The Morning After: Seahawks season teeters on edge of mediocrity after shameful loss to Giants
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We are not yet at the point where writing an obituary to the Seahawks season is appropriate, but the vital signs are failing and the people in charge or resuscitation seem to have no clue about what to do. Seattle lost more than a football game on Sunday. They lost any benefit of the doubt remaining from a flashy fast start to the season, and respect as professionals. The Seahawks lost to Colt McCoy at home. They became the first team with a winning record to lose to an NFC East team. They lost for the second time this season when leading by four or more at halftime after never losing a single time in the previous eight seasons. They lost first place in their division and any right to talk about the top seed in the conference. At a time when the Seahawks should be proving there is no team they cannot beat, they proved there is no team that cannot beat them.
There are two levels of problems to assess with the Seahawks. The first is what is what contributed most to this loss. The second is what is most important. In this case, the answers are different.
The Seahawks defense had the easiest job you will ever get in the NFL. They were facing a backup quarterback who is terrible at his job. He had not won a game in six years. The only way, the ONLY way, the Giants could win this football game was if the Seahawks defense allowed them to run the football. They had the luxury of dedicating as much manpower to the line of scrimmage as they wanted. McCoy was not going to make them pay for it.
That worked well enough in the first half when the Giants had zero points, about 90 yards of offense, and a turnover. It was an immediate disaster in the second half when they allowed the Giants to run all over them on the way to two touchdowns. They let Wayne Gallman break a 60-yard run, which was bad. They did not bow up and stop the Giants there and made no adjustments on the next series, which was far worse.
There is no situation where this Giants offense should have scored more than 10 points. I will be one of the few that starts with the defense, but they had the easiest job of any unit in the entire NFL yesterday, and they blew it. Had they done their job and had DeeJay Dallas or Penny Hart recovered the easiest ball in the endzone, the Seahawks would have won.
Now, was that the biggest concern coming out of that game? Absolutely not. This Seahawks season was never going to hinge on the defense. They are optimized for offense. Most specifically, they are optimized for passing offense. For the third time in four games, the Seahawks averaged less than six yards per attempt. For the second straight game, they averaged less than five yards per play.
The trend is troubling no matter how you cut it.
Points per drive:
First 4 games: 3.2
Next 4 games: 2.9
Last 4 games: 1.8
Yards per drive:
First 4 games: 37.0
Next 4 games: 36.0
Last 4 games: 29.7
Yards per play:
First 4 games: 6.7
Next 4 games: 6.3
Last 4 games: 5.0
Expected Points Added (EPA) per play:
First 4 games: 0.225
Next 4 games: 0.139
Last 4 games: -0.045
It is amazing what some folks are pointing to as the reason for this offensive malaise. Somehow, Brandon Shell being out for two games explains their steady decline over eight games. Or, Russell Wilson is involved in too many activities off the field, which apparently was not distracting when he was the clear MVP but has now become the reason he cannot play well. Some had explained the slide as being related to Chris Carson’s absence. The correlation is not strong there or all that logical. The truth of this situation is far more systemic than any of those superficial factors.
Let’s start at the bottom and of the org chart and work our way up.
Russell Wilson has not proven he can be the centerpiece of a championship team. No matter what revisionist history you see elsewhere, the Seahawks won a Super Bowl primarily on the back of a historically good defense. They would not have won without Wilson and the offense, but that team was not built around the offense. This team is.
Wilson has had to rise above the national and league perception that he is just a glorified game manager at the position that needs a great team around him instead of making a good team great with his play. He has had to fight the idea that he cannot thrive in a predictable and structured offense, but only in backyard improvisations.
He has challenged those perceptions with various stretched and performances over the years. There was the second half of the 2015 season, out dueling Big Ben, out dueling DeShaun Watson, the beginning of the 2019 season and the beginning of this one.
No matter where you stand on Wilson (and I hear from the extremes of all sides), the undeniable truth is he will not put the perceptions of his limits to bed until he can either put together an MVP season or win a ring with him as the best part of the team.
He can have bad plays. He can have bad series. He can even have a bad game now and then. What he cannot do is nosedive for weeks at a time. For a guy who strives for consistency, he is not embodying it.
His accuracy has not been consistently good. His presnap reads have not been consistently good. His postsnap decision making has not been consistently good. This traces back at least to the second half of the loss to the Cardinals seven games ago, but really has been a problem all the way back to the narrow win over Minnesota.
We will talk about play calling and adjustments in a second, but do not get it twisted. Wilson ultimately has control over the play at the line of scrimmage. He can audible, and does so all the time. He is also responsible for calling out protections to help his offensive line pick up pressures, and knowing when he will need to make a hot read due to a blitz. He is responsible for putting his team in the most advantageous situations, and he is responsible for executing the plays or minimizing damage from bad ones. He is not doing any of those things at a championship level.
Watch Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes right now. The game looks easy, in large part because they are correctly reading the defense before the snap and know exactly where to go with the ball. It is rarely looking effortless for Wilson. He more often looks confused and tentative.
The coaching could be great, the defense could play better, but if Wilson does not significantly improve his level of play, this team has a hard ceiling for how far it can rise.
Wilson, at least partially, is a product of his coaching. Like Wilson, Brian Schottenheimer has a national and league perception he would like to overcome. There are not many who believe he is a modern, creative, or good offensive coordinator. That is what he came to Seattle with, and he has yet to escape it.
He deserves a lot of credit for bringing in a plan that is heavier on early down passing and leverages his best player more effectively. He also deserves credit for recognizing Wilson’s strength as a deep passer and bringing more of that into the offense.
What he has not done is found a way to counteract opponent game plans when the offense is scuffling. Teams have adapted to the Seahawks deep ball passing and Schottenheimer seems to have no counterpunch.
The Vikings were the first to do it. Seattle was totally ineffective in the first half, and it was obvious they need to attack more underneath. Nothing changed until the third quarter when they started using the tight end and scored a bunch. One would think that would be a lesson that would lead to quicker adjustments thereafter. One would be wrong.
The plays being called are not leading to wide open players. Wilson may be choosing the play at the line of scrimmage, but Schottenheimer is setting the menu, and the restaurant has been a walking health code violation.
Wilson has strengths and weaknesses like any player. He is among the most talented players at the most important position if football. If Schottenheimer cannot maximize his strengths into an elite offense, the perceptions of him will prove to be true, and the Seahawks would be better served to try someone new.
Schottenheimer was hired by Pete Carroll. As was Ken Norton Jr. Carroll approves all football decisions, so drafting Wilson and then starting him as a rookie and building the roster around him are all choices he gets credit or blame for, depending on your point of view.
This team should be better than this. There should be no possible way for them to lose to Colt McCoy. None. There are many more terrible coaches in the NFL than there are good ones, and even fewer great ones. The notion that the Seahawks would be better off without Carroll assumes someone better would slide in, and that’s a foolish assumption to make.
That said, it is hard to imagine Carroll holding Schottenheimer to a high enough standard to consider replacing him should this season not reach a successful conclusion. Even if he did let him walk, it is hard to imagine him hiring a modern and upcoming offensive mind. However, many fans would have said the exact same thing a few months ago about the idea of him allowing his OC to become one of the heaviest neutral script passing teams in the NFL.
Above Carroll, one has to wonder who is truly holding him accountable now that Paul Allen has passed away. It is unclear how involved Jodi Allen is, or perhaps it is Bert Kolde. The Carroll extension makes sense from a Mariners style of ownership. The Seahawks are winning enough and are kings of local media, so they are successful as a business. If your sole purpose is hoisting another trophy and designing another ring, there is waning evidence Carroll has the team on track to do that.
Is it spoiled to be unsatisfied with 10+ wins and making the playoffs? Absolutely. That does not change that fact that my definition of success is winning a ring. Everything else should either be progress toward that goal or considered a failure. Treading water is not success.
Right now, this ship is leaking in multiple spots. They should no longer be considered a favorite to win their division, let alone be a contender in the playoffs. For that to change, they must recapture their dominance on offense.
The first drive of this game looked like exactly that was set to happen. It was crisp and fast and varied. They need more of that. They need to stubbornly target DK Metcalf. They may need to consider resting Chris Carson if there is a chance his foot can heal before the playoffs. They need Brandon Shell to return. More than anything, though, they need the marriage of Wilson and Schottenheimer to get its groove back.
This season is on the brink of meaningless mediocrity. There will be no punches pulled if the men in charge do not save it. There will be no bouquet spared if they do. Legacies are at stake.