If one positive comes from Seattle’s playoff streak ending after five years, it appears it might be Pete Carroll finally figuring out that it’s time to change some of his coaching approach (and maybe coaches).
“Unfortunately, the truth came out that you do get what you emphasize,” he said last week, admitting he has preached so much about finishing strong that he has ignored starting well. He also lamented Seattle’s team-record penalty count and poor running game and made fixes for those issues his offseason priorities.
“Probably my biggest regret this season is how the penalties factored into our season,” Carroll said. “We’ve been in this situation before, and we’ve been able to overcome the issues and our style of play; it didn’t affect us dramatically.” (Carroll’s Seahawks led the NFL in penalties in both Super Bowl seasons.)
“But this year was more of a factor and our margin wasn’t as such that we could endure it as well, and that’s a major aspect of us to change,” he said. “I’m clear on how I’m going to go about that, and it’s going to start way back to the first day (of offseason workouts), April 16, and we’ll make a change there. It has to happen because I don’t know that our margins are going to be as big as they’ve been in years past.”
Basically, Carroll is saying he doesn’t expect his changing defense to be as dominant as the one that led the NFL in scoring defense for four straight years (it fell to 13th this season), and he is obviously not confident his offense will make up for it.
But at least Carroll finally understands it is not always how you finish that matters. A good start is very helpful.
“Why were we mentally not clear to execute at the beginning of the game and then we could find marvelous ability to execute later on? That still remains a real issue for me and a problem for me, that we were so inconsistent early in games,” he said. “It’s not because we talk about finishing, because it’s not like we talk down on starting … but unfortunately the truth came out that you do get what you emphasize. And so the finished part of it is an obvious strength, but yet there’s emphasis to why we can’t execute as well as we need to (early).”
You would think Carroll would be all over hot starts; the Seahawks are 48-7 with Russell Wilson when leading at halftime. But they led just four times in 2017, going 3-1 in those games.
Seattle trailed Arizona 20-7 at halftime of the finale, the TD coming off Tyler Lockett’s 99-yard kick return, and Carroll apparently had a stern (for him) talk with Wilson after another poor first half by the QB in a December full of them.
Along with an absent rushing game, Wilson’s half splits pretty much told the story of Seattle’s offense in 2017. His first-half numbers were the worst of his career: 59.6 percent, 6.14 yards per attempt, eight TDs, 78 rating. The Seahawks got to nine wins only because he threw a career-high 26 TD passes in the second half (an NFL-record 19 in the fourth quarter).
His first-half woes really started in the first quarter: 58 percent, four TDs, three picks, 5.61 YPA, 74.5 rating. He often looked out of sorts early in games — missing reads, throwing high or low, chucking deep interceptions, bailing out of the pocket too early or staying too long and getting sacked. Basically, he never looked comfortable or confident.
A huge part of the problem was Seattle’s total failure on first downs. It started with the lack of running game, and then Darrell Bevell called a lot of short sideline passes on the first play in many series, typically leading to second-and-long. Penalties often put them in second-and-20 or worse.
So, to sum it up, the Hawks failed on first downs, which led to them flopping in the first quarter, which put them in first-half holes in all but four games.
Carroll knows they need to fix the running game to help Wilson start faster. The Seahawks had the worst running back production in the league in 2017 and have been very poor in the ground game for two straight years.
“We have a real formula of how we win and we have been unable the last two years to incorporate a major aspect of that, and it’s running the football the way we want to run it,” Carroll said. “We have been committed to that from the start, but unfortunately we have not been able to recapture it the way that we have in years past.”
The inability to run the ball the past two years has been a major reason the Seahawks have been so bad in the red zone. They simply can’t run when defenses know that’s what they are going to do. The Seahawks scored just four rushing touchdowns in 2017, and the only one by a running back (J.D. McKissic) came from 30 yards out.
“It just shows you, if you can’t run with authority, then it’s going to show up down there,” Carroll said. “That was really indicative, unfortunately. … We really made a concentrated effort to go back and recapture this year and we were on it and ready to go, and then it just didn’t come together for us.”
The question: What will Carroll do about it?
Many fans have wanted Tom Cable to be fired for several years now; if it is ever going to happen, this will be the time. But Carroll is notoriously loyal to his assistants and might not be interested in parting ways with his assistant head coach, even though Cable has not created a stable line for Wilson and the running game despite John Schneider’s heavy investment in the O-line over the past couple of years (two high draft picks, an extension, a spendy free agent and a big trade).
OC Darrell Bevell is not very creative, has not put Wilson in position to succeed and has failed to use talent such as Jimmy Graham to best effect, but Bevell also is not likely to go anywhere.
Still, Carroll knows he has to make some changes if the Hawks are going to become contenders again.
“John and I, we put our brains together with the help of our staff and the people with us to take a very aggressive approach at this point,” Carroll said, “an aggressive approach in our evaluations of what took place and what we need to do and what’s at hand right now. … We see every next opportunity as a chance to compete, so we will do that in terms of personnel, in terms of our technical side of our game, the administrative part of our game, everything from how we rehab to how we play call.”
We can only hope missing the postseason for the first time in six years taught Carroll a few lessons and he makes the necessary changes to avoid missing out again.