DK Edit: There have been some really great, well researched and in-depth fanposting lately, I'm pumped up and jacked up about it. Keep em coming!
Hey all! I'm excited to bring you the second edition of my Win Forever series. If you missed it, you can find the first post in the series here. If you are too lazy to click the link, I go over what I believe to be a very formative experience from Carroll's football playing days in high school. Basically, Carroll throws an interception when he shouldn't have, which leads to his emphasis on turnovers and, potentially, a reason for the hesitancy to throw the football we saw earlier this season from Tavaris Jackson.
Today, we start to look at some of Carroll's experiences as a coach. Both of these experiences I'm about to go over came during his time as coach of the New England Patriots. For those of you who don't know, Pete took over a team that went to the Superbowl the year before and led the team to 10-6, 9-7 and 8-8 seasons from 1997 to 1999. Read beyond the jump to learn more about Carroll's philosophy working at it's best/worst!
Late in his first season as coach of the Patriots, Carroll faced a tough game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (Jacksonville was once involved in "tough" games?!) in which a large number of starters had been injured. The game started off about as well as it can possibly start for a team: on the opening kickoff, Patriot Vernon Crawford forced a fumble that the Pats recovered. Pete's account:
Vernon had made the hit of his life and forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of a huge game. The referee had barely signaled our recovery of the ball when Vernon Crawford came sprinting off the field screaming, "I'm in the zone! I'm in the zone! I'm in the zone! Vernon was really paying attention!
Now, you may be asking, "What was Crawford paying attention to?" Simple, my dear Watson. He was paying attention to the motivating speech Carroll had given the night before, as any young pup in the NFL should! The lecture centered around the concept of the "Inner Game," a philosophy developed by Tim Gallwey. Carroll summarizes it as thus:
Gallwey wrote about how human being tend to enter a state of doubt when faced with the unknown or uncertainty. When that occurs, he wrote, we instinctively "overtighten" our muscles. mentally we fear failure and become emotional and distracted... It is our jobs as coaches to prepare players in every regard possible. When players know they have mastered the rigors of training, whether on the football field or in the weight room or classroom, then their confidence leads to an unusual focus, free from distractions, doubt, or fear. This attentiveness, also known as a quieted mind, clears the way for athletes to perform to their highest potential.
So what does this mean for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks today? If you haven't heard Pete's press conferences, they usually don't focus a whole lot on the other teams. Sure, the lip-service is paid to the all-pro running back that the Hawks D-line is about to face, or the stud linebacker that makes things a living hell for the Hawk offense. Typically though, the focus is on the Seahawks (as it should be) and the things they are doing to prepare. The premise is that so long as the team prepares the way they should prepare, and walk onto the field confident in their own abilities, it really doesn't matter what the other team does.
Naturally, of course it matter what the other team does which is why the coaches game-plan and such. That's part of the "prepares the way they should prepare" thing I just mentioned. Redundant, no? I imagine before gameday, coaches work to remind the players to "play football like you know how to play football." It makes me think of my uncle telling me to waterski like I know how to waterski at the beginning of each summer. And not hurt myself. That's pretty important too. Lord, is that important...
This "inner game" philosophy is the lens through which I have to view the performance we have seen from Aaron Curry over the last two and a half years. I understand he isn't with the team anymore, but he was a strong part of why I wanted to talk about this portion of Win Forever. I think it is pretty clear that Aaron Curry is not a stupid person. He isn't a bad person. The kid was a college graduate and was selected 4th overall in the draft in 2009. Sure, it's possible that his skills didn't "translate" into the NFL like you'd hope from a college stud, but I'm not necessarily sure that is the case.
Honestly, I think that the kid was just overwhelmed with the responsibility of being picked so highly. There's a reason that quarterbacks are picked highly in the draft. They know how to overcome adversity and deal with really tense scenarios like game winning drives from inside the 10 yard line. Curry never had to deal with anything like that at Wake Forest, and his physical talent shined among talent among the other defensive positions on that team. Pressure wasn't something he was ever acquainted with on the football field.
It didn't help when a veteran player like Tatupu goes down with an injury that sidelines him for much of Curry's rookie year. Curry didn't play nearly as well after Tats went down. Suddenly, he is a number four overall pick that is supposed to kick ass on a defense that isn't up to snuff on any level. I doubt very much that Curry has played many games since Tatupu's injury in which he was "free from distractions, doubt, or fear." Tats came back and while he was healthier, he wasn't the same player last year.
Talk about pressure for Curry. Your mentor doesn't turn out to be the god that you thought he was. If I were in his shoes, I'd definitely be working to pick up the slack. Same goes for this year. Year 3, if you haven't picked up the game by then, people start to really wonder. Curry knew that. Every game was a game in which your detractors were looking for reasons to dislike you. This is the only way I can look at Curry dropping those interceptions. "Oh man! Oh man! I have a real chance here to do something! D'OH!" That's what I imagine goes on in Curry's mind when that sort of thing happens. Anyways, Curry is gone now. I wish him well, and I do expect to see him play better in Oakland than he did here. Number 4 overall better? Probably not. But better nonetheless.
Sidenote: This is the very same lens through which I look at Russell Okung this year. I'm growing increasingly concerned that he is working too hard to overcome his injuries and, as a result, he is taking on too many penalties. At this point in the season, he has accrued five penalties. I attribute this to his not being confident in his ankles. Here's to hoping that Russell just plays like he knows how to play, and doesn't worry too much about how he is supposed to be the heir apparent to Walter Jones. Block, Russell, block!
So what lessons can we learn from Curry? When I say we, I really mean the coaching staff and front office. I think that we are going to see a focus on guys who are able to play the game like it should be played: without thinking about it; guys who are going to be able to create "peak performances" and "play in the zone;" guys like Earl Thomas who have a nose for the ball; guys like Chris Clemons who go after a quarterback like I go after pizza. Whoever our quarterback of the future is, I sure hope that he plays in the zone and doesn't worry about throwing interceptions like our boys Charlie and Tavaris seem to...
On to the second experience during Carroll's time in New England: a pivotal game against division rival Miami in which Drew Bledsoe was injured.
Drew unexpectedly came out of the huddle and called a time-out. I had no idea what was going on until he came to the sideline and told me he couldn't feel one of his fingers. He wasn't sure he could even hold onto the ball. The trainer took a look and thought Drew had broken his index finger...
After a few moments, I decided I would rather play Drew with an injured finger than with our backup. So I sent Drew in, broken finger and all. With him in the game, I reasoned, we still have a chance. After powering through a few plays with time running out, it came down to a critical fourth-down situation, and Drew completed a beautiful pass to Shawn Jefferson on the sideline... I was thrilled but then Drew called another unexpected time-out and jogged over to the sideline.
"Coach," he said, clearly upset. "This is crazy. I can't even control the ball!
"What are you talking about?" I responded, thinking that he had just thrown a perfect pass and that this was not the time for a lack of confidence. "You just made a great throw." Drew game me a look.
"Coach," he said, "I was trying to throw the ball to Ben!"
What I hadn't realized was that the pass that had hit Shawn Jefferson so perfectly on the sideline had actually been intended for the tight end - who had been in the center of the field! But I really still felt that Drew was the best chance we had...
This honestly scares the beJesus out of me. What coach in his right mind is going to keep his quarterback in the game who can't throw the ball to the person he wants to throw the ball to? Carroll lucked out, I would say, in that Bledsoe went on to throw a game winning touchdown. I'd much rather send in the backup quarterback, pretty much no matter who he is.
This plays at the heart of what it means to be a coach: either your gamble pays off and you are celebrated as a visionary and having big balls or you are fired for continually doing really stupid things like calling fades to the shortest wide receiver on the field and calling sneaks that get your quarterback's wrist broken or runs that get your quarterback's pec strained.
Pete isn't afraid to make the calls he wants to the make. Going for the sixty-one yard field goal against Atlanta proved that to us. There have been times since the start of his tenure here that Pete has made some questionable moves in terms of playcalling. I wouldn't say that anything has come even remotely close to what he did in keeping Drew Bledsoe in that game against Miami. People have said that our coach needs to realize that he isn't coaching at USC anymore and his talent isn't better than the other team's each time he steps on the each.
Last year, it was the opposite; the talent of the Seahawks team last year was by and large significantly less than that of the other team. I tend to lean the opposite direction. I appreciate Carroll's attempts to do the things that other coaches wouldn't. That's what makes him our coach. That's how he got to be to where he is today and I don't want him to change that.
So what's the likelihood that I'm going to experience some deja vu in terms of this crazy injury situation? As we are all aware, Tavaris Jackson strained his pectoral muscle in the game against the New York Giants this last Sunday. Is there any chance that Pete pulls a "Pete" and decides that Tavaris is going play? Not likely. I like to think that times have changed since the late 90's (other than the fact people aren't freaking out about the world ending in the next couple of years... oh wait.) and that due to health concerns Tavaris will be held out of the game even if he is close to healthy. Why? Charlie has proven himself to be a backup who can come in when the starter can't and we won't experience a drop-off in level of play that we might expect to see from the Colts when Manning is injured.
Honestly, this is about as good of a situation that could have happened for us (other than Tavaris just lighting it up.) Charlie has the chance to lead the squad against an opponent that gives us about as much opportunity to win this whole year. He will most likely have all of the starters back to full health and he will have had two weeks worth of practices with the starting squad. We really get a chance to see what Charlie can do with solid preparation and a healthy team around him under the Bevell offense.
This is for real, boys and girls. We get to have our questions answered. I guess the real question is, what do we want the answer to be?