The Morning After: Seahawks on the Brink After 30-17 Loss
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Facts first. The Seahawks fell to 1-2 after their second straight loss. They are last place in the league’s best division. They have only lost one game to an NFC opponent, and have a chance in the next two weeks to get above .500 and start division play 2-0. Their offense has scored at least 17 points in the first half of every game this season. They have scored a total of 13 points in the second half of their three games, dead last in the NFL. The only team they have beaten is winless. A winless team beat them rather easily. Opponents are converting nearly half their third downs (49%).
Now analysis. Despite an offseason I was very encouraged by and a bevy of quality players throughout the lineup, I had less enthusiasm heading into this season than any in many years. I could not quite identify the reason why until after the Titans game concluded.
There are two seasons being played simultaneously by the Seahawks. One is to determine the outcome of this particular campaign. The other is to determine the outcome of this regime. Football, like everything else, is cyclical. A single season is the shortest cycle, and with a predictable beginning and end. Player careers are usually the next shortest, with many lasting just a few seasons. Coaches cycles can be shorter than players, but since age does not limit them, good ones can stick around much longer than most players. General Managers are next. Then Owners. Each is like a rung on a ladder, where if one gives way, the next is there to stop the fall. Seattle is in a rather unique position where the outcome of this season could lead to a slide all the way down the ladder, with only the owner as a backstop. Even there, I have some questions.
Seattle has a roster built to compete this year, with a number of their best players on the wrong side of 30, and precious few blue chippers under 27 years old. Players, coaches, the front office and fans have grown weary of the good-but-not-great purgatory they have experienced the last six years. Tensions boiled over this offseason. Whatever has been reported, the reality is Mark Rodgers has been in Russell Wilson’s ear for years telling him Pete Carroll is holding him back. Carroll has heard from other players that Wilson is holding them back. My sense is both Carroll and John Schneider are closer to walking away than attacking a rebuild. This all adds up to a tinder box of tension underlying this season.
If things go wrong, we could be looking at a total reset in Seattle. That is not hyperbole or drama reveling. It is how the stars have aligned. How wrong would they have to go? That is where the debate can be had. It might be as simple as another year without a playoff win. Not making the playoffs would increase the odds. A season where they finish near .500 or below greatly increases the odds. To keep things as they are, the best odds would be to get to at least the NFC Championship game, and winning a single playoff game probably still tips toward staying the course.
The team we have seen through three weeks would seem to need a lot of improvement to make the playoffs. Their ceiling likely gets set in the next two weeks. Either they completely turn things around on defense and find a way to sustain production on offense this week, or any dreams of contending for the NFC crown can be put to bed.
The season may be longer than ever, but it may prove to be quite short for Seattle.
Carroll has found a way to lead his teams back from the brink multiple times. Even the 2014 Super Bowl team fell to 6-4 after a demoralizing loss in Kansas City, before winning every game the rest of the way and earning the top seed in the NFC. They lost two straight terrible games last year to fall to 6-3, before winning six of their final seven contests and claiming the division title.
That team, though, benefitted from a very soft end to the schedule. Looking at the Seahawks road this year, they may only be favored to win five games the rest of the way. They will absolutely have to control their division to compete, and this is a division that will be tough for any team to control.
Watching the Seahawks defense play evokes visions of a rodeo clown trying to grab a greased pig. They played well against what appears to be an awful Colts offense, and had some early moments against the Titans and Vikings, but there is no cohesion or consistency, and there appear to be fatal flaws.
We all knew the cornerback position was bad. That was assuming DJ Reed was a good corner and Marquise Blair was a potentially great nickel corner. Instead, Reed has been a borderline starter. Blair has bad when he played and then injured. Ugo Amadi has not be good either, and was a big part of the problem yesterday. Tre Flowers is every bit as bad as he has ever been, giving far too much cushion and breaking up zero passes.
We had hoped Jordyn Brooks would take a major step forward, maybe even be a Pro Bowl candidate. Some of us thought the pass rush would be very productive from a variety of players. We had expected Jamal Adams to play like the All-Pro safety he has been in past years. None of those things have proven to be true.
Pulling the strings is a defensive coordinator that nobody outside of Carroll believes should be a DC in this league. Ken Norton Jr. is a motivator, not a tactician. Try to remember the last time the Seahawks defense came out with a plan that the opposing offense struggled to defeat. Try to remember the last time a good offense was held down. Even if you can think of some examples, they are the exceptions and certainly not the rule.
Reed and Flowers made comments about scheme after the game. I am glad they are speaking up. It will not make a difference. Norton is who he is. Carroll can get more involved like he did last season, and that should help, but unless he is going to strip Norton of game plan and game calls, this is Norton’s defense.
The talent is there to be better. Outside of corner, many of the Seahawks defensive starters would start on other defenses. They are just not playing as a unit, and no amount of talent can be consistent when that happens.
Offensively, there were some very hopeful signs early on. Wilson was finding D.K. Metcalf in the rhythm of the offense, and was throwing over the middle of the field. Chris Carson was running successfully. The tight ends were getting involved. And then…they just stopped.
Wilson exits the game with the top passer rating in all of football, and has still not thrown an interception. Yet, knowing more of the offense is on his shoulders at the line of scrimmage, he has to take a significant portion of the blame for the scoring struggles. On one particular series in the first half, Seattle was driving for what looked like another touchdown.
Minnesota showed only six players in the box (near the line of scrimmage) on first down. That is almost always an easy QB decision to check to a run and get 4-6 yards (or more). Wilson chose to stick with a pass play, knowing there would be extra players in coverage, and forced a throw that was incomplete. Then they faced a 3rd and 3 and the Vikings bluffed having lots of players in the box, only to back off as it got close to the snap. Wilson either did not correctly identify the defense, falling for their bluff, or chose again to throw into extra coverage. The pass did not have a chance and the Seahawks chose to settle for a field goal, which Jason Myers missed.
Those are just two examples. You can be certain there are many more in each game. I have reached the point where I do not believe it is realistic for Wilson to be considered in the same tier of QBs as guys like Brady, Manning, Rodgers, Mahomes, and Brees. Those are guys who can lift a team to a Super Bowl with MVP-level play. Wilson is the best QB to ever play for the Seahawks, and a likely Hall of Famer. He is very capable of winning Super Bowls, but he needs a far higher level of talent surrounding him than those players I mentioned.
The team has now provided him with three different offensive coordinators. They have gone from a heavier run team to one of the heaviest pass teams, back to more balance. They have given him one of the best receiving duos in football, very good tight ends, very good running backs, and an offensive line that ranks somewhere toward the middle of the league (and might be higher with a QB who was better at pre-snap reads, stepping into the pocket, and getting rid of the football quickly). I question how much more Wilson needs to lead a team to a Super Bowl-level offense.
Shane Waldron has not yet proven he is worthy of being an OC, and now he must show his mettle as a leader of men through adversity.
Dee Eskridge has not yet finished a full NFL game, and while he may help, it’s silly to think the absence of the third receiver is keeping the Seahawks offense from functioning for long stretches of time.
All of this falls on the shoulders of Carroll. The head coach is responsible for everything that goes well and everything that does not. I will forever give him the lion’s share of the credit for taking this franchise from a ruinous state before his arrival to the best stretch of football in our history. I just wonder if his stay here has run its course.
I see a mediocre team right now. Most importantly, I see a team that will vastly underperform expectations. That will lead to significant strife in the locker room, which we are already seeing. It will lead to fan fury and what is far worse, apathy. Fans losing interest is usually what gets owners uncomfortable. We do not know what Jody Allen will do in adverse moments. Only she can make the call to move on from Carroll.
More likely, Carroll could make the call to pass the torch. John Schneider cannot fire Carroll, and I do not think he would if he could. Should Carroll be let go or choose to leave, I am not convinced Schneider would want to stay. His draft history the last 4-5 years is a big reason the team is in the state is right now.
I believe a lot of this could fall to Bert Kolde. He was Paul Allen’s best friend, and they partnered on pretty much all of the major front office decisions for the Trail Blazers and Seahawks. I would expect Jody Allen to lean on some of Kolde’s advice based on prior experience.
There is no Tod Leiweke in place to lead the search for a new coach and/or a new GM. Finding the next Jim Mora Jr is far more likely than finding the next Pete Carroll. Good head coaches are tough to come by. Should they make front office changes to the coach and/or the GM, the new folks will have to make a decision about whether Wilson is more valuable as part of the rebuild in Seattle or as trade bait to get a series of draft picks.
At least some of you are reading all this thinking, “Whoa dude! They have only played three games. Chill out.” I am not predicting what will happen. I am acknowledging the dominos that are lined up. The chain reaction has started. Seattle needs a win in each of their next two games to halt this Rube Goldberg machine from gaining steam.
It is fine to stay focused on what is right in front of us and not worry about what may be. It is also fine to just enjoy Seahawks football for the nachos and the beer and the friends you get to watch the game with. For me, I am always processing where this team is relative to the goal of winning a ring and the overall health of the franchise. If you’ve been a Seahawks fan long enough to remember moving trucks pulling up to the headquarters, and hopeless season after hopeless season, you tend to both cherish the good times and be wary of how bad the bad times can get.
I see a team built to compete this year that currently looks closer to a losing season than reaching a Super Bowl. I see a franchise closer to major change than sustained success. Turning this around would be Carroll’s greatest Houdini act. He has had a very good track record against the 49ers and Kyle Shanahan, and then has the Rams coming to visit Seattle. You want to believe Seattle can get them both and claw back into the NFC West race at 3-2. It is very possible they drop them both and sit at 1-5 with the season effectively over.
I will be here regardless of the outcome, as will most of you. The only thing that outlasts seasons, players, coaches, general managers, and owners are fans. We are the constant. We feel the joy and the pain, stick through the highs and the lows. We keep the history and pass it on. This is going to be a crossroads season. Pay attention closely. There is drama ahead either way.