When Pete Carroll was hired last year, in pure Sinatra style, he promised that he'd do it 'his way'. Carroll said at the time:
"I vowed, 'If this is the last coaching job I ever have I'm going down with the stuff that I want to be my offense."
He brought with him a stable of well-respected coaches for the offensive side of the ball - Jeremy Bates had been with him at USC and was regarded as an offensive genius and would revitalize the Hawks' passing game, and Alex Gibbs was supposed to shore up the offensive line and improve the run game. Obviously, Gibbs retired just before the season and left a coaching vacuum in his place - Art Valero tried to fill in but at that point it was too late. The Hawks experienced injuries along the line that exacerbated the problem and the run game never caught on. The pass offense as a whole never really showed up and had no real identity. Things didn't work well enough in his first year so he fired his Offensive Coordinator because of philosophical differences and has hired a new offensive line coach, Tom Cable, that was originally tutored by Gibbs, and a new offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, that he is more aligned with regarding his vision of the offense to start his second year.
So what is Pete Carroll's vision? I have seen multiple articles on the Hawks explaining that Bates was fired because he favored the explosive big plays over the high-percentage short passing plays that Carroll desired. I personally don't agree with that - Pete Carroll was given the nickname "Big Balls Pete" by the students at USC for a reason - he likes the explosive game-changing plays and going for it on 4th down.
"Let's just punt it. Oh wait, just kidding, let's run a fade, I've got BIG BALLS!"
On another note I have also seen multiple articles explaining Pete desired more running and fired Bates because he was not stubborn enough to run the ball consistently. I've seen articles that that point to Bates' attitude being the reason that he was let go; he never bought into the program or wasn't optimistic enough or whatever. I don't know, and my point is this: - I don't think anyone outside the Seahawks' front office really knows why Bates was let go - but he was, and now Darrell Bevell is in town.
So what offense do they plan on running? Pretty much everything I read in the media these days have the Seahawks implementing a West Coast Offense now that Bevell is here.
The problem with debating whether or not the Hawks will employ a 'West Coast Offense' per se, lies in the fact that if you ask five coaches to define a WCO, they will probably all give you different answers. Every article that I see says something to the effect of "so-and-so should be signed/drafted because he fits the system now the Hawks will be running a West Coast Offense" or "Now that the Hawks will be running Bevell's West Coast Offense, this-or-that must happen." When I see this, I just get annoyed. Exactly what system are you referring to? Frankly, the term "West Coast Offense" means about a hundred different things so you're basing your argument on a bunch of vague principles and philosophies from a strategy created decades ago that has morphed and evolved so much that every team uses it in one form or another.
For instance, Mike Holmgren taught Andy Reid his version of the WCO when they were both at Green Bay and both have added their own little tweaks since that time, each philosophy evolving over the years into distinct versions. Both coaches run very different offenses with different types of QBs. When you're making the argument that the Hawks will be doing something called the West Coast Offense, you really need to break down what you mean by that - if you're talking about Bill Walsh's original vision of it or the Air Coryell WCO then that's fine. If you're talking about Holmgren's style - which many people think the Hawks are going to start implementing, you could describe it as one predicated on ball-control; a high percentage passing game that sets up the running game. Holmgren has said: "Often times a short pass will be substituted for another running play. It's easier. If you gain 6 yards on a run, what's Barry Sanders average per run? No one averages 6 yards a carry."
So does this mean the Hawks in 2011 will be a recreation of "Mike Holmgren's West Coast Offense?" Short answer? No. Here's why:
To start - even Holmgren would tell you not to call it The West Coast Offense and there's a reason why - the West Coast Offense of today is not a real thing. Many different coaches use WCO principles - whether it is the WCO verbage, route types, QB types, certain WCO philosophies - or whatever. Holmgren used short passing and tempo when with the Hawks and that was the West Coast Offense. Andy Reid runs the West Coast Offense in Philly and they had more passes of 40+ yards completed than any team in the league. Teams that run the West Coast Offense change their identity and gameplan from year to year based on their personnel as well. Holmgren's offense looked different each year based on his team's individual player strengths and so do other WCO coach's teams. That one guy that is going to be our Offensive Coordinator next year, Darrell Bevell, said this: "The great thing about the West Coast offense is that it is adaptable. I know in my time in Green Bay as a quarterback coach, one year we were tops in the league at rushing and the very next season we were tops in the league at throwing the ball." So what does that mean for the Hawks if he's running our offense? WHO KNOWS - that's what.
Some of you will probably just stop reading this post if I mention the name Brian Billick, but he summed it up better than anyone else I could find and I don't want you to just take my word for it. He said:
There’s no such thing as a West Coast offense anymore. It doesn’t exist. Everyone has taken different bits and pieces of it and its morphed into a number of different things. (One) may use some of the West Coast verbage but even the most ardent of West Coast guys who came directly from the Walsh lineage whether its be via Holmgren to Andy Reid to Jon Gruden, they’ve all evolved it and it’s morphed into different forms almost like the Dungy 2 or Tampa 2, everyone uses a form of it. To identify a team like that, it’s kind of a misnomer because everyone is doing it.
So when I hear the Hawks will be "running the West Coast Offense this year," I literally have no idea what that means. If you tell me Bevell is going to bring Holmgren's WCO style to the Hawks because he worked in Green Bay under Mike Sherman - a Holmgren protege, then I'd have to ask you why he wouldn't actually be bringing the Andy Reid version of the WCO instead - he has, after all been working for the past few years under Brad Childress - a Reid protege. The West Coast Offense family tree that Darrell Bevell is part of is so full of incest at this point it's impossible to tell who he'd even call his father-brother-uncle. Ok, I'm getting off-topic.
I think all this arguing and back and forth that I'm doing with myself about West Coast Offense is moot anyway - because in the end, Pete Carroll is going to do it his way and run the show, not Darrell Bevell.
Bevell was brought in to work with Tom Cable to run Carroll's offense, and will institute plays and gameplan based on whatever Carroll's vision entails. I think Carroll tried to implement that vision in 2010 with Bates but came up short in many areas and the result was an offense with little identity; only a shell of what he has in mind. Bevell will bring in bits and pieces of the so-called West Coast Offense- but a wholesale shift to this vague West Coast Offense is not in store for the Hawks. Most important in this discussion is to listen to what Pete Carroll has said about the offense going into 2011, with respect to the hiring of Tom Cable and Darrell Bevell:
Both guys come out of exactly the same foundation and terminology. There’s always something that you have to tweak. But the great majority of it these guys absolutely know, and they cross right over. Immediately each guy can talk to the offense, and they know exactly what they’re talking about. And it allows us not to have to change much. There’s a real continuity thought in mind there to help our players move ahead. To wholesale shift and change everything, particularly in this year, it could be harder. So we’re hoping that will really allow us to move quickly. But hopefully it will look better.
To get an idea of what Pete Carroll does envision this time around, it may help to take a look at the offense he so successfully employed at USC, because I believe that is similar to what he is trying to institute here with the Hawks (but ultimately failed at his first year). I consulted a GREAT article written by Chris Brown of Smart Football that deconstructed the "Carroll Offense." I'll quote from there in the explanation:
First of all, he ditched Norm Chow's 'BYU' running schemes in favor of the Zone Blocking Schemes made popular in the NFL. He consulted with Alex Gibbs (name sound familiar?), the architect of Denver's ZBS that had so much success in Shanahan's Super Bowl years (Gibbs was hired by Carroll again before last season, then abruptly retired, now enter Tom Cable). The Zone Blocking Scheme ditched the more conventional methods of counters, draws and traps in favor of a system that emphasizes utilizing double teams, getting better push downfield, and 'providing a nice mixture of power while giving the runner freedom to pick the the crease in the defense.'
He also got away from Chow's 'man-blocking' pass protection scheme in favor of a zone blocking method for pass-pro as well. Carroll's method emphasized gap control, ie, on blocking a gap in the line instead of a man. In terms of the passing game, Carroll began to replace the methodical mid-range five-step drop passes favored by Chow (and I'll quote again):
... for more quick three-step drops, more misdirection passes and some deeper, vertical stuff.
Regarding the three-step game, one innovation was the "spacing" concept, but another was the concept of "packaged routes," where the Trojans put different route combinations to each side of the field, and let the quarterback choose which one he wanted to go to. The most common one was a combination of slants: to one side, was a slant and a flat route, which is good against "single-high" coverages (like three-deep zone), and to the other was double-slants, which is good against two-high, or two-deep zone.
The other trends in the offense, evident under Chow but omnipresent once he left, were the rise of misdirection passes -- i.e. bootlegs, half-rollouts, and the like -- and an increased use of vertical pass patterns.
Another more packaged summation offered by Brown on the USC offense is this:
1. It is pro-style in the sense of formation and personnel: They use a tight-end, they keep the quarterback under center most of the time, and use a variety of formations.
2. The running game is based around zone blocking, which focuses on double-teams at the point of attack and gives the running back freedom to hit it playside or cutback; wherever the crease is. This kind of running works well from one-back sets and multiple formations, since it doesn't require (though it can use) a lead-blocker and the rules for the linemen stay the same regardless of whether there are two tight-ends or four receivers in the game.
3. The passing game is a steady dose of simple dropbacks and quick, three-step passes, but with plenty of play-action is thrown into the mix for the purpose of striking for big plays. Think Indianapolis Colts in terms of play-selection, though with more quick, three-step passes, like the "spacing" concept:
That lays out part of his passing philosophy. His run game is predicated on a big back used as a battering ram of sorts and a smaller, shifty back as a compliment.
A more succinct summation of the Pete Carroll Offense was aptly laid out by Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times:
1) Mix a combination of runners, one smashing and the other dashing.
2) Post up a big-bodied wide receiver.
3) Get a quarterback who operates more like the offense's point guard than its engine.
4) Move the ball liberally up and down the field.
Flash forward to present day and you can see several hints of Carroll's philosophy in the Seahawks' offense from 2010, but Jeremy Bates apparently didn't see eye to eye enough with Carroll to keep his job. Why did they fail? For one, they never established the run, something that Carroll and the Hawks will surely try to do in 2011.
Also, and this is my opinion, but based on Pete Carroll's history and philosophy at USC it may have teeth: they didn't throw the ball downfield often enough either. This could have been a symptom of several things: Hasselbeck doesn't possess the skillset to do so and/or turns it over too much when he does try it; or Bates did not call enough vertical passing plays as Carroll may have liked and also may have led to his firing.
Last year's offensive failings are where Tom Cable and Darrell Bevell come in. Cable has a history of transforming poorly performing lines into top-level rushing attack units - look at what he did in Oakland as an example: he took a offensive line unit that was near the league's worst and in one year had transformed it into one of the league's better squads; only three years later in 2010 they finished 2nd in rushing. He knows how to coach a line and he's tough as nails. He's Alex Gibb's protege and now that Gibbs is gone, there's probably no one better to bring in to coach the system Carroll wanted Gibbs to implement. Simply stated, it's cause to give me hope.
Bevell's philosophy is in line with Carroll's as well: use a smash-mouth rushing attack consistently, get your opponents to stack the box to defend the run, and then open up the field and take shots deep on play action. In other words, build the passing game off of the run game. Bevell's offensive strategy worked decently well in Minnesota, for the most part, and hopefully that success will transfer to Seattle.
When Bevell was brought in, Carroll had this to say about him:
He called it a really good balanced offense that I like, the way they’ve done it. A lot of experience with overseeing the quarterback position with great players. The scheme that he has been in is one that connects perfectly with Tom. They have the same background, schematically and all that, so they’ll have harmony from the beginning, communications and terminology and all that kind of stuff. He’s aggressive, his mentality about how he likes to go after it and call plays. I think he’s a great fit for us.
You can take that quote and construe it anyway you want, but I don't see Pete Carroll alluding abandoning explosive plays in favor of the short, high-percentage passing game when he says the words "aggressive" and "he likes to go after it and call plays." Now, that's just how Carroll talks, but when he's saying that Bevell and Cable are on the same page schematically you have realize that Cable earned his chops as the Offensive Line Coach under Lane Kiffin in 2007 and part of 2008- yes, the same Lane Kiffin that helped Pete Carroll install the offense I described above at USC as Carroll's Offensive Coordinator, so it can be surmised that he picked up some of Kiffin's tendencies and strategies in addition to the terminology. Cable has come full circle and is now coaching the offensive line for Bevell in what will, in my opinion, be an offense very similar to the one Kiffin tried to implement with Cable in Oakland and had previously installed with Carroll at USC.
Anyway, in Pete Carroll and John Schneider's roster shuffling the past year, they've begun to put some of the pieces in place. They've got their fire and ice rushing combo in Lynch and Forsett/Washington. They have their big-bodied receiver to post up in the end zone in Mike Williams. They don't, however, have a real QB in place to operate the offense, and no real plan has been revealed as yet.
Rob Staton over at Seahawks Draft Blog, for one, has also been skeptical from the very beginning about the notion of bringing in a "West Coast Offense QB" as so many people have speculated they'll do. He brought very compelling evidence against it in a mock draft discussion thread when addressing the idea of the Seahawks drafting Ryan Mallett, a very immobile quarterback. I'll quote:
It’s assumed Darrell Bevell will bring a more ‘west coast’ or Holmgren flavor to the offense, but I don’t agree with that. He’s worked much longer with Brad Childress and Andy Reid who both utilised down field threats, big armed quarterbacks and mobility. Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick aren’t Holmgren style QB’s yet that’s a system Bevell has been associated with. Minnesota drafted Tarvaris Jackson and Joe Webb and used a system more equated to Philly than Holmy. But perhaps most crucially, they adapted when an ageing and much less mobile Brett Favre joined the team in 2009. You can make the point that ‘it’s Favre’, but they still adapted. There’s no reason why Seattle’s offense – which I still think will fit the desires of Pete Carroll rather than Bevell - cannot similarly adapt.
Does this mean that the Hawks prefer a mobile QB like Kolb or Vick over a pocket QB like Hasselbeck or Mallett? Were they just adapting to what they had available in Hasselbeck this past season? Will they adapt if they think that Mallett is the best pro prospect QB in this year's draft? Perhaps. Staton also points out that in the past year or so the Seahawks have traded for Charlie Whitehurst, brought in JP Losman, and signed Nate Davis to a futures contract: all mobile and athletic quarterbacks. That's not to say that they could not execute their offense with an immobile one like Mallett (or Matt Hasselbeck), but it seems as though what they are looking for may be a QB with a strong arm and good running ability.
Now on the other hand, Whitehurst, to many people, doesn't appear to be the future, JP Losman is a free agent that hasn't been re-signed, Nate Davis was released, and the front office had publicly stated that they want to re-sign Hass, a slow, immobile 'WCO' QB, so the idea that they need or want a mobile quarterback to run their system could just be grasping at straws. We simply do not know yet at this point what direction they will go in at QB.
Maybe they'll trade for Kevin Kolb or Carson Palmer. Some think they will re-sign Hasselbeck and draft a young QB like Ponder, Dalton or Locker. Some think that Mallett may be the future at QB. Will it be a mobile QB with a big arm or a poised pocket passer with sub-par mobility?
It seems to me that Carroll employed both types while at USC. Matt Leinert was not especially mobile (5.1 40yrd run at combine) but had great success in the system. So did John David Booty (4.97 40) and Mark Sanchez (4.9, 5.0 40). Palmer was quite mobile (4.65) and had so much success in that system he was the overall #1 pick (also why I'm not against trading for him). To me this says that it's hard to judge what type of QB Carroll needs based on their speed or arm strength, because he's had great results with all different types of athlete. In any case, the QB that they bring in will be very important because of the fact that it's the most important position in football - not because he's a certain type of QB that can run "the West Coast Offense" or whatever everyone has been talking about. He just has to be good - plain and simple - able to run the system, excel in play action and on bootlegs, protect the ball, and make the passes Pete needs him to make.