The Morning After: Seahawks Settle Into the Abyss

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There is a moment in every fight training montage where the hero is falling down, feeling pain, and struggling to overcome their inadequacies. The tide eventually turns, and our hero is now sprinting up the hill, punching through the wooden beam, and beaming with confidence. We know greatness is ahead. The most difficult part of an undeniably difficult Seahawks season is they have yet to even begin their montage. Their big showdown has not been scheduled. They are more like Apollo Creed, late in his career, getting in the ring with Ivan Drago. More pain is ahead. There is no way to call the fight. The redemption will come with the next generation.

We follow sports, in part, because of the emotions they evoke. Those of us who let down our guard and ride the wave get the benefit of thrills others do not, but also agony and anger. Those emotions tend to distort reality. Right now, the truth is that Russell Wilson is not playing well. He may be playing his worst stretch of football in his career. The distortion is that he has passed through a one-way door to oblivion and is no longer a good player.

I do not believe Wilson has forever lost the ability to make simple throws he made his whole career. I do not believe he is forever an inferior quarterback to Colt McCoy or Taylor Heinieke.

There were glimpses of his former self in this game, as bad as it was. There were also some damning moments that left me wondering if he has too many different voices in his head from too many offensive coordinators over the past few years.

I don’t worry at all about the throws he sails over receiver’s heads. Those are physical errors on plays we know for certain he can make with regularity. They will get solved either with more healing or an offseason of getting his mechanics back on track.

The more troubling moments are when he forces throws downfield with players running uncovered for what would still be large gains. Wilson has always eschewed the sure yards for the chance at explosive plays. This is different. He is passing up relatively easy explosive plays (15-20 yards) for much more difficult deep shots. He is forcing throws into tighter windows while ignoring open players. Even his touchdown to Gerald Everett was a super tight window throw.

I see a player who needs someone to help him get right with his feet more than his finger. He is not throwing from a stable platform in many cases and it often looks like his lower body is dancing around in fear while his upper body is trying to make these decisions and throws.

While I was not a huge fan of Brian Schottenheimer as an OC, I do think he was the best quarterback coach Wilson has had in his career. He worked on mechanics and fundamentals. I’m just a fan, but I can see a number of mechanical issues with Wilson, and as has been the case most of his career, there is no QB coach on staff qualified to help him correct them.

As bad as he played most of the game, I respected the moxie he showed in taking the team the length of the field to score a touchdown that could have tied the game. It has been a while since we have seen Wilson do that. I sense he is getting closer to being himself again in spite of the poor play we are witnessing.

One of the most common refrains we hear from fans is that Wilson is great in the two-minute drill because he gets to call the plays and that Pete Carroll is holding him back by not allowing that to happen earlier in games. I believe that is a good observation and a flawed conclusion.

What are the hallmarks of Wilson during the two-minute drill? He throws quickly. He hits players on short passes, dump offs, and lets them run. He is more willing to scramble himself and more decisive about when to scramble. Those are all characteristics he does not show the rest of the game.

Some of that is due to the type of defenses that are played in those situations that are designed to allow quarterbacks to throw underneath and over the middle to give up shorter yardage gains and keep players inbounds to run the clock. Some of that is a mindset shift for Wilson that he and his coaches would be wise to highlight and figure out how to bring out at other points.

Even in that mode, he still took an absolutely atrocious sack that would have been bad at any point, so let’s not pretend the two-minute drill version of Wilson is a cure-all. It is the version of Wilson he needs to unlock elsewhere to extend his career and sustain a high level of play.

The era of Wilson living off moonball explosive passes is over. He cannot be the player he wants to be or give his team the success he wants if he continues to be obsessed with long developing deep throws.

I don’t want to see any more training montages of him getting in the best shape of his life. I want to see him obsessively working on the timing and touch of a screen pass, the art of coming off his deep read and making the swing pass to his back, the intermediate zone beaters.

I am not a film guru, but my sense is that teams have figured out that two-deep safety defenses make it very hard for the Seahawks to throw those deep passes, and that the throws you need to make to beat a two-deep defense are the intermediate seam throws Wilson is least confident in making. Add to that, an inability to run the football, a reluctance to make the underneath throws, and a mediocre offensive line, and you have an offense with no answers.

People hate what Carroll said in the offseason about needing to run teams out of two-deep looks. The reality is Carroll’s words have not matched the on-field actions. The one time all season they did exactly that was when Geno Smith was the QB and they came out determined to run the ball in the 3rd quarter in Pittsburgh.

Guess what? It worked. The Steelers did change their defense, bringing a safety down into the box and opening up passing options. The problem was they didn’t have the QB to take advantage of it.

This is the aggravating human aspect of the Seahawks problem. I believe they have the right coach with the right philosophy and the perfect quarterback to meld into that philosophy. Instead of enjoying the benefits of that, we are seeing a coach who has abandoned his philosophy in service of a player who is being given bad advice by people who are feeding into this notion that Wilson can do everything that Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes can do when he is a different player with different strengths and weaknesses.

I believe more and more that Wilson really does need a strong running game to bring out his best. If he cannot consistently make the throws needed to beat a two-deep defense, then he needs a running game that can pull a safety down into the box so he can then destroy them deep.

There is a general management philosophy that you should focus on your employees strengths and spend much less time trying to repair their weaknesses. It feels like the Seahawks have reached the point where they have spent years trying to make Wilson a player he is not, and have now lost sight of what made him great in the first place.

I believe Wilson will play better before the season ends. I believe he still has many very good years left in the NFL. I believe he can find his redemption right here in Seattle, but it will take truth and sacrifice on his part and far better coaching and scheme than he currently enjoys.

Carroll can be the head coach, but he has to make the running game a strength, and not just words in a press conference. That does not mean drafting another running back in the first round. It does mean making the offensive line a top priority. Seattle needs to spend money and draft picks to get that line right.

If they had their first round pick, this could be a year to address the tackle position as there are at least a couple worthy of being top ten picks. Since they do not, they will need to find a way to either buy or trade players.

This team will not be good again until their offensive line is better. That is true if they have Wilson at quarterback or someone else. The Seahawks team that won the Super Bowl had the highest paid offensive line in the league. Hard to believe given they were mostly just above average players, but they did have Pro Bowl players at left tackle and center.

I believe at some point during Wilson’s tenure, the coaching staff and front office decided a player like Wilson both allowed them to spend less on the line and made spending a lot of money unwise because he left the pocket too often and held the ball too long. It was absolutely the wrong approach, and may be the largest reason the team has suffered since.

A great offensive line lifts the whole football team. The 2005 Seahawks defense was mediocre or worse in most ways besides red zone defense, but that team should have won a ring on the strength of a terrific line. It is not realistic to expect two Hall of Fame players on the same line again, but the minimum bar should be at least two Pro Bowl level players and league average or better players at the other spots.

They likely also need a head coach or an OC who has a run scheme that works. As much disdain as many Seahawks fans have for Tom Cable, it was his zone blocking run game, paired with Lynch and that offensive line (along with Wilson’s legs) that made that run game lethal.

Rule changes have diminished that style of run game and Wilson will never be the run threat he once was. While others pine over pass-centric OCs that could help Wilson as a passer, I more and more believe a great running OC like Greg Roman would unlock more of what Wilson has to offer versus another year or two of trying to turn his weaknesses into a strength.

And while most want Carroll gone because they believe he is standing in Wilson’s way, I am more concerned that he is enabling Wilson at the cost of his team and Wilson himself. One could argue Carroll playing Wilson the last three games has possibly cost the Seahawks 1-2 wins and Wilson a lot of confidence. Geno Smith is not a good player, but this Seahawks defense deserved to see what a healthy QB could do after Wilson struggled so much.

I just don’t think Carroll has it in him to diminish Wilson in any way. The stories that came out for years about players in the Seahawks locker room being upset about how Wilson was treated relative to the rest of the team seemed so spiteful at the time, but may have been the voices of leaders speaking truth to power.

The grade for Carroll would be an emphatic Fail for this season if not for the play of the defense. He appears to have whiffed on OC, submitted to his QB by allowing him to return too soon, and made his usual set of game management errors.

The telltale sign of a coach who’s time has come is when you see the effort of players on the field drop, or you see the locker room devolve into bickering and infighting. We are not seeing that yet.

The effort is still excellent on defense. It is remarkable, really, that the group continues to fight and claw game after game while getting absolutely nothing from their offense. That is a credit to coaches and to the leaders like Bobby Wagner, Quandre Diggs, and Jamal Adams. I really do enjoy watching them play, even without any pass rush.

Sidney Jones is quietly having a strong season. Jordyn Brooks continues his up and down play, and had some great tackles in this one. Adams had another great game, and may find himself earning a Pro Bowl nod as a true safety in spite of all the jeers from Seahawks fans.

Add a pass rush to that group and you might have a top five defense. They are currently 6th in the NFL in points allowed even without the pass rush or any offensive assistance.

It is easy to paint everything with the same brush of hopelessness when things are going this poorly. That would be a mistake. The defense is absolutely playing above expectations for this season and do have pieces in place that could be here for years to come.

That matters when deciding how to rebuild this team into a contender. There are more parts here that could help contend than there were when Carroll came here in 2010.

It remains difficult to prognosticate what will happen with Carroll after this season. The idea that someone with his mindset will just retire after his worst season in Seattle feels off. He left USC on a downturn, but did so for a chance to prove himself in the NFL with the philosophy he developed while at USC. He does not strike me as the person who would just quit or retire after a season like this.

I also have explained why I think it is unlikely that ownership would fire him a year after extending him. That leaves some other job coming open that pulls him away. The USC job is filled. Maybe another college job appeals to him, but that seems like a reach at this point. The most likely outcome is that he is back as your head coach next year, like it or not.

That most likely means Wilson forces a trade. Should he do that, a team like the Giants with two top ten picks this year could be logical trade partner, and allow the team to snag a fixture at offensive tackle and a top-flight pass rusher. The hole at quarterback would have to be filled through free agency or trade until the team could find its next young player to grow with.

That is the future. We are still in the falling phase. Our losses will sting more than our victories will soothe. There is sadness where there was once elation. There is ambivalence where there was once passion. Whether we are on a Ferris Wheel that rises after the fall or a lazy river that simply finds us back where we started infinitely is up to the ownership and the front office. I am here for the ride and eager to witness the moment when the fist pierces the wooden plank once again.

Founder, Editor & Lead Writer
  1. Brian,

    Your comments re/ Russell Wilson’s QB mechanics were interesting, but I neither

    believe, nor disbelieve that R.W. will revert to his prior form. Who knows? What I

    do believe is that Carroll can’t help.

    I also believe that Pete & Russell have fused their rah-rah mindsets into this 3-8

    mess. Their rosy tinted blinkers prevent a cure. Mutually married to the deep ball,

    they both hurt the team—seems to me.

  2. Your analysis of the situation re: Pete / Russ is both unique and interesting. I also believe it is correct. For all the flaws we are seeing now, if the O line and D line are fixed, much of this goes away without a big overhaul. And with Poona, Alton, and Taylor, they have a promising young core there. Some smart FA signings and this D gets top 5.

    Some solid additions to O line and RB (which everyone says are so easy to find, right?), this offense gets back to something respectable too.

    I’ve run the gamut this year from fire Pete immediately to trade Russ and do a complete overhaul, to this ” this is terrible but it’s actually salvageable with some savvy moves and reduced self delusions by Russ”.

  3. Excellent analysis as usual, however I believe you’re giving Wilson a bit of a pass. We heard thru his first 6 years Carroll tell us he still had much more to learn and experience to have seen it all and react properly. Yet in many ways Russ is the same Russ that came to the Hawks. A great playground player that doesn’t really move thru progressions like a Brady, Brees, Rodgers. It appears that although he has improved at his pre-snap reads of the defensive alignment, he’s largely decided where’s he’s going with the ball also pre-snap. This is why he’s continuously missing open receivers. You could say that perhaps it’s because he doesn’t have the time, however those same missed opportunities happened in 2013/2014 with that high paid OL.

    I would say we’ve seen the best that Wilson is capable of. Could he get back to his peak, yes, but his peak will always be below the greats we’ve all watched because of his inability to properly go thru his progressions and not decide what he’s going to do pre-snap.

  4. You just hit on why Pete needs to go. And yes, I’ve been defending Pete on here for years, but it’s time. Pete has to go because Pete has NEVER built a good offensive line. Lynch made that line look better than it was.

    We need an offensive line and it’s the definition of insanity to expect that next year we will get one under Pete and John.

    John needs to go. When his trades are good, they are good, but when they are bad they are atrocious.

    Wilson needs to go. Not because he’s washed up but because after Pete and John are replaced, we need to start a rebuild and we can’t do it without draft picks. Only Wilson can bring us those picks.
    Plus, we might get something back for Adams and a new FO will be less concerned with making a deal that highlights just how much Seattle overpaid for him when it wasn’t their mistake.

    Maybe we can get something decent for Wagner.

    Time for a yard sale.

  5. Get good lineman, especially interior lineman, and lure Bill Callahan into town (best blocking concepts coach and o line/blocking teacher in the league imo – he transformed the cowboys run game in 2014-2016), and Russ would have a renaissance in no time with a strong run game. It’s a shame Carroll and Schneider have spent the last 8 years trading away the opportunity to draft top 25 talent. I think spots 10-30 are areas you can consistently find exceptional interior lineman. You could literally go after a guard from Wisconsin every 3 years and find at minimum above average, and at best exceptional, guards and centers. That program does an excellent job of teaching run blocking philosophies.

    I love your analysis of principles and identity. I agree that Pete’s core philosophy of exceptional and aggressive defense, great special teams, and an offense that relies on a strong running game that dominates time of possession and looks to win with explosive plays can be an excellent approach to building and sustaining a winning culture and “program.” 2011-2016 was strong evidence of that. Russ’s ability to throw deep is, in theory, is the perfect compliment to that approach.

    I also completely agree with your criticisms of Russ, the limitations of his game (especially his poor decision making in extending plays at the expense of short and intermediate throws), the infuriating inability to get an exceptional QB coach early in Russ’s career to work on mechanics, reading defenses, and developing a wider range of throws, and the really dumb decision not to prioritize the o line (it’s the most important unit in football imo) have been the consistent, major issues limiting this teams ceiling. The historical greatness of the defense from 13-15 just masked those problems honestly.

    Too often our criticisms as fans miss the most important parts of football – blocking and tackling. It’s ironic that Carroll’s teams consistently do one exceptionally well (rallying to the ball and tackling) and have generally been horrendous at the other (the blocking and offensive line play has been so laughably bad at times. I swear Marshawn was the best pass blocker on the team for a solid 3-4 years before he “retired”/went to the Raiders). It’s been so disappointing not to see this team ever excel at blocking and become a dominant team. It has been the missing ingredient throughout this past decade.

    Your analysis of this team has been the most consistent and accurate I’ve read over the last decade. Love your writing. Keep it up.

  6. Good synopsis of 2-high-safety D opponents will use until the Hawks find a way to beat it. 2-High matches perfectly with Hawk tendency to throw the deep balls toward either sideline.
    I too, don’t think PC or Wilson have lost what it takes to get back into contention.
    However three things bother me:
    1. I understand “playing to strengths” vs. “fixing weakness” BUT Wilson/Hawks need to remedy inability to complete passes over the middle – this known deficiency makes pass defense too easy for opposing D’s
    2. Hawks need a REAL O-line, not the reclamation hopefuls they keep bringing in. In an effort to make playoffs every year, Hawks patched holes by trading draft picks. In 2021, this caught up with them, especially considering half the picks never pan out…
    3. Hawks need a REAL 4-man pass rush. Safety & LB blitzes are gadget plays to make up for D-line weakness. In 2020, Hawks traded two 1st rounders to patch lack of 4-man pass rush with Jamal Adams safety blitzes. 2021 Hawks STILL don’t have 4-man pass rush. The difference is, teams know the gadget blitzes are coming and leave 1 or 2 blockers to pick it up.

  7. A wise man once said “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it”. For years, Seahawk fans have complained about and scapegoated various parts of our team/FO, and doing so at a very superficial level. Even in the glory years, fans said our OLine sucked and fire Tom Cable. We had one of the better run blocking units in the league. Many might say Lynch made them look better than they were, but that same line made a healthy Thomas Rawls look better than Todd Gurley in his best form. This had everything to do with Cable’s philosophy of drafting agile linemen that could set the initial block and quickly move to the second level. They constantly opened up running lanes upfield. With Wilson at QB, they didn’t grade too good at pass pro. Was that because they weren’t good, or is it that Wilson is tough to protect? Pass protection requires coordination and consistency, protecting a known area of the field, and that comes with the expectation that the QB will try to remain in that defined space that they intend to defend. Unfortunately, Wilson has never been consistent in his drop. Every extra yard a QB drops drastically increases the amount of real estate the OLine must protect. It spreads them out and opens up lanes for the defense to exploit. It also changes the radius of the circle the tackles must create to flush their man out of the back of the play. Deep drops mean double teams and passing off blocks becomes more difficult, making each lineman win their 1 on 1 every play, and creating space for blitzers and stunts to get through.

    After years of hearing “fire Cable”, Pete relented. He brought in another respected coach in Mike Solari. Solari, however, prioritizes a different type of lineman. He prefers oversized linemen over nimble, wanting to win with strength instead of finesse and agility. Unlike Cable, who coached his players to drive forward, even on passing plays, Solari teaches them to step back and react on pass sets.

    Now, we can go on and on about “sub-standard” personnel, but we have seen 2 philosophies with 2 different types of players deployed, with very similar results. We have seen a number of the OLine, who were criticized highly by fans, leave and become quality starters for other teams. Sure, we have had some misses. That’s to be expected when you draft as many prospects as we have. The bottom line is that the issue of pass protection is bigger than just coaching of the line or the personnel we have fielded.

    The offensive line is much like a railing, designed to protect people from falling. We have building codes that require a maximum spacing for balusters; called the ball code. This spacing exists, because when spaced too far apart, objects can easily get through the fence/railing. The wider that spacing gets, the more likely something will get through. In pass protection, the oline and, maybe, the TE are those balusters. You are limited in the number you have. As you increase the size of the railing (wall of protection), those limited #s of balusters become more spread out. The farther they are spread, the easier for objects (DL) to get through.

    The biggest failure in coaching pass pro has been a failure to try to get consistency in depth of drop from our QB and failure to coach pocket discipline. Some of this was intentional, because doing that would go against where our QB makes the most happen. It was a trade off. We probably should have started coaching that change in 2016/7, as we saw the elusiveness start to fade.

    Well, this was a very long post to basically say:

    Just as we have seen with the offensive play calling across 3 OCs, swapping personnel and coaches have provided very similar results. When you introduce that much change, but yield similar results, you have to consider the problems are in the constants. In this case, the constants are PC and RW. Take what you want from that.

    (Side note: I am not pushing for either to be gone. I think honest conversations and focus on issues can fix what is broken)

  8. Yup yep and yup. When I can stare at the screen and say “They should run it on this one, but they won’t. Russ will go for the deep throw.” …I can’t possibly imagine what the opposing defense must be thinking…

  9. Great read and great points I would like to point out that the Hawks are dead last in Time of Possession. This is a major issue the defense is spent by the end of these games the hawk’s offense needs to find a way to stay on the field, let the other team’s defense get winded for a change. Why has the game plan not changed in years? Every off season we get news that we’re going to open up the offense and every year it is the same. Run on 1st down and hope for the best, I’m not staying the run game is not important but at least conceal it, put four receiver’s on the field and run out of the formation, that will make the defense back-off no more 8 guys in the box to stop the run. Play devil’s advocate everybody watches film on how to play the Hawks, two deep safety’s and stack the box, the hawks have made game planning against them too easy. The last thing I want to say is I agree we should have figured out the short passing game by now, the game plan can’t just be deep balls, no team can win like that.

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