Hearing the news this morning that the Carolina Panthers fired general manager Marty Hurney, I couldn't help but think of two things:
A) Something along the lines of either, "Marty Hurney? I hardly know her knee." or "I wonder if this means Marty can't make the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance and then who will invent rock and roll?"
B) We have it pretty good so far here in Seattle.
Now, not everybody has been supportive of this front office, led by Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider, but I have. I nickname those guys "Cool Daddy" Carroll and "Hot Stuff" Schneider because I'm weird and this is 1971. Also because I think these guys have done a phenomenal job with the team. However, people disagree with the notion that they have necessarily done a phenomenal job with the team, and that's because technically they've only done a great job with half of the team. (Or like, 41% depending on how much of a slice special teams gets. Probably a corner piece of a square pizza.)
It's important to remember where this team came from when Pete and John arrived, and yes that means shoving your face into the Jim Mora year. The 2010 team was not really any better than the 2009 team, but 2010 also included the systematic destruction of the roster. The old players and the players that didn't fit with the schemes that Pete wanted to run were moved out, and there were a lot of old players that also didn't fit.
On the bright side, Pete didn't start out with a 4-12 season. If he had, many fans would have loudly (and incorrectly) declared that he was even worse than Mora. That would have sucked and then sports radio callers would be even worse than they already are.
On the down side, a team that was probably a "true talent 4-12 team" went 7-9 because NFC West. (On the bright side, that f***ing run against the Saints.) Had the Seahawks actually gone 4-12, and they probably had every right to, they could have been drafting anywhere from second to fifth overall. That would have given them the right to potentially draft names like Von Miller, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt, and yes... Jake Locker. (I don't know, it could have happened. Positive or negative as that would have been.)
Pete and John came into a bad team, knocked it down, and then were forced to continue the rebuild despite the fact that they had been knocked significantly back in every round of the draft when they probably would have needed the same benefit in the 2011 draft as every other really crappy team. Thankfully, the organization has arguably been the best day two and three drafters in the NFL.
Those late round picks, specifically Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright and Kam Chancellor, plus the savvy (read: sexy) additions of players like Chris Clemons and Brandon Browner, have helped bumped this defense up from the bottom of the pack in 2010 to the top of the mountain in a remarkably short amount of time. That's why many of us are still "all in" on this regime, because they've given us diamonds on a blogger's salary. It's easier to find talent in the first than it is the fifth, but we are a "not-shitty team" even though many early picks by the front office have been underwhelming or non-existent.
Ah yes, we must get to the underwhelming part. We have to objectively look at the failures of Pete & John just as much as the successes, and yes there are parts of this puzzle we are still waiting for. A lot has been made about the reconstruction of this defense, and rightfully so because the D makes me judge complete strangers for not being as "super-cool-number-one" as the Seahawks defense, but it's not like there has been zero effort on the offensive side of the ball. ("No. You just-a scum a-compared to Seahawks defense.")
There has been a lot of effort on that side, it just doesn't show.
Overall, the drafts have leaned heavily towards the defensive side of the ball and that's a major reason as to why this is a great defense. However, it overshadows the fact that the Seahawks have leaned heavily towards rebuilding their "point-scoring unit" in the early parts of the draft and yet they are 31st in "points scoring." The M's and Seahawks... what is it about Seattle that makes ownerships think we don't give a shit about offense?
I LIKE POINTS, TOO!
We have focused on both sides of the ball, but it's only working on one. Look at how many shots Seattle has taken at rebuilding the offense:
I want to emphasize how much I love the low-risk acquisitions of these players in an attempt to find a solid quarterback when none were obviously available to the team in the last three off-seasons. Jackson was a temporary solution to an immediate problem, so he hardly counts. However, this is still four players brought in over the last three years and as much as I love Wilson and am intrigued by Flynn, we can't emphatically say that they've fixed the issue.
The absolute offensive hit of the organization is the running back position. Lynch is what I personally like to call a "beast." Washington has literally won this team games on his own with special teams. Robinson is a locker room leader, experienced veteran, and excellent example for the youngsters. Turbin looks cool.
And they all came on the cheap. Not a damn thing wrong with this group.
It's not like you can put all the blame on the quarterbacks for the low levels of production in the passing game. Tate has not developed like we hoped. Durham didn't develop at all. Williams was good one year, out of the league now. Baldwin was the steal of 2011 and that was last year. Edwards ______________. Rice is an excellent athletic wide receiver that could not stay healthy last year and is perhaps in a bad situation this year.
When rumors about Dwayne Bowe come up, this is why. Rice, Tate, and Baldwin are an interesting 1-2-3, but that's all they are. "Interesting." I've yet to see all three on the field at the same time consistently being productive as a unit.
It is one thing to have an underwhelming offensive line, but it's another to have an underwhelming offensive line that cost you two first round picks and a third in a two-year span. The line is okay but you might even make the argument that the best player of that unit is Max Unger, a holdover from the previous regime.
If you draft a player that ends up being a guard with your first pick and then a player that was already a guard with your second, the expectation is "Pro Bowl-level" play from that position. We could get there eventually, but expectations for this unit are higher than this with the amount of draft capital invested. Even if Sweezy and Giacomini became great players at an extremely low cost, you should hit on your top picks.
Blockers, receivers, whatever you want to call them it seems like this was a unit that the team was desperately looking to upgrade because they saw it as important. How possible is it though that the team will be starting from scratch at the position after this season?
Outside of the running back position, you couldn't yet give a positive grade to anything that Pete & John have done on offense in their three offseasons. Nobody ever said it would be easy to take a team from the lower third of the NFL in scoring to a decent unit in a matter of a couple years, but I have to admit it's discouraging to see that it's gotten progressively worse to this point. Let's also not forget the matter that defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was a holdover from Mora, while offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is already the second OC under Pete.
I'm not saying that Bradley is great and Bevell is bad, because I think there are more gears than that which control the successes and failures, only that Seattle has taken multiple shots at offensive coaches while they've held steady on defense for the most part. They've taken their shots and it hasn't improved.
Now, you could expect that when starting a rookie at quarterback the reigns of the offense would be held in a little. Seattle likes the idea of winning games with their defense and a steady dose of running it up your butts. They are 32nd in the NFL in pass attempts and fifth in rush attempts. On a yards per play basis, they are below-average but they're not the worst. It's more efficient than most offenses that score 16.6 points per game.
But that doesn't change the final conclusion, which is: 16.6 points per game. Wins are the most important thing when it comes to people evaluating the successes and failures of a head coach or GM, but they won't ignore the body of work. With the good comes the bad, and you better be improving. Just ask Marty Hurney.
Bad offenses and what I think brought down the Panthers GM:
I admit that I didn't know much about Hurney, but when he was fired I sort of assumed that he hadn't been around that long, that maybe he had come in with Ron Rivera. In fact, Hurney came in with John Fox
some 35 years ago. /checks facts... Back in 2002. Over the first eight years of the Fox/Hurney era, the Panthers went to the playoffs three times and never did worse than 7-9.
Carolina made the NFC Championship twice and the Super Bowl once. (Seneca'd) In fact, the start of the era of Fox and Hurney puts shame to the start of Pete & John, or most any other duo, after they lost the Super Bowl in their second year to an Adam Vinatieri field goal. I mean, think about that for a second.
The Panthers went from 1-15 in 2001 to the Super Bowl in 2003. They drafted Julius Peppers, Will Witherspoon, Ricky Manning, DeShaun Foster and Jordan Gross in their first two drafts. They found Jake Delhomme in a Wendy's bathroom and turned Steve Smith from a Pro Bowl kick returner into a Hall of Fame receiver. With the help of Peppers and Witherspoon, the defense went from 31st to 2nd in one year. Carolina maintained a solid defense for most of their run as a threat in the NFC but their offenses were anywhere from average to bad.
When Peppers went to the Bears in 2010, the defense started its downward spiral immediately and they fell to 2-14. Remember things like that. Remember how good players make GMs and coaches look:
- A good GM can find a diamond in the rough but at the end of the day he's still a diamond.
- A good coach can put a player in the right spots and improve his level of play to a point but he can't make you run faster or bench more, those talents are either natural or improved by the players level of how hard they're willing to work.
Carroll can be a great motivator, but he couldn't help Mike Williams do things he didn't want to do. He couldn't make Terrell Owens younger. He couldn't give Lofa Tatupu new knees. He couldn't give me his personal phone number. So always remember that the success of the coaches and front office depends heavily on the success of the players and when those players are gone, it's up to the GM and coach to find replacements. And at some point all players will be gone.
The Panthers parted ways with Fox after their 2-14 season and hired Ron Rivera. The benefit of going 2-14 was that they got Cam Newton. Again, it's all about getting talent and what GM would not have drafted Newton for the Panthers? Immediately their offense shot towards the top and it seemed all would be right for Hurney again. Except that Carolina has struggled to score touchdowns this season and have been sloppy with the ball, so the Panthers have dropped to 1-5. The funny thing is that the Panthers aren't that far from being 5-1, they've had a lot of close games.
Of course, Hurney wasn't just fired because of their record this season (although if they were 5-1, he's probably still a GM) but it's the track record that's more important. In recent seasons, the overall drafting and draft strategy seems terrible. It's actually kind of interesting to see how moves to try and improve in the immediate could have disastrous consequences in the future:
The Panthers drafts
In 2008, the Panthers really wanted tackle Jeff Otah so they traded a 2008 2nd, 2008 4th, and 2009 1st in order to move up to #19 to select him. They used their own pick, 13th overall, to take running back Jonathan Stewart even though they already had DeAngelo Williams who they had drafted just two years earlier. Carolina had extra picks in the 3rd and 7th rounds but Stewart and 3rd round pick Charles Godfrey became the only regulars. Otah's career has so far been marred by injuries and he was released this year.
So does Marty stop there? No and he won't be able to go back in time to fix it.
The Panthers then go into 2009 without a 1st round pick so they trade their 2010 1st round pick to the 49ers to receive a 2009 2nd and 4th to fill out their needs. Carolina uses the 2nd on DE Everette Brown and their 4th on RB Mike Goodson. Yeah, because you didn't have enough running backs. Brown plays two years in Carolina and one in San Diego. Goodson played three for Carolina and is now a Raider.
Had the Panthers held onto their 2009 pick, they would have had their choice of receivers Hakeem Nicks or Kenny Britt, if they had so chosen to go that route. Considering their drafts, I feel like they might have. The Panthers do get DBs Captain Munnerlyn and Sherrod Martin in this draft. However, they are without a 1st in 2010 and so they miss out on receivers such as Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant. Why would they have drafted a receiver?
Well, I'm just making an assumption since they drafted five of them from 2010-2012: Brandon LaFell, Armanti Edwards, David Gettis, Kealoha Pilares and Joe Adams. In an attempt to find something outside of Smith, the Panthers instead were left with LaFell, who is "just okay."
Instead their first pick in 2010 was 2nd rounder Jimmy Clausen and the best thing he's done for the organization is drive them to Cam Newton.
Carolina has definitely drafted some good players over the last few years, but the overall effort to improve the offense in the immediate at the cost of future draft stock ended up costing them more than it was worth. They were solid on defense, mediocre on offense, and the immediate rewards of a solid beginning to the Fox/Hurney era deconstructed into a team that's won nine games in the last two and a half seasons.
What does this all mean for Pete & John?
A few things and really these principles can be applied to any regime:
- Respect the positive and recognize the negative. The positives almost exclusively lie on the defensive side of the ball but shots at the offense have been less than successful.
- Don't become obsessive, recognize value in the draft. The Panthers pushed hard at the running back position with Stewart, Williams, Goodson, Foster, and the odd signing of Mike Tolbert. Obviously, Carolina has maintained a good running game because these are some talented players, but did it cost them? Many would argue that an elite running back can be found later in a draft at a higher rate than other positions. It brings up an interesting point about how much it's worth it to spend 1st, 2nd, or 3rd round picks on right tackles and guards.
Additionally, they never drafted an elite receiver, instead taking multiple shots at average receiving prospects. They're still looking for another playmaker and they'll be looking again when Smith retires.
- Be self-aware. The Panthers traded future picks away to get better in the immediate and when that doesn't work out, you aren't left with insurance to fall back on. Were the Panthers so good that they could trade out of the 1st round twice in two years? I'd argue that no team is too good to do that for too long. (I guess the Redskins will find out.) Is Seattle going to be "that one player away" from a division title next year? Doubtful and even if you're sure that he is, an injury can take you down at any time.
- In the end, talent wins out. A player is always going to be the determining factor of how successful a coach is. Oh, of course the coach has major influence, but whether it's in the body or the mind you have to find a player that's going to fit. The Seahawks seem to have done a phenomenal job with most of that, but we can't credit the defense and ignore the offense. Seattle may have found the right players on offense and it still isn't moving the ball.
- Patience. We waited patiently and the staff has delivered in many defensive areas and so when Schneider says he didn't like the receivers in the draft, I have to believe he meant it. That also means that they can't draft one next year unless they either A) change their minds or B) do find one (or two) that they like. Additionally, I would not put it past the Seahawks to be waiting for a free agent or trade market receiver because those players seem to come up on the market more often than other positions and there are a few out there right now.
I would not be surprised to see Dwayne Bowe moved here. I'd be a little surprised if it was Mike Wallace.
Either way, I don't expect the decision to be rushed. And finally...
- You're only as good as your last season. I think that Carroll is in a good position because he has very few players that are nearing the twilight of their careers and none of them are critical to the on-field success as I see it. He's got time because his players have time and the same should be said for Schneider. Barring an unforeseen disaster, the defense should keep this team competitive for awhile, but will they be more than just competitive?
A hot start doesn't signify "a win" and I do consider Pete & John to be on a very hot start in Seattle. Especially when you consider the context. I am on board as anyone, but I also recognize that you don't consider yourself done building a ship in a bottle the moment that you buy the bottle and the tiny ship parts. You don't ask your team's management for "competitive," you ask them for greatness. Just because we are Seattle fans that have had very little in our sports history, we are allowed to ask for greatness.
Me, personally? I believe in the plan. I believe in Pete & John. I believe in Russell Wilson as the long-term answer to our scoring problems. I believe in patience and I see that we were terrible when it started and not terrible now. I believe I can fly. I believe I'm on mushrooms.
But my belief doesn't mean anything. Stick my beliefs in a cardboard box and mark it "wishes 4 santa" because that's about as much as they're worth. John "Michael J." Fox and Marty "McFly" Hurney got off to a better start in their Carolina careers than Pete & John have and where are they now? (Denver and probably a giant house in a Carolina suburb.)
I believe in you Pete & John... but make me see it. I'd love for you two to stick around for a long time.