The Morning After: Flawed Seahawks Fall Again, Lose 27-23 to Panthers

Move over, Bobby Ayala and Fernando Rodney. There is a new hope killer in town, and it’s the people you would least expect. Meet your 2015 Seahawks. No lead is too big, no time is too late for them to fritter it away. Win forever has been replaced by lose in consistently excruciating ways. It is not quite as catchy, but we all have to get with the times. If you have come here for silver linings and rays of hope, turn back now. The gloves are off. The rose-colored glasses are broken. Only one team in the NFC has a worse record than the formerly proud Seahawks. That is who they are. Here is why.

Russell Wilson

No player divides Seahawks fans more than Wilson. There are the devout who see him as infallible and point to every possible person on the team to blame before holding him accountable. Then, there are the hypercritical who think the Seahawks somehow went to two Super Bowls with a terrible quarterback and might even be better off with Tarvaris Jackson. It is an obnoxious battle of extremes that is never fun to be involved in. 
The truth is Wilson has not been good enough. I don’t think he has even been close to good enough. Whether consciously or not, the team has been putting more of the game in his hands this season. There is no Max Unger to handle all the line calls and identify the blitzes. There has not been much Marshawn Lynch to hand the ball off to at crunch time. When there has been a key 3rd down to pick up, or a key red zone read to make, the Seahawks have turned to their franchise quarterback, and he has repeatedly failed them.
But the offensive line! The offensive line! Yep. The line has been varying levels of toxic, but you cannot on one hand ask to be paid $25M as the top player in football and then on the other hand complain that your line is not more experienced and talented. His entire starting line is making half of what he will be averaging over the next four years. No matter what you think of the line, they have shown improvement and have given Wilson the opportunity to make winning plays. He is not making them.
Seattle clearly saw something in the Panthers tape that made them want to attack Carolina through the air. They threw on the first three plays. Everyone in the stadium could see wide open players for Wilson to choose from. He chose to either throw into coverage or threw inaccurately on two of the three plays. That is not uncommon. The flaws are hidden by the fact that Wilson may still complete a pass, but that doesn’t mean he is consistently making the correct reads or throws. The whole off-script stuff is a great changeup, but Seattle is finding out what it looks like to feature a player who is unpredictable. 

The red zone is a disaster. Seattle is the worst red zone offense in the NFL. They went 1-3 yesterday, and are 4-14 on the season. That is pathetic. Leading 20-14 in the 4th quarter yesterday, Thomas Davis burst through the line unblocked to sack Wilson and force yet another failed red zone attempt. The easy thing would be to blame the line. The truth is that folks like Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and others, are wise enough to recognize blitzes and check to a hot route or adjust protection. They are not infallible, but they are very very tough to fool. Wilson is not their yet. He is not even in their zip code yet. He needs to be.

The Seahawks are passing the ball more than they ever have in the Pete Carroll era (54%). They are handing the keys to the car to Wilson knowing that the Lynch era is waning. He looks unsteady behind the wheel. There is no path out of this hole that does not involve better play from Wilson. That has to start with recognition of where he needs to grow and quality tutelage.

Carl Smith

Who is Carl Smith? He is the guy responsible for Wilson’s development as the Seahawks QB coach. You will be happy to know his qualifications include being an assistant coach for Carroll and the Patriots from 1997-1999, and a QB coach for the Browns and Saints. He has mentored the likes of Bobby Hebert, Tim Couch, and Kelly Holcomb. Yep. So much shade is thrown Darrell Bevell’s way that people seem to forget holding Smith accountable.
Does he have the credibility and the experience to pull Wilson aside and not only ask him for more, but show him how to do it? Did he approve Wilson’s ridiculous offseason goal of getting faster? Say what you want about Colin Kaepernick, but at least the kid is acknowledging that he needs help becoming a better quarterback and is working on that with experts during the offseason.
It makes no sense to me that the team has never reached out to Mike Holmgren as a consultant, one of the very few proven quarterback whisperers in the NFL. Seattle should be pulling out all the stops to help Wilson reach his potential. They can do better than just Smith. A lot better. 

Cary Williams

He is the weakness everyone feared. Teams are picking on him regularly. His miscommunication in the backend is leading to mortal wounds. It is hard, though, to blame Williams for being the player everyone said he was. My true frustration is targeted elsewhere.

Kris Richard

We know that John Schneider drafts and acquires players tailored to the needs of his coaching staff. Tom Cable wants tough guys who can’t pass block. Schneider gets him a bunch. So when the Seahawks signed Williams, you better believe it came with a strong recommendation from Richard. The former secondary coach interviewed Williams and made the determination that he had what it took to succeed in the system.
Schneider paid the market rate for what Richard asked for. It is looking like the worst free agent signing since Schneider came aboard. It used to be that there were no clear weaknesses to attack on this defense. That is no longer the case. Teams have found Williams, and will continue to exploit him. We can hope that he will somehow become a better player, but that is wishful thinking. He will continue to give up crucial plays. 
The injury to Tharold Simon looms large as he was showing signs of being a significantly more talented player than Williams. There just isn’t any depth behind him. We might see Deshawn Shead get some snaps instead of Williams once Marcus Burley comes back to play nickel. Maybe Tye Smith will blossom. Hopes and dreams. 
No matter the problems at that position, the coordination between the other secondary members has been problematic as well. Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman allowed the game-winning touchdown due to a miscommunication. Richard was hired, in part, because of his attention to detail and command of the secondary. Neither is apparent right now.
His sideline intensity, switching of coverages, and blitzing comes across as desperate instead of a clear plan. People forget it was Dan Quinn who had the team practice a specific coverage all week before the Houston game in 2013 and then called it at just the right time to create the chance for Sherman’s pick-six. Good players need to be put in position to make good plays. This defense seems schizophrenic in the fourth quarter. What happened to doing what we do instead of reacting to opponents?
Richard will work hard. He has his player’s respect. This is where he needs to get a clear idea of who he wants to be as a defensive coordinator. I think he is trying to hang on to who he was as a secondary coach, and do what Carroll tells him, and live up to the legacy of this defense. If there is one piece of leadership advice I would hope he would follow, it is that when you get your shot to be the guy, win or lose with what you believe. If judgment comes and he has been trying to please everyone, he will most certainly regret never seeing if his way would have worked. 

DRed zone

We already covered how awful the offense has been in the red zone. They have one touchdown in their last eight trips. If they had turned just one red zone possession into a touchdown instead of a field goal against the Rams, Bengals or Panthers, they would have won each of those games. 
The defense has decided to join the party. After starting reasonably well through four games (opponents were 3 for 8), the Seahawks have surrendered six touchdowns in their last seven red zone possessions. The only “hold” was the game-tying field goal at the end of regular versus Cincinnati.
Stop the Panthers just once, and Seattle wins. There is no bigger reason for the team’s failure so far than red zone inefficiency. 

This really sucks

It would be easy to continue going down the line and listing all the reasons for the Seahawks being 2-4. The fact is, that is who they are. Raging about it won’t change anything. The harder part is that even if the team properly identifies the issues holding them back, it is not clear there is anything they can do about. Got a higher salary cap they can borrow? How about a couple lineman? A few cornerbacks? Next man up implies there is a man, and he is capable of standing up. 
The Seahawks have built a Jenga tower on a few core players, and they are finding out it may not be capable of sustaining its own weight. Pete Carroll has never looked more distraught and worn out. The Kam Chancellor saga seemed to take a lot out of him. Many will say the Super Bowl loss was the start of the fall, and while chronologically accurate, Carroll relished the chance to show how he and the team would come roaring back from that. 
It has been true for the past three years that the Seahawks were capable of a level of play and toughness that their opponents could not match. There were without peer when healthy and executing. That is no longer the case. 
Three of the Seahawks four losses have been at the hands of undefeated football teams. Each of those teams made spectacular plays to earn their victories. They elevated their level of play, and Seattle was unable to do the same. That Panthers team played a fantastic game yesterday coming off their bye. Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Jonathan Stewart all played phenomenal football. Time after time, they slammed their bodies into Seahawks with such purpose and sacrifice that it was clear just how much they wanted this. Cam Newton ultimately made the clutch throws that Wilson could not.
Seattle is not a lost cause. They have led in the fourth quarter of every game. They are relatively healthy. The difference between this year and recent history is that the problems they need to solve are not clearly things that can be tackled in season. Wilson is learning what it takes to carry a larger load for his football team. This offensive line has shown some strides, but simply may not have the horses or the experience to allow for reliable offense. The secondary does not have a Sherman or Walter Thurmond or Byron Maxwell sitting on the bench waiting for his chance. 
This is going to take more than a team meeting. It is going to take more than better play calling. It very well take more than what the Seahawks have to offer. We learn the most about people when they get knocked down. Seattle is nearing a TKO. There is no time for pity or doubt. They play a familiar foe in just three days. Bloodied, dizzied, the former champ stands up once more and motions to bring it on. 

post signature