Awkward as it is for Seattle fans to think of the Seahawks out of realistic playoff contention before Thanksgiving, imagine coach Pete Carroll feeling compelled to teach Sports Psychology 101 in the middle of a pro football season.
After five losses in six games, including the first three-game losing streak in the pro career of Russell Wilson, counseling is on the coaching agenda. Hey, it beats flailing his arms and yelling at small children and reporters.
Carroll didn’t term it Psy 101, but he acknowledged Monday speaking in basic terms to a team that has lost five of its past six games, often by making basic mistakes that have helped create a 3-7 record better than only one other NFC team, 0-9-1 Detroit.
“When you aren’t focused, you make errors and make mistakes,” he said. “This game always comes down to who makes the fewest mistakes in the crucial times. I’m trying to work really hard with our guys to understand that we command our focus. We’re the ones who do this.
“We have to get rid of the thoughts that mess us up.”
Obvious as all of that seems, Carroll must be figuring that mindsets are the only things that can change future outcomes. He’s right. At this point, scheme changes are as unlikely as personnel upgrades.
The latter keeps getting worse.
The news last week on RB Chris Carson — lost for the season and facing disc surgery on his neck — was grim enough. Then Monday Carroll disclosed that another back, Rashaad Penny, has a hamstring strain of unclear severity, and that rookie CB Tre Brown, who seemed to have solved the early-season crisis in the secondary, requires surgery on a left knee tendon and will be lost for the season.
Injuries are part of football life for all clubs, but only this season has it become clear in Seattle that years of poor draft results have left no cushion for injuries, and few replacements for veterans who age out or leave in free agency.
So it’s left to the thin ranks to do what they can by eliminating errors.
As much the focus was on opportunities squandered in the second half of the grim 23-13 home loss to Arizona Sunday, the Seahawks’ first two possessions reeked.
The first play, with Wilson under center for the first time in his return from finger surgery, was a promising 18-yard burst from Penny, the seldom-used, first-round draft pick who had his first career start. That was the play on which he was hurt.
Then after a short completion to WR Tyler Lockett, Wilson was sacked on back-to-back plays, forcing a punt.
“To me, that was a really disappointing start,” Carroll said. “It was everything we didn’t want to have happen in the first drive. We hit a run, we hit a little keeper, and then on the (play-action pass attempt) we got beat on the edge (by DE Chandler Jones). Russ didn’t have a chance.
“Then we made a mistake on the next one, and (RB Travis Homer) didn’t block (LB Isaiah Simmons) coming off the outside, which was really a fundamental thing for us. One we got beat on, and one we made a mistake on.
“Just the way that impacted us right off the bat, that was lousy. I didn’t like any bit of that.”
In contrast, the Cardinals’ first possession ate up the next 9:27 with a 16-play, 82-yard scoring drive to go up 7-0. When the Seahawks got the ball back, they reached the Arizona 37-yard line, where Wilson attempted a pitch back to RB Alex Collins running left. The pitch was so bad that the official scoring term was an aborted play. Wilson recovered the loose ball, but 14 yards back into Seattle territory. Punt.
Imagine if the Seahawks had scored on either drive, even a field goal. After being shut out in Green Bay, a credible start would have gone a ways toward consigning the Packers embarrassment to a one-off. They did get two field goals later in the second quarter, but each drive easily could have been a TD, except for more mistakes. That would have put pressure on Cardinals backup QB Colt McCoy.
Instead Seattle was down 13-6, and stayed down, allowing Arizona to run a ball-control offense in which McCoy completed 35 of 44 mostly short passes for 328 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. Cards coach Kliff Kingsbury saw in the Seahawks-Packers game film an offense so ineffectual, he recognized he could rest injured starting QB Kyler Murray one more week, and get away with it.
Including the Rams game, the five most recent losses have had margins of 9, 3, 3, 17 and 10, and in the past two, the Seahawks trailed by 3 entering the fourth quarter. Those used to be the kinds of games the Seahawks won. But with a recovering Wilson and an absent Carson, wins aren’t happening unless the remaining players, as Carroll said, “get rid of the thoughts that mess us up.”
No quality talent is coming. No new schemes are being devised. While fans are busy firing Carroll and trading Wilson, it is on the players to do what most learned in high school — the right thing one time, every time.