It’s been obvious for years. But there’s nothing like being knocked out of seasonal contention on national TV before mid-season to see a football truth in all its nakedness.
“I’ve been here a long time,” Pete Carroll said. “If we didn’t have Russell, (Wilson), I probably wouldn’t have been here a long time.”
Dependency on Wilson was no secret, but remained theoretical until the past three games when for the first time in his career, injury kept him from the moment where he excels — the fourth quarter. Each was winnable; particularly when an improving defense on a rainy night at the Loo kept the penalty-prone New Orleans Saints within reach.
But for the third time at home this season, fifth time in seven games, and on the Monday night stage they once owned, the Seahawks lost.
Not just because of Wilson’s absence.
“We haven’t been able to do it at home, which is a real shock to me,” the Seahawks coach said after the 13-10 loss (box) that leaves them inert in the NFC West. “It’s a shock that we’re not able to do that. We’re still trying to get these games finished properly. And that means you don’t make the mistake that gives them a chance.
“You kick the ball. You don’t make the penalty. You don’t eat the football for losses when you’re in the right position.”
And you don’t make play calls so conservative that you de-weaponize your game-breakers.
It’s one thing to attempt to minimize risks with backup QB Geno Smith. It’s another to target your wide receivers and tight ends only 18 times in a game of American football that, entering the third decade of the 21st century, advances play largely via passing.
Game-breaking was evident only once. On Seattle’s second possession, Smith went deep down the sideline to WR DK Metcalf, who pushed off and down the combative CB Marshon Lattimore for an 84-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. They rarely came even close to a touchdown again.
In the absence of the best player, everyone has to play better, including kicker Jason Myers, who missed two of three field goal attempts. But Metcalf, fellow WR Tyler Lockett and TE Gerald Everett can’t be much help with seven collective catches. They can’t even be good decoys, because an already good Saints defense knows that Carroll’s fear of the turnover makes him reluctant to throw.
The Saints (4-2) this season are also operating without their ace pitcher, the retired Drew Brees. And they survived despite using a QB known for his turnovers, Jameis Winston. They designed an offense that exploits the brilliant RB Alvin Kamara, whom the Seahawks simply couldn’t track out of the backfield. His rushes were contained (51 yards in 20 carries) but his 128 yards receiving on 10 catches broke the defense.
Winston was a modest 19 of 35, but he had no turnovers on a wet-ball night. Granted, coach Sean Payton had a training came and preseason to work on Winston’s game to limit his errors, a luxury not extended to backup Smith. But he has been around three years and was competent enough in his first appearance against the Rams to lead a 98-yard drive to a touchdown by completing all five of his passing attempts.
By not trusting Smith to throw more often, there remains no margin of error to overcome Myers’ mis-hits. Or the third-down penalties on CB Marquise Blair and DT Al Woods that helped sustain the 13-play drive to the game-winning, 33-yard field goal by rookie free agent kicker Brian Johnson. In his first NFL game, fercripesakes.
Errors happen in every game, but Carroll doesn’t see his narrow risk/reward approach as a contributor. He has always relied on a safer running game , which this night produced 90 yards on 28 carries (3.2 ypc). But the longest run was a 14-yarder by a third-stringer, Travis Homer, and the Seahawks converted only three of 13 third or fourth downs. It was safe, but only a little effective, especially when the Saints knew the Seahawks were too afraid to throw.
“There’s a lot of things that you can do so you don’t put yourself in those close games and close finishes,” he said. “But when you get there, you got to do the right stuff. And we haven’t been able to function the way we needed to.”
Carroll hasn’t really needed to orchestrate getting to “the right stuff” because Wilson so often can cover over the Seahawks’ increasing deficiencies in talent and execution, and even his own mistakes.
“Think of all the magic that he’s created in the years,” he said. “He’s got numbers and stats, and fourth quarters — one of the winningest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.
“It will be really fun when he comes back and plays football again for us this year. He’s a fantastic, positive factor and always has been. (Fourth quarters ) are exactly his time. That’s when he shines. We miss him.”
Obviously, he is missed. But in the effort to compensate, Carroll hasn’t trusted the other 52 guys.