We all should be used to this Seahawks fact by now: Pete Carroll plays a conservative (i.e., ugly) brand of football that almost always leads to slow starts.
So why does Seattle always look so bad on offense early in the season? Why does the offensive line start so poorly? Why is the play-calling such a mess?
It really boils down to this: Carroll plays simple football, relying heavily on players to execute relatively basic concepts, while some other coaches use more complex schemes to help their players succeed.
Carroll’s defense is famously simplistic — relying on well-coached players to play the Cover 1 and Cover 3 concepts without error. His offense has been just as basic, focused on running the ball right at defenses while trying to hit some deep passes and not turn the ball over (this fear is why he inexplicably does not throw the ball on Seattle’s many third-and-longs).
The way NFL practice rules are structured (teams don’t tackle in practice, play starters in preseason, etc.), it is hard to get players up to speed early in the season. So the advantage goes to coaches who can make up for that lack of prep time through their schemes. And that puts Carroll’s simple, player-focused approach at a disadvantage; before this year, his Seattle teams were just 7-11 in the first two games (and started 2-0 just once), and they have started 1-2 in three of the last four years.
The Seahawks were outcoached Sunday by Cincy’s first-year leader, Zac Taylor, but somehow managed to avoid losing for the fourth time in five season openers. But, if Carroll can’t get his team up to speed quickly, the next two games — at Pittsburgh and home against powerhouse New Orleans — will end in losses and another 1-2 start.
In the opener, Seattle’s offensive line came out flat, as usual, and the offense was out-schemed by Bengals defensive coach Lou Anarumo. Russell Wilson, who played as well as possible, took his typical number of hits; he was sacked four times and now has been sacked 22 times in the past five openers. The Hawks also failed to hit 100 rushing yards for the third straight opener.
Duane Brown didn’t want to make excuses, though he did agree the lack of preseason work was a factor. But the Bengals stacked the line against Seattle’s run, and Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer did not adjust very well.
It was shades of the playoff loss to Dallas, when Carroll had his offense repeatedly bash its head against a brick wall instead of throwing over it. After costing his team that playoff win, Carroll said he and Schottenheimer needed to adjust more quickly when a defense shuts down their primary game plan.
But, against Cincy, they were once again slow to do that and failed to stick with the adjustments. Carroll said they were “arrogant” about trying to run the ball against the Bengals’ stacked front. When will he learn?
We’ve said it over and over: The Hawks need to use quick hitters and misdirection when the other team is stacking the line and beating their blocking. The Bengals forced three-and-outs on the first three possessions, and Schottenheimer finally changed to one-step drops and quick throws on the fourth drive, which enabled them to score their first TD. As usual, Seattle scored only when it stepped up the pace. Otherwise, it was a game full of three-and-outs.
Carroll admitted he and his staff were outcoached — again: “They did a nice job. They were totally planned on us and did a really good job with their coaching, and I thought they had a good thought in how they tried to work with us. … We got knocked off on our play-passes a little bit. We got knocked in the backfield a little bit more than we’re counting on, and the penetration messed up the timing of the protection. … It was good penetration by them, good attack by them and they were able to get an edge on us.”
Brown dittoed the Bengals’ strategy: “I’ve got to take my hat off to them. They had a good game plan; they’ve got good players over there. But our standards are a lot higher than our performance was today, and we have to be better. The standard that we set for ourselves, especially in the run game, was not met today. And in pass pro, we’ve got to keep Russ clean — bottom line. So I’ll be better; we’ll be better as a group. That’s where it starts. It starts with us up front.”
Meanwhile, the Seahawks had some major issues in the back of their defense, allowing Andy Dalton to throw for a career-high 418 yards. John Ross lit up Tedric Thompson & Co. for 158 yards and two scores.
Thompson has yet to prove that he is up to the task of replacing Earl Thomas, but it sounds like Carroll is not going to yank him yet — though the coach wants Lano Hill to get more playing time.
It’s disappointing that injuries have put Hill and Marquise Blair so far behind — because they both seem better than Thompson.
With Neiko Thorpe and Ugo Amadi injured, Jamar Taylor apparently is returning to play nickel — not that the Hawks are planning to use the nickel much, with Carroll preferring to keep his three top linebackers on the field.
That will force teams to throw more, which will put pressure on the young secondary to stop big plays like the ones Ross made against them (touchdowns of 33 and 55 yards).
The biggest injury blow against Cincy was Poona Ford, who apparently might miss time with a calf injury. Considering they already are without Jarran Reed and Ford is their top remaining interior player, that would be a tough loss.