A disclaimer before I get started: This article is wrought with opinion and few actual facts, and it's about everyone's favorite subject - the quarterback 'controversy'. I realize many will disagree and I'm aware that much has been said on this subject already, but after Thursday's loss to San Francisco, I found myself inspired to write on it. This piece is meant to lay out a few scenarios, my impressions on what has happened, and let you discuss and come to your own conclusion.
My perspective with the Matt Flynn vs Russell Wilson competition, prior to the season, was that the Seahawks should start Flynn this year and make it a competition next year. I expressed worry about the scrambling nature of Russell Wilson's game and its effect on the offense's growth this year, as the team discovered a passing identity. Halfway through this season though, I don't care if we ever see Matt Flynn as a starter, except in the case of an injury.
Reading through the Flynn vs Wilson arguments after the Seahawks' loss Thursday led me to ask the obvious question: Why are there people so intent on seeing Flynn starting? Is this a case of 'everyone's favorite player is the backup quarterback' or would Flynn bring a legitimate and consistent upgrade to the position? The crazy thing about it is that no one knows.
It's an interesting philosophical discussion - and the most common perspective I've seen is that Russell Wilson still has a ton of potential but it's be best to "sit him down and let Flynn take over for now; he's not ready," or other iterations of the same sentiment. When a starting quarterback has struggles, the natural tendency is to call for the backup, but why are the Seahawks seemingly in no hurry to make a change?
For me, it's not what the Seahawks front office has said regarding the so-called controversy, it's what they haven't said.
Let's go back a bit to talk about why the decision was made and why the Seahawks seem to be standing by that choice through the ups and downs of Russell's inconsistent play. I could not put my finger on why I started to dislike Matt Flynn as the presumptive starter, but it started after the Seahawks' preseason game against Denver. Did T.O. end his chances? Nope.
I've seen a lot of backups try to make the jump to starters over the years, and we here in Seattle even got to see a guy like that in Charlie Whitehurst make the attempt. Career back-ups rarely translate on new teams and sometimes it's because the spotlight is too harsh, and the true demands of the position drown out the play that made them good as a backup QB.
During the summer and into the preseason, I was waiting for the stories. The background stuff that would tell me Flynn would seize this role. Remember the lockout? Remember how Matt Hasselbeck - without a contract - organized team activities and got guys ready to go? Remember how Bevell slipped Hass a playbook? Remember, conversely, how Whitehurst failed to take advantage of his opportunity to earn the job and instead stayed down in Georgia all summer?
The team moved on from Hasselbeck and ultimately brought in Tarvaris Jackson, immediately naming him starter, and though this happened late in the offseason, due to the lockout, Whitehurst's preparation irked Pete Carroll, something he told Eric Williams as the team was about to start their first game with T-Jack.
I find myself wondering if something sort of similar happened this summer with Flynn. As a veteran backup QB with a resume, it almost seems like he missed his chance early at seizing the starter's job - even before training camp started. We've heard the stories about Russell Wilson sticking around in Seattle all summer, and the stories about him getting in and watching film when no one else was there, and "outworking everyone in the program," as Carroll put it, but nothing like that about Flynn.
John Clayton called this "Matt Flynn's job to lose" at around that time, and maybe I'm blowing something trivial out of proportion, but where are the stories about Flynn? I remember hearing an interview with Flynn in which he talked about going back down south after OTAs to work out and 'go to the beach'. I listened to another interview in which he took time out from fishing to talk to local media. Some people might believe these kind of things - just impressions, really - are ultimately meaningless and the only thing that matters is how he plays on the field, and that's fine and maybe it's true, but I don't think this front office sees it that way.
Back in July, Pete Carroll told a group of quarterbacks at the Elite-11 finals, when describing what he looks for in a quarterback, said the Russell Wilson was "outworking everyone in the program right now. He's been here all summer long, every day. He spends hours every day in the facility, there's no one else there but him, working on his film, working on his notebook. Getting ready, so that when he gets his chance..." So, when he gets his chance, he'll seize it.
The way I see it, it's not what this front office has said about Flynn. "He competes like heck." It's what they're not saying.
You're not hearing all the orbiting stuff you would about a presumed starter. No great talks on the sideline, no throwing on the side with Doug Baldwin the way people talked about with Wilson. The leadership is important and the behind the scenes work is key to playing quarterback, particularly in the eyes of this front office and in their program.
In the end, it's my opinion that Flynn played well enough to be given the job, but because the two quarterbacks were close in their training camp and preseason performance, Russell's starter's leadership and work ethic made it hard for them to call it any other way. Pete Carroll and John Schneider are known as 'workers' and I get the feeling they saw Russell as an extension and advocate of their program in that regard to their players as their team's quarterback and leader - and, the quarterback, for almost every NFL team, is the most important player in the building. Maybe that work ethic doesn't make Russell Wilson a better player - maybe Matt Flynn can accomplish more in less time, we don't know - but I have to think this coaching staff and front office loves the example and bar Wilson's setting for the team.
For context, Schneider explained, over the summer, how his scouting staff had managed to hit on players in the late rounds, and he told Doug Farrar - "I think the passion part of it is huge with our group, and with Pete's staff. We talk about - we have three things to talk about all the time - plan, communicate, and work. Plan, communicate, and work. Plan, communicate, and work. Plan, communicate, and work.
"You have to have a vision, you have to communicate that vision, then you have to work your tail off. I gave a talk to the group [scouts and coaches] the other night downtown, and it was a father-son banquet, and I told them that the greatest gift that my dad ever gave me was work ethic. At the time, when I was a kid, working at a steel mill and cleaning steel and stuff like that during high school, I wasn't real excited about it. But now, I look back on it, and I feel like we can incorporate that philosophy into what we're doing.
"We're going to work, work, work, work, work, and in that - you know, watching film is kind of like reading books, ok? The more you see, the more you read, the more knowledge you have. We just say, 'we never have all the answers.'"
Had I been in their shoes, I can't say I would have called it any other way either - and I'll remind you that I originally wanted Wilson to sit for a year, at least. You have two preseason games of on-the-field play that represent Russell Wilson's football skill, and then you have all the behind the scenes stuff - for us, it's the things that the media became privy to - pointing to Russell Wilson earning this job. One of the slogans Pete constantly espouses is 'Earn Everything,' and I just don't think, as an observer looking for keys in this competition, that Matt Flynn earned the starting job. Obviously, I'm not there at VMAC daily, but that's my impression.
I'm reminded of when Aaron Curry was about to be traded and Pete sent out that cryptic tweet to Curry and referenced "All Along the Watchtower," letting Aaron know, 'hey, you're being watched in everything you do,' and, eventually he was traded away. The word 'compete' is omnipresent in Pete Carroll's lexicon - seriously, barely a sentence escapes his mouth without that word coming out - he's looking to create a 'competitive cauldron' on his team where players constantly push each other to get better. Work ethic is a big deal. Attitude is a big deal. Body language, verbal language, and enthusiasm is a big deal.
Also important in all this is the idea that Carroll and his coaches watch their players carefully in practice, in meetings, in social settings - this idea of 'learning your learners,' as they call is, is one of the basic tenets of "Win Forever," if you've read up on the actual program. They watch everything. The little things matter. They watch, particularly when you think they're not.
I doubt that this only applies to your troubled starters and I doubt even more that they only look at on the field play when making assessments. Part of me really feels as though, just in my humble opinion, when it came to this competition, Flynn looked as though he was coasting on existing talent, looking physically like a guy that could play, but even in interviews he wasn't fighting for this job with all his might. One of his quotes was "At least here I know I get to compete for the starting job." What the hell does that even mean? It actually frustrated me when I heard it.
We had just seen a player in Charlie Whitehurst depart the city, a guy whose talents were lacking but who also had a relaxed attitude and demeanor, and when given a shot to grab the reins during the lockout and in relief appearances for Matt Hasselbeck or Tarvaris Jackson, and show everyone that this was his team, he never lived up to the bill. A drive here and there and a disaster against the Browns ended his tenure with this team and he went right back to San Diego. I won't just leave you with that; of course this is just my opinion on the matter, and naturally I know there are opposing viewpoints out there. Believe me, I know.
Because precedent is my thing, I want to walk you through a murky history of backups-turned-starter that didn't work out. There have been successful instances - and I'll bring up one in particular later, but these are what came to mind for me.
Scott Mitchell - Dan Marino's backup in Miami - got a big payday from the rudderless Lions and had an okay campaign in his first year. But, as pressure and the spotlight mounted, his own team called a meeting with the coach and told him they would only play for Mitchell's backup, Eric Kramer.
Billy Volek - famously, had a huge set of games backing up a banged-up Steve McNair. He performed so well that the team released Steve at the end of the season and named Volek the starter for the next season. This left Titan fans excited, as they felt Volek had shown pretty good promise as a backup. However, following an iffy performance in the Titans' Week 3 Preseason game, Jeff Fisher announced that the Titans would sign Kerry Collins, Volek demanded and trade, and was sent to the Chargers.
It was later discovered that Fisher became extremely concerned when Volek seemed to not understand some of the defenses and could not make certain necessary checks and had a lack of ability to audible. Fisher was reportedly upset because Volek didn't show up to meetings on time and a question of his study habits arose.
AJ Feeley - he didn't sign a big contract, but tested the waters and got picked up by Miami to compete with Jay Feidler. He was never tremendous as a starter, but he was certainly a capable QB. However, you take him out of an element he knows, without the protection of Andy Reid as a playcaller, and all the sudden, this decent QB with tools becomes a dumpster fire. He lasted one year in Miami and flew back home to Andy Reid and the Eagles.
I know I know, you guys are saying right about now. "Seattle's one success in the modern era was a backup QB." Point taken, but you also have to look at the alignment of the stars on that. You had Mike Holmgren in Seattle, with a fairly similar system with the Seahawks as Matt Hasselbeck had in Green Bay. You also had a quality veteran in Trent Dilfer, who Matt has said taught him a lot when Hasselbeck was not quite clicking with Holmgren's schemes. Matt took a while to adapt to the system here and there's a strong likelihood Flynn would see the same learning curve.
Flynn has a system here with some similar verbiage and concepts, but to say it's the same is a pretty decent stretch, and he has no veteran to lean on to kind of walk him through what the coach wants when he doesn't quite have it down.
I understand fans don't like losing and it's easy to blame a rookie, especially one with the scapegoat issue of a deficiency in height, but Russell Wilson, in my mind, continues to show improvement and growth, and shows a higher ceiling than what we could hope for in Flynn. Let's say, however, that Pete Carroll does pull this trigger the way some fans want, and starts Flynn. I've also talked about the risks of pulling the existing starter midseason here in the past, and it becomes particularly risky when players have voiced confidence in that starter over the last 7 weeks.
There is a fallout risk and you could create unnecessary consequences in order to see what the other guy has. It could cost Pete the locker room. At the end of the day, the question becomes: are we ready to take that risk for a guy when we don't even know what his abilities promise? It just gets incredibly complicated when you consider all these things and so I'd like you all to take this in and let me know how you see it, maybe there's a perspective I'm missing.