The Morning After: Pointless Seahawks Offense Waste Heroic Defensive Effort in 17-0 Loss to Packers
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The build up to this game was almost completely about the two star quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers and his controversial Covid situation facing off against Russell Wilson and his miraculous recovery from a gruesome finger injury in record time. The game itself was much more about the two defenses. Green Bay came in with a unit that was already ranked as one of the best in football. Seattle had been playing very well of late but had more to prove after a very rough start to the season. It was hard to tell the two defenses apart. Both looked like two of the best in the game. I would argue the Seahawks defense was more impressive given how much less help they received from the offense. The outcome of the game was ultimately determined by one quarterback playing more wisely, one offense leaning more on the running attack, and a referee crew that seemed determined to call everything in favor of the Packers.
Most will look at this result as a terrible performance by the Seahawks and indictment of whoever they want to continue blaming for the disappointing Seahawks season. What I saw was a truly encouraging effort by a defense that looked hopeless not so long ago.
Tre Brown and DJ Reed played an inspired game at corner. The turnaround at that position cannot be emphasized enough. What was in the discussion for worst starting cornerback group in the NFL through the first three games is now solidly above average in their play. They still are not taking the ball away like elite corners do, and Reed missed a golden opportunity at a pick early in this one, but receivers are not running open by 5-10 yards like they were. Even a quarterback like Rodgers was flummoxed for an entire game. His only option were short passes.
The corner play has been greatly aided by improving safety play. Quandre Diggs has been terrific, and is earning a contract extension. At 28 years old, there is no reason to move on from a guy who is becoming a cornerstone of a good defense. He is great in coverage, and has been terrific in flying up from his deep position to stop receivers or running backs who get by the first level of defense.
The much-maligned Jamal Adams had his best game of the season. He was very good in coverage and got his first interception as a Seahawk, while also making plays against the run and as a pass rusher. This is the player Seattle traded for. He finally looks like he is getting comfortable with the role he is being asked to play in this scheme. When a player of Adams’ talents starts to feel comfortable, the doubts subside and impact plays start to emerge. That looks like what we are seeing. Adams outsmarted Rodgers multiple times in this game with cleverly disguised blitzes. That does not happen very often against Rodgers.
Bobby Wagner deserves more recognition than he gets. Yes, people regularly talk about him, but this guy continues to be a rock in the middle of this defense and plays with so much heart. His leadership, effort, and tackling is astonishing. While so much has been made of what Pete Carroll and his various offensive coordinators have, or have not, done for Wilson, almost nothing has been made of how little the team has done to support Wagner as he has been Stretch Armstrong trying to hold that flimsy group together the past few years.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting Wagner knows he is not just an excellent player, but an outstanding person. His attitude and mentality shows his mettle game in and game out, even when the offense is awful. There certainly were no stories of him not getting enough help from the team or having enough say in the personnel the past few years when it would have been arguably more justified than complaining about the offense. My respect for him grows with each play, and it is already sky high.
Jordyn Brooks was just as bad as the corners early in the year, and seems to be getting his footing now. This might have been his best game. He had some great fills against the run, leading the team in tackles, and had some flash plays in coverage. He ran stride-for-stride with a receiver 40 yards downfield and broke up a pass on a play that was reminiscent of Wagner in his prime. His coverage has been horrible more than acceptable. This was a strong step in the right direction.
Ryan Neal made another great play to stop a third down conversion. Alton Robinson flashed a few times in the backfield. Darrell Taylor appeared to have some good rushes even if he did not have a sack to show for it. He also recovered a fumble despite the refs decision to take it away from him. Poona Ford and Al Woods continued to be solid in the middle.
There was a lot of celebration of Packers running back AJ Dillon for his two touchdowns, but the guy was held to 66 yards on 21 carries (3.1 yards per rush), and got 50 yards on one reception after the Seahawks defense had lost their legs with the latest stab to the heart by their offense. The Seahawks run defense was excellent in this game. Whenever the Packers needed a conversion on short yardage, Seattle made the play.
This was the best defensive game I have seen from the Seahawks in years. There have definitely been more flashy statistical games, but when you look at the opponent, the location, and the total lack of support from the offense, this one stands above every game I can think of the last 3-4 years. The last one that compares would be the 6-6 tie in Arizona in 2016 when the Legion of Boom heroically kept Seattle in that game despite almost no help from their offense or special teams when multiple game-winning kicks were missed. I often think of that game as the end of that Seahawks era.
I know how much the defenders put into that game, and how betrayed they must have felt by their offense. It could not have helped for it to happen on the same field as the more well known turning point game.
Others may find more recent games to compare to this performance against the Packers. Regardless, this was special. It also felt sustainable. At least, for this season. Suddenly, the secondary looks like it could be in good shape for seasons to come if Diggs and Reed are resigned. There are some up-and-comers on the defensive line and at linebacker. What looked poorly constructed and schematically lost at season start suddenly feels hopeful.
Personally, I can always enjoy watching a good defensive team play. It is far harder for me to watch a team that puts up no fight on that side of the ball, even if the offense is scoring a bunch of points.
Carroll is known as a defensive coach. I have written for nearly four years that he deserves more criticism for his handling of the defense than of the offense. Should this level of play continue, he will have once again proven his prowess. That matters when contemplating the future of this franchise.
A defensive coach who cannot produce a good defense, who also is not able to optimize the play of his franchise quarterback, while also struggling with game management, is someone who has little to ground to stand on when making his case for continued employment.
If the defense really is going to be a top ten unit, using a significantly different scheme and players, then the idea of pairing a defensive coach with a franchise QB becomes much more compelling. While many fans and analysts prefer the Andy Reid/Patrick Mahomes combination of offense plus offense, I have always preferred the Belichick/Brady style where you have excellence on both sides of the ball.
Either certainly can work. Seattle has won a ton of games with this marriage between Carroll and Wilson. I am finding it harder and harder to see it continuing past this season.
The loudest narrative is Carroll has been holding Wilson back with his outdated views on offense and running the football. What I have seen is a coach who has lost touch with his core philosophy on ball control offense in an almost desperate attempt to appease his quarterback.
It started with trading Max Unger for Jimmy Graham. It continued by drafting nine receivers in the last seven drafts. That does not include signing Josh Gordon and Greg Olson at the urging of his quarterback, or the attempts to sign Antonio Brown and Odell Beckem Jr. They have been through three offensive coordinators in the past five years. They became one of the pass heaviest teams in the NFL in 2016 and 2020. Meanwhile, their ability to run effectively has faded away. No team fears the Seahawks run game, and they have not for years.
So many people point to the acquisition of Wilson as being the moment this team became a winner. No doubt he was a massive part of lifting this team up. What most ignore or diminish is the emergence of a kickass running game at the end of the 2011 season with Marshawn Lynch finally gelling with Tom Cable’s scheme. They were a good team the last half of that season with a QB playing with a torn pec because they had a great defense and a badass running game.
Adding Wilson, Wagner, and Irvin the next year was a massive infusion of talent at key spots, and then the final pieces were the pass rush that Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett provided.
Having a quarterback who excelled at explosive plays and protecting the football, while also being a running threat himself was the absolutely perfect fit. The key word there being “fit.”
The team was not designed around Wilson. It was designed around a philosophy of being badass on defense and running the football whenever the hell they wanted, while having an assassin at QB who could strike at any moment. It was not the passing game that turned the tide in the NFC Championship against the 49ers to start the second half. It was going heavy on the offensive line and ramming it down the toughest defenses throat with Lynch. Lynch and the running game were in the middle of the second NFC Championship comeback as well.
I do not think an NFL team needs a great running game to be a Super Bowl contender. I definitely believe a franchise quarterback and a good passing attack is far more valuable than a good running game. I also believe a team that plays tough defense, can run the ball when they want or need to, and has good quarterback play will be more reliable and beat teams in championship moments who are too reliant on the passing game.
The main exception to that rule is if you have a quarterback like Brady who lives by the short passing game. Even Brady has been at his best when complimented by good defense and a good running game.
All this is to say that Carroll has strayed too far from his core philosophy. He has tried so hard to placate Wilson, that he has lost the identity he was so clear about when he came to Seattle. What makes the continued marriage with Wilson seem intractable is Wilson does not want to be a part of an offense that emphasizes the run game and he does not see his own limits in the pass game (Mr. Unlimited).
Wilson believes the offense should look like it did last year when it revolved around him and the passing attack. That would make more sense if he had proven he could sustain the level of play and make the types of throws necessary for that style of offense to thrive with him at the helm.
Maybe Wilson can be the do-everything quarterback he sees in the mirror with another coach. Maybe someone could finally figure out how to help him perfect the timing of a screen pass, or take the sure yardage instead of holding the ball and too often going for the big play, or find some set of plays/throws that are repeatable and match up with his strengths.
I think it is more likely that Wilson, at age 32, is who he has been his entire career. That is a player who is one of the best deep throwers in the NFL, someone who will always have a great TD:INT ratio with his ability to create explosive plays and avoid turnovers, and a guy who rises to the occasion in the clutch. He will probably always be a guy who takes too many sacks, and cannot throw to the short or intermediate middle of the field, and sees dump offs as a defeat instead of a victory. He also is no longer a threat to run until the game is out of reach or it is crunch time. That is an underestimated reduction in his value and impact. He was a huge part of why that Seahawks running game was great.
Neither Wilson nor Carroll have made particularly strong cases for themselves over the past few years. John Schneider has struggled mightily in the draft as well.
The overarching question of this season is what to do next year. I have been in favor of a full reset, with Carroll, Schneider and Wilson all moving on.
If this defense continues to perform at this level, or near it, my calculus changes. I would rather see the Hall of Fame coach stay and return to his core philosophy around defense and running and complimentary quarterback play. I would love to see Wilson stay as well if he bought into that notion, but I think his need for personal legacy has become too important in his mind and his trust in Carroll has to be too thin.
This next draft is said to be weak, but is strong in pass rushers and some offensive tackles. Maybe the best move would be to move on from Wilson for three first round picks or more over the next few years, restock the defensive and offensive line, and search for a quarterback who compliments the team. Maybe it is time to try and build a team around a rookie QB contract.
Schneider and Carroll get a fair amount of criticism for their quarterback acquisitions. Charlie Whitehurst, Tarvaris Jackson, and Matt Flynn certainly were not fantastic additions. People forget, though, that they wanted to draft Andy Dalton, Patrick Mahomes, and did draft Wilson. Their draft evaluations of quarterbacks has not been as bad as we think.
People bring up Carroll’s age all the time, but rarely talk about Reid (63) or Bruce Arians (69) or Belichick’s (69) age. I look at Belichick, whose legacy was called into question after Brady won a Super Bowl in his first year without his old coach while the Patriots plummeted, and see a coach who returned to his core philosophy and building a team around a young quarterback that has turned that franchise around in one year. The Patriots were not better off the year after losing Brady (for nothing), but they might be better over the next 3-10 years.
This is not a slam dunk for me. I could see building around Wilson with an offensive coach and letting Carroll walk. I just think it is harder to find a Hall of Fame coach that can lead and build a whole organization than it is to find a QB who can pilot a championship team. I also have increasing doubts that Wilson can be the centerpiece of a Super Bowl winning team as opposed to a Pro Bowl-level complimentary player.
We have eight games left to learn more and have a more informed point of view. Wilson will be much better than he was on this Sunday. Whether Shane Waldron has any idea what he is doing is a complicating factor. If I had to guess, this team will end the season playing very well. It just may not be enough to get into the playoffs or keep this crew together any longer. The hope comes from a team that might at least have a foundation to build on defensively instead of having to blow the whole thing up.