Note to readers: Taking a cue from the Seahawks, I’m going on a bye week from the grind. I have an enjoyable story to complete that requires time away from daily journalism. I’m also eager to follow the advice that noted psychotherapist Marshawn Lynch offered in January: “Take care of y’alls mentals.” I think that means time off. I’ll be back next week.
One of Pete Carroll’s most valuable virtues is a willingness to admit error. It doesn’t always happen, but since it’s a trait elusive to many leaders — raise your hand if you know one — that it happens at all in the hyper-scrutinized world of the NFL, is remarkable.
Lost in the astonishments and huzzahs surrounding the Seahawks’ last-minute, 94-yard drive to beat the Vikings 27-26 Sunday night was what happened at the start of the third quarter. Trailing 13-0 after a first half uglier and less animated than a gargoyle, the Seahawks figured to come out afire.
Here’s what happened with their first possession.
- RB Chris Carson run to right tackle for three yards.
- Carson run to right guard for six yards.
- Carson run up the middle for no gain. Punt.
Hoo-boy. A complete throwback to pre-2020 Carroll, when his world view remained sourced in the cloud of dust generated by the immortal three yards ordered by Ohio State coach Woody Hayes.
After the defense forced the Vikings into a three-and-out, a 15-yard punt return by David Moore set up the Seahawks at their own 42-yard line.
Here’s how the next four plays went.
- Russell Wilson screen pass to Carson for 13 yards.
- Wilson pass to TE Greg Olsen for 20 yards.
- RB Travis Homer run to left guard for six yards.
- Wilson pass to TE Will Dissly down the left side for a 19-yard touchdown.
In his presser Monday, I asked what went into the better outcome. Carroll started with generalities about “going on the move,” but declined offer up an explainer about the conversation between him and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer regarding playcalling.
“Not the particular plays, no,” he said. “Other stuff. But you didn’t ask it right, so I don’t have to answer it that way.”
Well, what other stuff did you talk about?
I can’t tell you.”
After he was done chuckling, he finally offered a bit of insight.
“We talked about, ‘We just need to go,'” he said. “That meant, make sure that Russ is in the middle of everything.”
That’s when and how the game changed.
If Wilson has a weakness, it’s his lust for the long ball. Understandably. No one in the NFL throws a better bomb, and maybe in NFL history. But the difference from a two-step dropback to a three-step (or more) dropback is immense and dangerous.
All four of Wilson sacks came in the first half and helped to kill drives. At least the first three were on him for a failure to throw the ball away to avoid a sack. The best defenses know this tendency and try to keep him in the pocket until their rushers get home. Wilson’s countermove? His legs. He led Seattle with 58 yards rushing on five carries.
Sometimes, it takes awhile before adjustments can be made.
“Russ never got a chance to get started, some of his own doing,” Carroll said. “He got sacked a couple times. He never got going until the second drive of the third quarter, as you noted. From then on, it was kind of lights out.”
Carroll didn’t exactly admit to error here, but that’s secondary to the point that that he adapts well on the fly, even if it counters his instincts. Who said what to whom won’t be known, but the result was obvious: Limit rushes, and throw more quick passes to backs and tight ends.
All good coaches adapt to adverse circumstances. By making Wilson dial down to stay away from his weakness, at least until the offense scored once, was central to regaining control, and winning a season’s first five games for the first time in franchise history.
“It’s really important for everybody to know that we can score 21 points in two minutes,” Carroll said. “We’re going to need that again likely down the road. That belief, the truth.
“I think Shotty is right in the middle of all of that. He and Russ.”
Trust among Carroll, Schottenheimer and Wilson is essential. They have to help each other resist impulses and work steadily toward strengths, because no one knows when serendipity will strike.
That’s what happened Sunday. The next two Vikings possessions were turnovers, one a strip sack of QB Kirk Cousins by DT Damontre Moore that produced a fumble recovered by LB K.J. Wright, then a one-handed interception by Wright.
The turnovers set up teensy scoring drives of 15 and 29 yards. Including the Dissly TD reception, the possessions produced 21 points in 1:53. The stunning burst didn’t decide the game, because the Vikings were able to rally admirably (in an empty stadium), but it did neutralize the impact of one of the worst halves in club history.
In his Monday morning show on ESPN 710 radio, Carroll said the third-quarter explosion epitomized his teachings about calm resilience.
“Worrying about 13 points is as waste of time,” he said. “Where there’s a (big deficit), it takes a long time, but this was unusual it happened so fast. I’m always worried about them trying too hard, too fast, to push the issue. That was a championship illustration of coming out of halftime and turning the thing. Then we lose the lead, and we’ve got to come back and do it again. Both sides of the ball had to find a way, and they did.
“That’s that calm allows you to function at a really high level — the quiet mind that we’re looking for. Russell is phenomenal at it. He’s as good as anybody in sports. it’s showing how to come through at the end.”
The calm mind, and the ability to adapt. In a world seemingly in perpetual tumult, the Seattle Seahawks are a perambulating paradigm of a way through the day, the month and the year.
The real test: Bye week and COVID-19
Since it’s somewhat beyond his influence, Carroll now enters a massive worry week: The bye and COVID-19.
Normally players get at least four days to go home, or just stay away from the team facility. This year, the NFL changed the rules, demanding no travel and a testing regimen much like the work week. It’s almost like a bubble. But not quite.
“Everything is at stake,” he said. “Why it’s such a big deal is that we’re out of our normal routine. We can’t practice this one. This is the first time. We just got to do it.”
Players will show up daily to the VMAC to test for the virus, which helps keep some control. But it takes only a single player breaking from the protocols to disrupt the 5-0 start and force a shutdown of the facility and potentially having to postpone and reschedule games. The Seahawks have yet to have a positive test.
“I’m concerned about guys making errors in their ways,” he said. “They run into the wrong people, go to the wrong place, they get themselves vulnerable. We’d change the bubble effect of what we’ve been creating here, working so hard to keep. It’s all about conscience. We’ll do everything we can to remind them. The players are going to work at it among themselves, with real direction.
“Real crucial. Hopefully we’ll be able to pull it off.”