“We kind of flatlined” — Russell Wilson
The Seahawks have all the talent they need on offense, which is why it is so confounding that they went into the tank for the final two months of the season and then put down one of their worst playoff performances in the Pete Carroll era, in a dismal 30-20 loss to the Rams.
It was the nadir of an inexplicable nine-game skid by Brian Schottenheimer, Russell Wilson and company. And the question Carroll absolutely has to ask is whether Schottenheimer deserves another chance or whether Carroll needs to move on to the third OC of Wilson’s career.
Plenty of people are in favor of the latter after the freefall that dropped Seattle from 34 points a game in the first eight to 23 in the final nine (20 ppg if you discount the 40 against the Jets). It was the worst collapse by the offense since 2017, when it never scored more than 24 points after Week 10, Wilson regressed in December, the Hawks missed the playoffs and Schottenheimer ended up replacing Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable.
Will Carroll decide it’s time for another change, after Schotty let his offense stagnate for weeks and then put together his worst plan since the playoff loss to Dallas two years ago. Or will Carroll look at the team-record 459 points and think Schotty will make the adjustments to avoid another letdown in 2021?
It was obvious to all and admitted by Carroll: The Hawks stubbornly stuck to the deep-ball approach all season, even as good defenses keyed on that strategy in the second half. Wilson threw 28 TD passes in the first eight games, but just 12 in the last eight (four of those against the lowly Jets).
“It seemed like … after the halfway point we had hit so much early, we had been so effective that people found a way to stay back and just try to bleed us and make us have to throw the ball underneath,” Carroll said. “We were maybe really going for it more than we needed to and didn’t take advantage of switching gears a bit there as effectively as we would like.”
Schottenheimer’s plans were stale and predictable, especially once his opening script (often featuring the right mix of plays) had been run. His plan consisted of deep throws from the pocket (little planned movement of Wilson), way too many receiver screens, too many outside runs against speedy defenses and ridiculous jet sweeps by David Moore (good for one yard a play).
Those WR screens were as useless as they were when Bevell called them all the time, and it bit Seattle against the Rams as Darious Williams bulldozed Freddie Swain and jumped in front of DK Metcalf for a pick-six.
“They make the fantastic interception for a touchdown, which is a great play by the kid,” Carroll said. “He took a shot and got it, and that was a big play in this game as it kind of loomed the whole time, that seven points. That’s no mistake on Russ’ part at all. That’s just a great play by them.”
OK, but can we stop with the receiver screens now?
Schotty needed to help the offensive line against the Rams, too. It’s something Seattle’s OC always should keep in mind against the NFL’s best fronts. After so much talk about the top five offensive linemen playing together for the first time since Week 4, they had the unit’s worst game all season – even with Aaron Donald out in the second half. Leonard Floyd dominated again, ending up with seven sacks of Wilson in three games this season.
“When you get rushed like that, get sacked five times, against that group, it’s really tough,” Carroll said. “The pressure was hard, the coverage was good. (Wilson) was up against it all day.”
It didn’t have to be like that. We always point out how Schottenheimer can help Wilson and the line. It includes more misdirection plays, proactive movement of Wilson to mitigate the pass rush, pounding the ball inside with more counter plays, using the tight ends on intermediate routes more often, more slant plays by receivers.
Many talk about tempo, which we think is less important than misdirection and movement. But Wilson talked about it, too: “To keep that tempo and pace I think is something I’m going to really try to study a lot this offseason and see how do we continue to put our foot on the gas.”
The offense has to have more variety though. Carroll seems to understand that. The big question is whether he thinks Schottenheimer is the guy to do it.
The OC has had a rocky three years in Seattle. In 2018, he returned Seattle to the run-first offense it had been in Wilson’s early days. They led the league in rushing and returned to the playoffs, but Schotty stubbornly tried to run against a stout Dallas front instead of letting a red-hot Wilson tear apart their secondary. Schotty cost them that playoff game.
In 2019, he turned Wilson loose a little more, but he still did not help him enough – especially in the playoff loss to Green Bay, when the Hawks basically had no running game. Schotty had no answer to that (i.e., he did not do the things we said he should) and did not put up enough points for a defense that let Aaron Rodgers beat them in the fourth quarter.
In 2020, the same thing happened when the Hawks lost their running backs for a month. Wilson started throwing tons of interceptions as they focused on deep balls. Defenses took that attack away, but Schotty again did not adjust. And the season ended with another poorly planned game against a team the Hawks should have beaten.
They had all of the talent they needed on offense in 2020: a Pro Bowl QB, two great receivers, good tight ends, an adequate line, a stable of capable backs (even amid injuries). It was all about their plan and approach, which was far too rigid and predictable.
Rams safety John Johnson III reiterated it for us: “They have an identity. I think they want to run the ball first, period. That’s just who they’ve been even back to Beast Mode. … If you knock the run out, Russell tries to get in his bag and be a Houdini, so just keeping him in the pocket, not letting him extend plays. … So we really just try to keep our eyes on our luggage and make plays down the field and limit the explosives. That’s been the recipe for as long as I can remember.”
A couple of running backs from Seattle’s Super Bowl teams joined all of us in lamenting the predictability:
Of course, even if Carroll were to make a change at OC, there is no guarantee he would pick the right guy. His offenses have put up a lot of team records, whether under Bevell or Schotty, but they almost always have struggled in the playoffs. They have not scored more than 10 points in a half in the past eight playoff games (back to 2015) – and they are, predictably, 3-5 in those games.
It’s unfortunate to say, but under Carroll, this team probably won’t get back to the Super Bowl until it is paced by a dominant defense again. (That’s a topic for another day.)
But Carroll still has a big decision to make. The failures of the offense this season were incredibly frustrating because they were so avoidable. Will Carroll decide Schotty has blown his chance or will he give him one more?