In the rapacious world of the NFL, where playing and coaching careers start to shred at the first three-game losing streak, the Seahawks have a three-game losing streak. Sure enough, we media jackals are starting to tear at Pete Carroll’s khaki cuffs.
Should the Seahawks lose Sunday to the 1-5 Jacksonville Jaguars to fall to 2-6, well, flesh is next. You can bet that the unseemly sight will draw no eye moisture from Darrell Bevell and Brian Schottenheimer.
The two previous Seahawks offensive coordinators, both fired by the Seahawks coach, now draw paychecks as Jags assistant coaches, as do several other former Seahawks coaches and players. They have honored the NFL Code of Omerta and not spoken ill of their truncated tenures in Seattle. But since we’re all humans reading and writing here, we don’t need quotes to know how they would feel about winning at the Loo, where empty seats numbering in the thousands were visible Monday night.
Sure, the fallout from COVID-19 is still in play regarding the fears of some to return to large gatherings, even outdoors. And chief dramatist Russell Wilson can’t return to action until he heals.
But there was something so ineffectual about the 13-10 loss to New Orleans as to be off-putting beyond the mere defeat.
The Seahawks have become boring.
Perhaps it was those six consecutive runs in the third quarter while trailing 10-7, producing one first down, 19 yards and a punt. Or maybe it was two plays later, after the Saints fumbled away the ball on their own 28-yard line, when the Seahawks gained nothing in three tries and settled for a field goal.
Whatever the pivot point, with backup QB Geno Smith, Carroll and staff have numbed down the playbook.
Carroll wouldn’t back down a bit at his Wednesday presser about the role of playcalling in the defeat.
Asked if the offense was too cautious, he offered an extensive rebuttal.
“No. We played this game with the situation that was there — the conditions, knowing their style of play. This was going to be a tight football game. If we were doing well, we could get out ahead of them, and hopefully put them behind us. But that didn’t happen.
“We played off of the defense. The defense was playing great. We wanted field position and to take care of the ball. We thought that would give us the best chance to not give them an opportunity. These guys had nine interceptions, a lot of big plays and one of the best pass defenses in the league.
“We wanted to make sure that we had a chance to win at the end of the game, and we were there. But obviously we couldn’t get it done. It wasn’t because of the end of the game. We could have easily been ahead in this football game by more, and it would have allowed us to do some other things.”
To a large extent, this makes traditional football sense. It is also an example of the kind of thinking that made Wilson, in his own dorky way — here’s four teams he’ll go to, but not ask for a trade, then pretend he never said it — want out after last season.
Carroll often plays to not lose. Wilson always, always plays to win, risks be damned.
In a big way, the two are a perfect fit — Carroll can carefully manage three quarters, then close his eyes in the fourth and let Wilson rip. It’s a precarious football marriage, but each has contributed to the other’s success for a a remarkably long time in the NFL.
Until things go wrong. Like poor drafts, and the Rams’ Aaron Donald.
It’s not impossible that things can be fixed. Just unlikely. The off-season was a trial separation. Usually, there’s not a second.
To illustrate the disconnect in approaches, we’ll use a favorite Carroll stat: Turnovers.
Only 12 teams are on the plus side of the turnover margin. The Buffalo Bills are tops at plus-11. The Seahawks are tied for 10th at plus-three. But among the dozen, the Seahawks are one of two teams with a losing record. The other is Indianapolis (3-4), plus-nine.
The turnover ratio is important, but it’s not the predictor of success that Carroll often suggests. A plus ratio is a positive only if it is exploited.
The Saints’ lone turnover cited above is a good example. Carroll was so consumed with not messing up the chance for a field goal that RB Alex Collins twice ran between the tackles for a net of nada. Then Smith on third-and-10 threw a no-chance ball to No. 3 receiver Freddy Swain.
I wish I could have seen Wilson’s face on the sidelines.
The first down would have been a chance to surprise the Saints by throwing to whomever between DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett wasn’t double-covered. But Carroll, knowing he didn’t have Wilson, wouldn’t trust Smith. Given how he had been handled by that point, I wondered whether Smith trusted Smith.
Here’s how Carroll explained Smith’s game Sunday: “I thought the game was hard on him, in that we weren’t as clean as we needed to be in protection, and it put a burden on him some. Particularly, late in the game when we needed to get moving, we couldn’t get going.
“Hopefully, we can support him better and give him a chance to get the ball down the field more.”
Well, yes, the O-line is partly responsible. LT Duane Brown is fading, LG Damien Lewis was out, C Kyle Fuller sounds from Carroll as if he may be bounced for Ethan Pocic, RG Gabe Jackson is OK and RT Brandon Shell has two bum ankles.
But Smith is the one throwing, and a good way to support him is to let him throw, freed up from the fear that his career death is not imminent if he gets picked.
Carroll really doesn’t see it. Here’s how he described his pride in no turnovers Sunday:
“It’s kind of like, I’m shocked that we’re not able to take advantage of that. That clean plate is as good as you can do it, you know?”
No, I don’t know. I thought winning the game was as good as you can do it.
Wilson is Carroll’s binky. He needs him, bad. But he has Smith and his limitations Sunday. The coach desperately needs to get over his fear of turnovers and convey trust his backup.
He did say something Wednesday that hinted at the possibility.
“Sometimes you have to learn the hard way,” he said. “I hate learning the hard way. But everybody has to learn the hard way. This is one of those times right now. We have to fight through it, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Maybe if he can re-configure his risk/reward calculator, it will ready upon Wilson’s return. At least things will no longer be boring.