t need help from the sidelines.

        • Coop

          Height isn’t the only metric when evaluating QBs, but it isn’t zero either. If Brady was 5’11” he’d be a veterinarian.
          Of course, playing with the decades best defense helps a team get to Super Bowls.
          Seahawks have systemic offense issues that have shown the last three years in playoff games. An honest evaluation of why that is is needed. Russ is getting older, and these are not the Seahawks of 5 years ago. Gotta stop living there people.

          • art thiel

            I don’t think many are living in the past. I do think the Seahawks have figured out how to work around Wilson’s veterinarian-level height.

      • Kevin Lynch

        Drew Brees – 6’0″
        Drew has taken only 26 more sacks than Russell but has played 11 more years. Happy feet, quick release. That’s worth more than height when avoiding sacks.

    • art thiel

      I wanted to make sure readers understood Wilson’s historically high rate of sacks is a major impediment to sustaining success.

      • Kevin Lynch

        Understood. I agree. As said, sacks kill drives.

  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    If’s and buts were candy and nuts, everyday would be Christmas. People saying that 12-4 is a great achievement, and it is. But ask the Mariners about their 116 win season, that didn’t get them to the promise land. Who can forget the Yankee fans banners in the stands holding signs. 116 wins in the regular season means nothing in the post season.

    The wheels fell off the Hawks bus after their jack rabbit start, incapable of recognizing the need to switch gears, the season came to an abrupt and seriously ugly end in the playoffs. One and done, a 12-4 season will get you a juice box and an orange slice. But the first team to exit stage right in the playoffs will leave people wondering what happened

  • Nads

    All this discussion leads directly to the fact that each season for the past several years have featured a last minute patchwork of various parts and pieces for a woeful offensive line. The lack of cohesive and concentrated development of that unit stands out more than anything, in my mind, why Hawks offenses constantly struggle. Damn the numbers, let’s get a genuine NFL caliber OLine!

    • art thiel

      They have two above average guys in Lewis and Brown. Shell was solid. Pocic developed some problems, and Carroll said Monday the LG spot occupied by Iupati and Simmons “needs improvement.” But in the era of free agency, there’s no possibility of concentrated development. You hire the best five available and hope for the best. Given the absence of camp and preseason, the group played above expectations until the end.

  • Husky73

    In the 1980’s and 90’s, I called those yahbbuts……”Stop hitting your brother!” Yahbutt, he put cat food in my cereal!

  • Agree with the analysis that RW needs to get the ball out faster and avoid sacks. Psychologically, it has to be tough to play the same #1 defense twice in three weeks. The pick 6 was an example of a play the Rams had seen a lot on film and field and probably planned to jump before the game even started. (reminds me of another play…never mind). I also question Carroll’s decision to play Wilson and other key players like Adams vs SF the week before. The 49er offense was decimated, but their defense is brutal too and played hard. I would have rested Russ and key starters for at least a half even if it meant taking a loss. Wouldn’t have affected the playoff seed and Russ could have come in fresh vs LA. The whole team, but especially RW looked flat in first quarter and then they got pancaked by the Rams’ #1 D the rest of the way.

    • art thiel

      Sitting healthy players is always a dicey proposition. Acceptance of risk is standard for players and teams, and accepting a loss to rest players goes against the culture of most pro sports teams.

  • Husky73

    3 words…..too many punts….4 words….way too many sacks. Get rid of the ball quicker. Those sacks are drive killers and also take a psychological toll.

  • David Freiboth

    So here’s my $0.02 for what it’s worth Arthur … it’s primarily on Russ. Of course Pete and Schotty bear a large share of the blame but more for their failure to get a handle on #3 than game strategy and tactics. Pete’s style seems to coddle stars like Russ. I recall a report years ago that he got on Sherm’s ass for giving Russ a hard time at practice. That worked fine, I guess, when Russ was young and had that raw mobility. Now that the maturing process has cost him half a step and his ability to escape has diminished it is time for him to transition to a pocket passer. Given that mitigating his size handicap with mobility seems to be receding, the need for coaching discipline in terms of play calling needs to be prioritized by the QB. This will likely be a challenge for the Head Coach given his soft touch.

    But I can’t say this was a total surprise. All that “let Russ cook” nonsense early on was troubling in that the success was often determined as much by long odds plays as it was to the magic of #3. Problem with relying on long odds it that they tend to balance out over time which is what we saw early mid season. True that Pete kind of got a handle on it but, in the end, one of the primary elements in the collapse was of all those the years of soft coaching the star QB. When it all came to a head last Saturday Russ went back to “cooking” without the benefit of his early carrier raw speed and against a team that had seen it all. The point? Until Wilson accepts what it takes to remain a late carrier star QB, and until Pete insists that the team reflects that reality our beloved “Chickenhawks” of yesteryears will reemerge. Pete and Schneider will move on and I fear a return the abyss of mediocracy. It breaks my heart to say this but, well, it don’t look good right now.

    • art thiel

      I think you’re overreacting, Dave. It’s true that the shortfall is primarily on Wilson. Yes, Carroll has coddled him, but only because he thinks he needed protection from Sherman’s ruthlessness. A couple players took advantage of Carroll, (Sherm and Marshawn,) but Carroll’s way has gotten much from many. Wilson’s diminished speed, along with his refusal to grow taller, requires a shift, but not anything that a few more boot plays can’t fix. No QB needs Lamar Jackson’s speed to make them work.

      The 5-0 start indeed was unsustainable, but vital to buy the time for the defense to get acquainted and healthy. It was seductive; all of us bought in except some opposing DCs. But the risks in Carroll’s view became too much, and it was dialed back

      As you’ve seen since writing, Schneider and Carroll will be around for some time. I don’t see Chickenhawks coming back on their watch.

  • Stephen Pitell

    “Yes, but” to end this piece suggests you are wavering in your support of Pete. Many are. I sure miss a couple of bombs per game to DK. But what I miss most is Russell’s decision making and accuracy. Maybe Russ’ accuracy left, and his confidence followed. That is the way it appeared from the peanut gallery. As usual, I want, you want, we all want simple answers to complex questions. Fire the coach! Trade Russell. Let’s go back in history and re-do a critical mistake.

    If I had one wish I could use for the purposes of football only, I’d ask for another SB year. This wasn’t it.

    Dang, after consideration, I have decided I will use that wish for a dynasty that lasts until millions of people start wondering if we are in league with the Devil.

    • DB

      That would be the Patriots

      • art thiel

        Carroll remains a good coach but like all good coaches, he has streaks, habits and inconsistencies that need to be called out in-house. I’m pretty sure we don’t have a full story yet on Wilson, so I’d reserve your laments until if/when we do.

  • DB

    “Pete’s longtime methodology goes against a strong current of analytics that says a run-first style is less efficient than a pass-first style.” Really? Who’s analytics? You’d need to unpack that a little more to make me a believer.

    Per John Clayton: ‘For the season, the Seahawks finished rushing the ball 40.2 percent of their snaps – 19th in the league – and throwing it 59.8 percent of the time.” (and) “Four of the eight teams in the divisional playoffs were among the top seven in percentage of run. Baltimore ran the ball 55.9 percent of the time. Cleveland went to more running and were fourth at 48.3 percent. The New Orleans Saints, believe it or not with head coach Sean Payton, were fifth at 47.3. It was surprising that the Green Bay Packers were seventh at 44.7. Some of the best offensive minds in the game relied on the run.”

    Take out Wilson’s scrambles and the Hawks would have had the third fewest rushing attempts in the league this season. In 2013 and 2014 they were number 2 in rushes…

    • art thiel

      Those are seasonal volume numbers, which tell part of the story. Down, distance and situation tell another part.

  • jafabian

    Two former Seahawks as well as Russ but despite his longevity Matt Hasselbeck didn’t make the cut. In part due to the solid offensive line during his best years and his propensity to release the ball quickly. Also three Huskies and a Coug. The Evergreen State is well represented!

    • art thiel

      Not quite tracking you here, but Hasselbeck did have a quick release.

      • jafabian

        Just an observation. Kind of. Looks like over the years the Hawks consistently either haven’t invested in the O-Line or don’t get the kind of QB or run an offense that protects them. Matt being the exception due to having the best O-Line in teams history, a deep WR group and a quick release. The second best O-Line and WR group was the title team and back then Russ scrambled more whereas today he sits and waits for the play to develop. And waits. And waits. Boom.

  • DonMac

    I think Pete’s offensive and defensive philosophies are so far behind the times that he’s lost and he thinks he can find his way back by doubling down on philosophies that simply don’t work in today’s NFL. The thought of Pete being even more controlling in forcing things to be his way or the highway (see Brian Schottenheimer) doesn’t bode well for the Seahawks’ future. Jody Allen, please save the fans and Pete from his worst impulses. Sad way for a once great coach to go out if no one intervenes right now on Pete’s behalf to convince him that the Seahawks can still be his team but devolving is not the way to do it. His energy and infectious enthusiasm combined with having the brightest minds on both sides of the ball would make the Seahawks a force that teams like the Rams would fear instead of licking their chops like they do now when playing the Seahawks.

    • art thiel

      I don’t think he’s out of date with NFL changes — you can’t go from 9 to 10 to 11 to 12 wins by being out of date. But I do think a stronger OC personality might be able to call him out when he’s wrong, which every NFL head coach is from time to time.

      Imagine if he had fellow SB winner Doug Pederson as OC.

  • Scott Columbo

    The reality is this is on Carroll and Sneider, how is it 7 seasons now that we still don’t have an OL that can protect Wilson? Complete failure by them, you can’t throw if you don’t have time.

    • art thiel

      Not true this year. The line was a top 10 as rated by Pro Football Focus. Much of pass pro’s success is a function of timely release by the QB. Wilson for his entire career been reluctant to waste a throw to save a sack, and a tick late when in comes to great pressure teams like LA. He wants splash plays, especially with Metcalf, and the Rams solve him better than anyone because Donald usually requires a double-team.

  • Bobby Cobb

    The 2014 Super Bowl proved that a great defense can make a prolific offense look hapless. Russ is a top-tier quarterback but maddeningly inconsistent. He often starts slow and relies on late-game magic to make up the difference. The league figured him out a long time ago. He’s not good enough to carry the team on his own, but his salary means we’ll never have the pieces in place to put together another Super Bowl run. We need a new Russ, on a rookie contract, and a crapload of defensive stars.

    • art thiel

      Wilson didn’t start slowly in games earlier in the season. And he, likely every top-tier QB, will have a couple stinkers annually. He’s plenty good enough to carry a team most times. But nobody can do it all of the time.

      The big contract is a big burden for every team.

  • 3 Lions

    Easier said than done but an improved offensive line would solve a lot of problems.
    Presently, they don’t have the talent to play so conservatively against good teams.