Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pete Carroll's Moment Of Truth

In an moment of decision, the best thing to do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing. - Winston Churchill

Pete Carroll and John Schneider have batted nearly 1.000 in personnel moves since taking over the Seahawks in 2010. They have turned over one of the NFL's oldest and least talented rosters into one of the youngest and most talented. To accomplish that feat in such a short period of time requires nearly flawless execution, along with a little luck. The one position they have failed to solve for happens to also be the most important, quarterback. Their batting average there is far lower. Charlie Whitehurst was a joke. Showing Matt Hasselbeck the door was questionable, at best. Signing Tarvaris Jackson was hardly going to stir any hopes of postseason progress. They reloaded this off-season with not one, but two, promising players at the position. Watching Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson duel has been great theater. Each day brought a new questions and new answers about each player, and what their coaches and teammates thought of them. Flynn appears to have the starting job sewn up after starting the first two pre-season games. Today, Carroll will announce the starter of the all-important third game of the pre-season. His choice may define his tenure in Seattle.

The conventional pattern to pre-season involves the Week 1 starters playing through part of the third quarter in the third pre-season game. It is their final tune-up, as game four is reserved largely for the bottom of the roster so that the front office can make educated decisions about who is retained for the 53-man roster. Assuming Carroll will stick with convention, whoever is named the starter for this Friday's game against the Chiefs will open the season as the Seahawks starting quarterback. Knowing Carroll regularly ignores convention, it is worth taking some time to enumerate all the possible permutations:

a) Carroll names Jackson the starter.
I will not waste keystrokes on this possibility.

b) Carroll names Flynn the starter for game three, and for the regular season, ending the competition
This would be the most prudent path forward. Flynn has been getting starter reps since the week before the pre-season. He has performed well in that role. It would have been ideal for Flynn to get starter reps the whole camp, but at least he has received additional reps in the games. The players are expecting this decision. The fans are largely expecting this decision. Doing this would allow the team to transition from pre-season indecision to regular season preparation. Carroll could declare victory for Flynn as the starter, and Wilson ascending to the back-up role, while also continuing to validate his competition philosophy. Should Flynn falter, Carroll is perfectly positioned to insert Wilson into a lower expectation situation as a substitution. This scenario puts everyone in the best position as individuals, and puts the team in the best position to succeed in 2012.

c) Carroll names Flynn the starter for game three, but stops short of ending the competition for the regular season role
While not as ideal as scenario b, this still keeps Flynn on track to be ready Week 1. Failing to end the competition would start to wear on the team as a whole. Switching over to Wilson after Flynn started the first three games of the pre-season would be foolish. Everyone would see that, so more questions would rise among the players as to what the coach was really trying to accomplish. That is certainly not the end of the world, but you'd have to ask whether the gain of keeping the competition open was worth the cost.

d) Carroll names Flynn the starter for game three, but says that Wilson will get some time with the starters
Now both potential starters would be getting harmed in their preparation for Week 1. Neither is getting a chance to get full reps with the starters and play through a half. This would raise real questions about Carroll's ability to make a tough call.

e) Carroll names Wilson the starter for game three, and for the regular season, ending the competition
This seems highly unlikely. Wilson has yet to play a live snap with the starters against an opposing NFL defense. Naming him the regular season starter now would be like watching him play Northern Iowa in college and deciding he should be the #1 overall pick. Flynn has performed well against two starting-caliber NFL defenses in the pre-season and against two others in the regular season. Anointing Wilson today would be a serious reach.

f) Carroll names Wilson the starter for game three, but stops short of ending the competition for the regular season role
This move only makes sense if Carroll is departing from NFL convention and plans to play his starters significant time in the fourth and final pre-season game. That would give him the chance to play Wilson an equal amount to Flynn with the starters before heading into the regular season if Wilson earned it with his play this week. That decision would come with significant risk to the team as injuries could occur in the penultimate game for no other reason than that Carroll could not make a decision early enough. Naming Wilson starter for game three without ending the competition also puts Flynn in a bind. Should Carroll decide to go back to Flynn for the regular season, Flynn would have lost valuable prep time, not to mention some respect for his coaches. You don't jerk your players around that way without negative consequences. Carroll is about maximizing his players performance, and this just doesn't do that for anyone involved.

There are probably more possibilities, but those represent the ones that have my attention. Carroll spoke on the Brock and Salk show yesterday about struggling with "convention." Many have speculated that was in regards to the players involved in the competition. My read was more about how to handle these last two games. I don't think Carroll wants to feel beholden to the NFL pattern of using game three as the time he would have to make this quarterback decision. Convincing himself that he could defy that convention would allow him to start Wilson this week without feeling like he was hurting the team for the regular season. He may think the only significant cost would be the front office's ability to evaluate the bottom half of the roster before cuts need to be made, and that would be a risk he'd probably be happy to take when compared to making the right decision at quarterback.

The hope here would be that Carroll would avoid the urge to go against the grain. Flynn has given him the chance to make a nearly risk-free decision by playing well, and earning the respect of his teammates. Nobody would fault or question Carroll for going that route, and it gives Wilson the best possible chance to succeed. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, and other rookie starters got every starters snap during their pre-season. They made every start in the pre-season games. Luck is considered the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning, and he still is showing growing pains adjusting to reading NFL defenses and making the proper decisions.

Wilson has had less than one-third of the reps through his rookie training camp. He has excelled. There may never have been a Seahawks quarterback that looked this promising as a rookie. Even so, most of the best quarterbacks in the game struggled to break an 80.0 passer rating their first year as a starter. Manning did not do it. Drew Brees did not do it. Matt Hasselbeck did not do it. Dalton did not do it. Those guys got the a full off-season of prep. Asking Wilson to step up given the situation he entered would do a multitude of harm.

What happens if he struggles mightily out of the gates? There is potential for him to lose confidence and not recover. Coaches could decide they were wrong about him and prematurely move in a different direction. The players could divide in the locker room because, make no mistake about it, they all are aiming for a transcendent season and losing games because of rookie mistakes would not go over well, especially when there was a veteran option that looked good. Heck, many players would say there were two veteran options that looked good. Turning back to Flynn down the road would be messy, at best.

Carroll would be putting it all on the line, and he'd be doing it with a rookie player who he did not even put in the best position to succeed. It would be foolhardy. It would be reckless. It would be a shame. If anyone could make it work, it would be Wilson. He is a truly special talent.

Focusing on the players misses the point. This decision will speak volumes about the coaching staff. They could choose an unconventional path that ends up working. That does not mean it was handled well. That does not mean players--current or future--will respect it. Hail Mary passes sometimes result in touchdowns, but basing your offensive strategy around them would not turn out very well. This is the most important position on a football team pointed in exactly the right direction. Convention need not be the enemy here. It is 4th & 1 at the goal line with a few seconds to go. Carroll needs to kick the field goal and take the points, not attempt a quarterback sneak. It is time to prove he can make the winning calls when it counts the most.


16 comments :

Jeff said...

I think that was a great article. I agreed with everything you said except for the hasselbeck thing at the beginning.

That move was smart and the clear right decision. It's always better to let someone go a year too early than a year too late. Locker winning the job proves again that was a very smart move by Schneider/Pete. The 2nd year was the sticking point and they were proved right once again.

Regolator said...

If Wilson does indeed start game 3, it might simply be to assure the coaching staff that he won't soil himself against starters if Flynn goes down in the regular season. Releasing the most veteran QB on the roster does come with some risk, and perhaps this is just one more step in their evaluation of the position as a whole. If he does start, Id' be quite surprised if it's more than the first quarter.

Anonymous said...

I see what you are saying but it all assumes that Pete follows the "3rd preseason game"-protocol. I am not sure that cares that much about it.

Anonymous said...

We've been "re-building" this team since Pete arrived. If we think we found our start of the future (Wilson), why not start his learning process (or gaining actual playing experience) today as opposed to 1-4 years from now? I've read that the advantage Flynn has over Wilson is that he has experience (2-3 NFL games)and can read defenses. Wilson may not be that far behind the learning curve than Flynn. If rookie QB's in the past can do it (for example Newton last year), maybe Wilson can do it as well, if not better.

Nick Metcalf said...

I don't understand why everyone believes that everything PC does with the QB position has to fit inside this conventional square figurative box. I understand the need to get into rythm with your wideouts, I understand having the need to get the reps with the O line to get the protections down, I get all of that. Do starters generally play the full first half of preseason game 1? No, he doesn't do things the way your "supposed" to do it. Your only supposed to do it a certain way because nobody else has figured out a successful way to do it differently. Whose to say they won't be successful if he does things differently? Only this season will tell.

All I hear from Brock&Salk, Softy, Bob&Groz, Hugh Millen and Hawkblogger is how Wilson needs a year to get used to the NFL because he's a rookie. That's horse$#!/, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, and Sam Bradford have had success right out of the gate. Bradford has had big issues with his Oline, but he has shown he is MORE than capable. The rookies coming out of CFB these days are way more prepared than rookies of the past. I don't get why that is so hard for everyone to see.

The other thing everyone wants to say is that he is playing against the 2's, 3's, and 4's, well isn't he also playing WITH those same players from the seahawks? Does he practice with Helfet, Sutton, and Kearse? I don't think he does, he gets the reps with the 2nd team, Turbin, Obomanu, and McCoy, yet he is still able to throw to these 3rd and 4th stringers without any problems. If he is to start gm 3, I'm anxious to see what he can do. And if he succeeds, then what is everyone going to say then???

Lastly, I think they already have their 53 man roster set. This yr might have the least amount of turnover going into Carroll's third season.

Anonymous said...

We haven't seen the last or even the best of Matt Flynn yet. Wilson will get plenty of chances to play against starters during the times that Matt is injured or held in reserve this year.

Brandon Adams said...

This article does feel pretty squarish, and also grasping at straws.

- We really don't know what the locker room thinks of the QB competition, despite one or two fleeting player comments from two weeks ago.

- We don't get to just dismiss Pete Carroll's success in Seattle merely because it hasn't happened at the QB position - that's too easy.

- It's been pointed out that Flynn has already gotten a full game's worth of preseason snaps, more than many starters, and I don't think that blurb should be simply dismissed out-of-hand. Projecting the future so positively based on only snap distributions seems pretty uneven.

- And this competition has exposed just how intangible and unfalsifiable our fear of rookie quarterbacks is. Wilson strikes me as the kind of talent who has the drive and self-efficacy to handle the pressure.

At this point, I'm fine with either guy starting, because my limited vision sees benefits and potential drawbacks to both guys. Pete Carroll has earned the benefit of a doubt from us. Let's just wait and see.



Anonymous said...

Amen brother, Flynn should get the job, Pete Carroll needs to boost the confidences of the offense by stepping up and making a decision to name Matt Flynn as the starting quarterback. PC is all over the place and that does not make us feel good about his coaching abilities.

Dennis said...

I respect your opinion, but who is to say that Flynn as who has only 2 games additional experience won't have the same "rookie" struggles.

If you think your future is with Wilson, how much does it really help to delay his growth for 1 year? I like the analysis, and usually the opinion, but on this one I think your over valuing the actual experience gained watching from the sidelines, and undervaluing choosing the right quarterback for the future.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your blog. I appreciate your point of view. I agree with most all of your final conclusions if not your reasoning. I do think Flynn should be the starter. I don't think PC is necessarily causing terrible harm to the players or the team by not going by convention during the preseason. I think arguments based on team cohesion and reps with the 1st team could be valid, or a huge generalization. One guy may be irreparably harmed by being benched midseason, while another may take it as a challenge. I don't think Flynn or Wilson are mentally fragile. Much like I don't think this locker room is fragile and the introduction of TO will suddenly have them ripping each other apart. I am not sure how I feel about TO in a seahawks uniform and maybe week 6 you will be proved right about all of this, or maybe none of this disaster scenarios happen. If PC has been consistant about one thing it is to taken the unconventional path. Whitehurst is possibly the only move that was clearly bad. I think PC & JS have earned some trust.

Anonymous said...

Guess it really bothers you that PC named Wilson the starter for Friday... As a fan, I would think you would want them to start the BEST QB on the roster, not necessarily the anointed one from the media. The only way for them to find that out is to start Wilson against and with the ones. I for one hope Wilson blows the doors off this competition and wins just to spite the media. I want the best QB to start, no matter the pay or nfl experience. I also think it would do damage to the team if PC has to start a 4th QB in 4 years next year. If they think Wilson is the future, it may be better to go through his growing pains now, especially as Flynn is not much more experienced and will undoubtedly have growing pains this year too.

Nick

Kip Earlywine said...

Great comment, Nick Metcalf.

This whole idea that Wilson can't be successful just because he's a rookie sounds an awful lot like saying he can't be successful because of his height.

Anonymous said...

I'd place a $1000 in Vegas right now that Russell Wilson will never lose confidence in his ability.

Gary Sturgeon said...

Well there's one thing we can all agree on - there's not a dull moment with PC/JS at the helm, and for that we should be grateful.

As far as the article goes, Pete has simply stuck to the mantra he set out at the very beginning - that the QB competition would go on for a lot longer than we would find comfortable.

So despite feeling uneasy about this - especially as option f is now a reality - that's the way they operate. We're lucky to have them, so let's try and enjoy the ride.

Daddy Love said...

Isn't "the conventional pattern to pre-season involves the Week 1 starters playing through" only the first one or two series of the first two preseason games? I don't recall a full half of each game (1 and 2) dedicated to the starters, or the MLB playing the entire game either. THis is not normal. Don't have a 'nowrmal" expectation of game 3 in the light of that.

Anonymous said...

HAWKMAN- Every single QB that has sat and learned has been better for it, FACT! There are too many examples to get into , BUT on this subject I will trust Guys who have played the game and spent the prep time to arm chair GM's/Coaches. The right thing to do was give Wilson a start in the second game if you want to see more of him and with the firsts'. What really needs to happen is get the First string in there PERIOD. Flynn hasn't had but one 1st wr at a time yet and then 2nd O linemen at the start of games. Then the play calling has been considerably different. I hope The BIG BRAIN overcomes the little one and they go with the steady hand , MATT FLYNN and let the rookie get used to the NFL!

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