The Morning After: Seahawks faceplant in first round, need changes

One of my favorite books is The Wisdom of Crowds. It details scenario after scenario where gathering a diverse mix of experts are able to correctly predict or estimate something far better than any individual. The collective conscious of Seahawks fans knew a loss to the Rams this week was a distinct possibility. There was almost a dread hanging over the fanbase heading into these playoffs, despite the 12-4 record and division title. A loss was not the most likely outcome, but it was far from a surprise. What we are left with is an offseason of questions about what appear to be constants in an equation. Seattle’s best chance to become true contenders is to turn some of those constants into variables.

Pete Carroll

It is rare for a coach with a track record like Carroll’s in Seattle to be under fire, but he has been the subject of serious debate for years within certain segments of the fan base. The main arguments were:

  • he was standing in the way of the team passing more
  • he was not delegating the offense to an OC (he was too involved)
  • he is a defensive coach and the defense is bad, and getting worse, so what’s his value?
  • he is a terrible game manager (4th down decisions, clock management, etc.)

What we saw this year was that he did not stand in the way of the team passing more. They were one of the heaviest passing teams on early downs in the NFL. That also indicated he had listened to his OC because we know that idea had not come from Carroll. The defense turned a corner this year and appears on track to being good next season.

He is still a terrible game manager. Expecting that to change is foolhardy. It is also not enough to merit firing if other aspects of the team are in good shape.

Carroll just signed an extension and the idea that his job is at all in jeopardy is pure fan fiction. Like it or not, he is a constant.

Brian Schottenheimer

Schotty surprised me during his time here. I had a very low opinion of him before he arrived, but I saw him improve some of Russell Wilson’s rough edges that had been allowed to develop under previous coaches. I also respect the fact that he has overseen two of the three highest scoring seasons in franchise history, including the highest scoring season this year.

I have reason to believe he is the source of bringing analytics into the discussion and shifting the team to more passing on early downs. That is a massive feather in his cap, knowing how much that challenges some of Carroll’s natural tendencies.

I also think highly of him as a man. He takes accountability for mistakes he makes, and holds other accountable regardless of their status on the team. He is humble and clearly a grinder.

Even knowing all that, he is not good enough for this team to win a ring. If I could turn one constant in the Seahawks equation into a variable, it would be moving on from Schotty.

He has had three years to learn Wilson’s strengths and weaknesses. He had the best offensive line Seattle has had in years, the best receiving corps, the best running back room, the best tight end room, and he could not figure out how to get this offense back in gear after teams adjusted to their passing game.

That is a massive indictment of him as a coach, and not one I think you can forgive and assume will improve. Given the choice of counting on him to make adjustments this offseason and then make more adjustments next season when defenses adapt to his offseason adjustment, or bringing in a new coordinator with new ideas, I take door number two.

The Seahawks were an in-game adjustment in the Giants game away from being the #1 overall seed in the NFC with a bye this week. It was achingly obvious in that game what the Giants were doing and that Seattle needed to adjust early on. They never did. It was a microcosm of the second half of the season.

It seems very clear to me that Wilson is best served by an offense that more closely resembles what Sean McVay runs where it is heavy wide runs and then bootleg play action off of that. Wilson was not rolled out once yesterday. The game plan was awful, again. The adjustments were nonexistent or ineffective, again. Time to call it and part ways.

I have the slightest bit of hope Carroll may consider making this change because he lamented the team’s lack of ability to adjust to how defenses were playing them in the second half of the year in his postgame comments.

It is a huge leap to think that means Carroll will move on from Schotty, but it does open up a sliver of hope.

I don’t think it is hopeless if Schotty comes back, but the odds are lower that they find a new level of performance needed to contend.

Russell Wilson

Wilson was once again really bad yesterday. If you want to pinpoint the most depressing aspect of this season, it is that we are seeing what appears to be limits of Mr. Unlimited.

The folks who wanted to see early down passing got that in spades this year, and were taking victory laps in the first third of the season. It was pretty darn exciting to see the offense take off like that.

That enthusiasm decayed with each poor performance. He was one of the bottom third quarterbacks in the NFL for much of this season.

Like Carroll, Wilson has aspects of his approach that are brought up by his detractors:

  • Holds onto the ball too long, takes unnecessary sacks
  • Not good enough at identifying coverages and pressure presnap
  • Either cannot see or simply ignores open receivers
  • Does not utilize hot reads or outlets often enough

What has been a constant positive for Wilson has been his decision-making in terms of protecting the football. That was the biggest aspect of his game to come into question when the passing volume increased. I wrote an article a couple years ago that wondered aloud if Wilson would thrive with higher volume passing. It was the source of significant backlash from the analytics community, and was even brought up again early this year to troll me when he was playing like the best in player in football. I can’t help but reflect on the same question after witnessing Wilson’s pratfall this season.

I do not see Wilson changing some of the things that hold him back as a quarterback. I also think it is a big overreaction to decide he stinks and is the problem.

I have no doubt that Wilson can be a key part of a Super Bowl run. I just have doubts that he can carry the team on his shoulders the way Patrick Mahomes or even Aaron Rodgers can. When faced with tough defenses and tight windows this year, he shrank. It hurts to write those words, but it is undeniable.

He is on the wrong side of 30, but I believe he has another decade of football in him. He is durable, and clutch, and an excellent deep passer. This may be a portion of his career like what Rodgers experienced for 4-6 years when he was good, but not great. That changed this season when Rodgers admitted he was not where he needed to be during the offseason, corrected some of those mistakes and accepted the new offense that his coach brought with him.

Wilson needs to both own the areas of his game that he is not doing well and the team needs to give him a coordinator that puts him in better positions to make plays.

Wilson is like a boxer who has only been taught to uppercut and hook. He needs to be able to jab and counterpunch with combinations that utilize his strengths.

Some are calling for Wilson to be traded. That seems about as likely as Carroll leaving or being fired. Wilson is going to be your quarterback, and there are far worse fates.

Ken Norton Jr

Norton was the guy everyone wanted canned in the first part of the season. The defense was very good the rest of the way, and appears in good shape to improve further next year. Still, I hold out some hope that Carroll may bring in some more help on that side of the ball.

For all the good things Carroll said about Norton, he also made the interesting comment that Norton doesn’t care about titles, that he just wants to pass along his knowledge to help other guys have good careers like he did.

If true, that could be the opening to bring Dan Quinn back to the fold. Quinn may be more likely to take a role elsewhere, but he would be in position to succeed Carroll if he came back here and Carroll may not coach the next five years.

Quinn could be the assistant head coach and potentially co-coordinate with Norton. It just depends on what Quinn wants.

I still believe in Quinn as a head coach, and think he is the best coach to come out of Carroll’s Seahawks crew. More accurately, he came out of Jim Mora Jr’s crew, but Carroll was wise to keep him.

Offseason outlook

The prominent point of view will be the sky is falling for the Seahawks. That is not my perspective. For the first time in five years, there is reason to believe this defense is getting better. Jamal Adams is a young all-pro, who the team can build around. Carlos Dunlap, Poona Ford, and Jarran Reed were good this year and should be back. Alton Robinson had a strong rookie year and Darrell Taylor could be better next season. DJ Reed can be a fixture at corner. Tre Flowers improved. Quandre Diggs played his best ball. Jordyn Brooks was promising as a rookie. Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright were great and should be for at least another season or two. Ugo Amadi was good at nickel and we don’t know what Marquise Blair could mean at either corner or nickel. Ryan Neal was a solid third safety.

The team will have a choice about how to handle the corner position with Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar on the market as free agents. I strongly believe signing Griffin would be a mistake, and they should consider some of the shorter-term, cheaper veteran options like Richard Sherman or Patrick Peterson or the like. Griffin is the kind of good-not-great player that you let walk and try to find better in the draft. Do not lock in guys who are slightly above average starters.

DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are still a terrific receiving duo. The team can look to improve their third receiver spot. Tight end can improve with Colby Parkinson getting more snaps and Dissly a year removed from his injury.

Running back is another key decision point, and as much as I love Chris Carson, it is time to let him walk. If they can sign him for $5M or less per year, fine, but otherwise they should lean on Rashaad Penny, Alex Collins and the like while drafting some new guys. This team is not going to win a Super Bowl by spending a lot of money on the running back position. It needs to go elsewhere.

The offensive line had an awful game against the Rams. That said, it is in great shape heading into next season. Expect Mike Iupati to retire, but there are plenty of young guys who can step in. Ethan Pocic probably gets resigned, but I think they could improve that position and he was a key part of the problem yesterday. Fans have come to think he was good this year. I think he was average. Bringing him back cheaply is not the worst idea, but there is an opportunity cost you risk in not upgrading the position.

I would argue almost every single position on the roster was improved this season. Quarterback was the most glaring regression, and even there, records were set.

This game was an aggravating way to end a season that should have gone farther. It is fair to call it a failure. That does not change the fact that Seattle is in their strongest roster position to end a season in years.

Running it back with the same coaching staff would be disappointing, but predictable. Carroll surprised us this year by allowing the pass game to take center stage, so crazier things have already happened.

The Seahawks have been welcome distraction from the year’s events. I appreciate each of you for engaging in the conversation around this team through the blog and the podcast. We will have our offseason coverage to keep you warm through the winter, and consider checking out my new venture, Obsessed.Golf, if you are a golf lover. More to come there.

Take it easy on yourself and each other. Nobody likes losing, and setting a high bar is good. The difference between this team and Super Bowl winner is smaller than you might realize. We try again in a few months.