A Challenge To Pete Carroll’s Commitment To “Always Compete”
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Percy Harvin’s return is imminent. Bobby Wagner is hoping to get back soon. Both are assured of significant roles on the offense and defense, respectively. The standard way to handle their return would be for Harvin to get most of the snaps as a slot receiver and for Wagner to return to his starting role at middle linebacker while K.J. Wright shifts back to weakside starting linebacker. The problem with the standard is that it means your leading receiver and best linebacker would need to take a back seat. Doug Baldwin and Malcolm Smith have been the best players at their positions on the team through seven games. How Pete Carroll handles their roles the rest of the season will say a lot about how real his “Always Compete” philosophy is.
Baldwin leads the team with 360 yards receiving. His 76% catch rate in third in the NFL among wide receivers with at least 20 receptions. He ranks 2nd in the NFL among receivers in DVOA, according to Football Outsiders, meaning he is the second-most productive receiver per opportunity at his position. Pro Football Focus has him graded as the best receiver on the team so far. That sounds like a player that has earned more time, not less.
Smith is graded as the 2nd-best outside linebacker for 4-3 defenses in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, behind only Lavonte David. He grades out strongly in the positive for run defense, pass coverage and pass rush. No other Seahawk defender can make the same claim. He has a forced fumble, tackle for loss, pass defensed and sack. No other Seahawk has done that so far. He is fifth on the team in tackles despite playing only 50% of the snaps so far. This is a player rising to the occasion.
My focus is not to say which players should have their time cut to make space for these two to get more time. It is simply to point out that it should happen. If every snap is open to the best player, a philosophy I believe sets the Seahawks apart from the rest of the NFL, than these two players should play, and play even more than they have thus far.
Should this follow the standard path, and both players see a diminishing role the rest of the way, it will speak volumes about Carroll’s ability to stick to his standards when the outcomes are tougher to manage. Make no mistake about it, somebody gets the snaps and someone else does not. There are winners and losers in this, and someone is going to be unhappy. Carroll has won, in part, because the unhappy people have largely been the ones being outplayed. Let’s hope that trend continues.