Pete Carroll’s game-management strategy is based on one principle: Nothing over the top. In his view, a receiver who catches a ball behind the defense is the single most disruptive outcome of an opponent play. Not just the play itself, but for future play-calling; if any opponent senses vulnerability, more shots will be taken.
That’s why FS Earl Thomas is so important to the Seahawks. Whether by action or reputation, he denies the deep ball more consistently than any safety in the game.
But the injured Thomas was not available Sunday. Even if he were, he may not have been in the vicinity of the haymaker Washington QB Kirk Cousins delivered to WR Josh Doctson.
Defensive coordinator Kris Richard called for man press coverage in the hope that the extra manpower devoted to the pass rush would get to Cousins before he unleashed. That meant no safety was back to help.
As every Seahawks fan knows, the gamble didn’t work.
Rookie CB Shaq Griffin was alone in coverage on WR Josh Doctson, the Redskins’ first-round draft choice in 2016, who fully extended himself along the sideline to haul in Cousins’ perfect 38-yard throw at the 1-yard line.
“Helluva catch, helluva throw,” said Griffin Monday in the Seahawks locker room following the Seahawks’ worst game of the year, a 17-14 home loss to the battered Washington Redskins. “That’s something I never want to go through again.”
At that moment, the Redskins trailed 14-10 with 1:02 left. One play later, they were up 17-14 and on their way to an upset that stunned the Seahawks and the rest of the NFL.
“We made some progress in some areas, played a really good game on defense and had a really good fourth quarter finish for the offense,” Carroll said at his Monday presser. Then we gave it away.
“We got some real serious stuff that we got to get better at.”
The 16 penalties (especially the five pre-snap penalties) for 138 yards? Check. The three missed field goals? Check. The first-half offensive woes? Check.
But what about the last plays on defense that were such dramatic failures? It’s unfair to blame the defeat on a mistake after 59 minutes of generally superlative play by the Seattle defense that had surrendered just 205 yards to that point.
But the Redskins’ extraordinary drive of 70 yards in four plays over 35 seconds symbolized the breakdowns across the enterprise that made for an outcome that will be in yellow hi-liter when the forensics teams assess the carcass of the 2017 season.
Griffin said he let Doctson past him along the sideline and then lost track of the ball, perhaps easing a moment, thinking the ball wasn’t headed in his direction.
“It sucks to see a ballgame go like that,” he said. “That’s something I won’t let happen again.”
Carroll went light on his rookie for violating the prime directive.
“Shaq was in good position until about the 30-yard mark,” he said. “There was a little bit of separation that occurred. (Doctson) made a great catch on a great throw . . . sometimes that will beat it.”
Asked about second-guessing the defensive call of man-to-man instead of zone, Carroll said, “We could have played them differently, yeah. We had had a pretty good day rushing the passer (six sacks and 11 quarterback hits) and we wanted to see if we could get after it and continue to be aggressive. That’s what happened. There is always choices that you guys are – I don’t want to say famous for, but you guys . . .
“Let me say this. Often the outside observations are that (Seattle plays) too soft and gives up too much when playing prevent. Well, we certainly weren’t doing that. That one, they got us. It happened really fast.”
Carroll is right; we outside observers will second-guess the decisions, because the results were so pivotal. And especially because on the previous play, the Seahawks were beaten for 31 yards on a pass TE Brian Quick, who also beat the man coverage of CB Justin Coleman on a corner route.
“The one to Justin was a fantastic throw by the quarterback under duress the catch was good too,” Carroll said.
The trouble with the choice of man coverage is that by the end of the game, the group of players likely to be the most tired is the defensive line. That’s why Carroll believes in a stable of Clydesdale-like D-linemen. He prioritizes the need for the freshest possible rushers by rotating eight players in Seattle’s four-man fronts.
But DT Sheldon Richardson missed the game with a strained oblique muscle and DE Marcus Smith was removed from the game with a concussion. So the chances of getting to Cousins in the final 90 seconds was diminished. And suddenly, very costly.
But that was then. The Cardinals await in Arizona at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Griffin was shifting gears as he spoke.
“I definitely appreciate Pete having so much confidence in me,” Griffin said. “I take pride in it. That’s something I never want to do is let my coach and team down. They believe in me, so I have to believe in myself just as much.
“You get 24 hours to think about the last game and fix it. It’s already past. With a quick turnaround, you gotta have a short memory.”
That’s what players must do. The long memory belongs to the outside observers. This one will be hard to forget.