Sometime around the Dallas game, the Seahawks Roundtable on KJR 950 were jesting that Pete Carroll needs to "take the lid off the sippy cup" in terms of the offensive passing game (they were talking about this idea again this morning). Everyone laughed and thought "taking off the training wheels" didn't even adequately describe the undeveloped nature of the Seahawks 2012 passing game. As you probably know, the Seahawks, after three weeks, rank dead last in NFL passing yards per game at 127.7 yards per game. For comparison, the Detroit Lions lead the NFL with a 334 yard per game average, with the 16th ranked NFL team being the Kansas City Chiefs at 250 yard per game passing.
As a dad who took my older son off training wheels a few years ago and debate daily whether to take the lid off my youngest son's sippy cup -- both analogies are a daily reality. In Wednesday's presser, Pete Carroll even used the lid analogy when talking about the passing game.
I transcribed Pete Carroll's comments on the Brock & Salk Show on Tuesday, September 25th. I found his comments very interesting and have edited the interview for flow (with a respect factor to not alter his exact words.) About nine minutes in, once they've stopped talking about the Golden Tate catch, they start talking about more important things, namely Russell Wilson, and Carroll proactively begins to defend the nature of the passing game.
Brock Huard "How did he (Russell Wilson) do?"
Pete Carroll "Uhh...Let me say this. I know a lot of people are wondering, "What's going on?" If there is anyone to gripe about what's going on, or wondering... It's me. I'm holding this. I'm holding this the way I want to hold this... right now. We have new quarterbacks, whomever is playing (notice he brings up Matt Flynn proactively). And I want to make sure they can stay efficient and give us good numbers efficiency wise."
Most NFL fans, especially in this media and fantasy football era, track passing yards. Again, Russell Wilson is dead last in passing yards. If you carried out his current numbers to a full slate of 16 games- he would have 2,043 yards! 2,043 would assuredly be last in the NFL. The Seahawks also are last in the NFL in passing attempts per game (25.0), and also last in yards per attempt (YPA) at 5.8.
They are not dead last in passing efficiency. Russell Wilson sports a Quarterback Rating of 86.2. Also known as "passer efficiency rating". That passer rating is 20th in the NFL. In fact, Russell Wilson's projected season looks like this -- 2,043 yards, 21 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 86.2 QB Rating.
Do I think he will have more than 2,043 yards when the year is done? Yes. Do I think he will throw for 21 touchdowns? No. Do I think he will have 5 interceptions? Probably not, but with Carroll -- you never know. Maybe. I definitely believed his QB rating would be in the 80s before the season began. I believe I projected Russell's season to be something like this -- and I put it on Twitter -- 3300 yards, 28 attempts per game, 18 completions per game (64%), 18 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, QB Rating in the 80s.
Maybe you don't like the passer efficiency statistic and I know there's some that would rather see it go the way of the buffalo, but in terms of the 'efficiency' factor, I think it is clear, not only is Carroll obsessed with not throwing interceptions, he cares about this passer rating philosophy over gross yardage from a numbers perspective. Wilson's senior season at Wisconsin -- and I won't place the numbers here because it's college -- he had an insanely high efficiency rating and an insanely low interception rate -- numbers I am sure Carroll took notice of.
Interestingly, when comparing Wilson to the other rookie QB's in terms of passer/efficiency rating, he stacks up nicely. Ryan Tannehill 58.3, Brandon Weeden 60.7, Andrew Luck 75.4 and Robert Griffin 103.5. All the QBs are throwing for much more yardage than Wilson. In Pete's mind, I doubt he is worried too much. And hats off to Griffin for just doing it all through three games.
Back to the interview...
"...And not turn the ball over. We did not turn the ball over again. And that was an extraordinary defense -- the best defense in the NFL taking the football off of teams last year. They had 37 takeaways or whatever the heck it was last year. And for the last two or three years.
"We shut them out. Well, that's great decision making, that's great care for the football on all those guys' parts (all offensive ball carriers). He's (Russell Wilson) doing that. And meantime, we are raising a quarterback in the system.
"We are solid enough as a team to play like this at quarterback... right now.
"And it's a struggle for some people to understand that. But we are going to keep, (laughs outloud) moving along, and growing, and there will be a time where it won't feel exactly like it feels now (the passing game).
"But it's not time yet."
** Brock Huard interjects with the frustration from fans and media that this low level of production from the passing game is not sustainable. **
Pete Carroll responds, "That's fine." (in response to how fan's feel - basically saying he understands and it's ok to feel that way)
"We are taking care of the football in such fashion right now, and we are playing defense and special teams in such fashion that we have a chance to win these games. And as we grow, we'll get better and we will do more and all of that.
"This is just the process of raising your first-time starting quarterback. We would be in the same mode (even with Matt Flynn at QB) because we can be (running game, special teams, defense). There will be a time where that won't be enough and we'll have to find another way. But until that happens...
"We'll grow (laughs)... This is going to be close (again, Pete is laughing knowingly when he says this)."
Pete knows that he can't do this forever, but he is going to push the limits while he can. Bottom line -- Pete Carroll is raising a quarterback, and this is his style of child rearing.
He has ditched his previous belief that you need to sit rookie quarterbacks. He has not ditched his previous belief that you give a rookie an opportunity to play, but don't ask him to do too much.
Look at what he did with Kam Chancellor. Kam played extensively in bandit, but was not the starting strong safety his rookie year. Pete Carroll limited what he asked him to do. In his second year, Kam went to the Pro Bowl. Pete did the same thing with K.J. Wright, he only played him in the base defense as a rookie. The nickel linebackers were David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill. In his second year, K.J. Wright is playing 60 snaps a game and playing at a Pro Bowl level. He is doing the same thing with Bobby Wagner. Bobby is playing only in base, but next year, I'd assume, the plan is that Bobby plays 60 snaps per game.
You can't treat a quarterback, or 'raise' a quarterback, the same way you raise a safety or linebacker -- but this is Pete's method of raising Russell Wilson. And he knows that he can do things that Washington, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Miami can't do. Those four teams don't have the running game or defense that Seattle has right now, so they have to rely on the quarterback more as they have to keep scoring or coming from behind. Wilson does not have to do that much.
Seahawks are rarely down more than one score, and if the defense holds - coming back from 14 points down is not going to be common. Wilson is being counted on to lead one solid TD scoring drive per half, and perhaps a couple of field goal drives - not to manufacture a whirlwind of points per game. Pete expects his defense and special teams to pitch in to boost scoring, not just the quarterback.
If the Seahawks were giving up 23 points per game, versus the 13 points per game they are right now, I am pretty sure Russell Wilson can put up 200 yards per game. I think the height is a factor at times, and that he leaves plays on the field, and that he needs to step up in the pocket more and be more effective on third down. I bet Pete Carroll knows all of those things as well, behind closed doors. But Pete does believe Wilson can make enough plays to win games and will improve on his pocket poise and third down efficiency. I think Pete believes the plays he leaves on the field, because of his height, are compensated by the plays he does make with his arm or his feet.
To be honest, I think the only thing Pete really cares about from a results standpoint is Wilson's third down percentage. I don't think he cares if he throws 10 or 20 touchdowns as long as touchdowns are made via pass or run and the ball is controlled and valued. Right now the Seahawks (and this includes runs) are only 29% on third down (30th in the NFL), and that may be the next stage of QB Raising to watch from Russell Wilson, not necessarily an explosion in passing yards above the 200 yard per game mark.
For now, I think the sippy cup lid will remain in place -- but perhaps in November we may see some sporadic breakouts when necessary.
I don't want to hear any bitching when milk gets spilled all over the carpet. Sometimes lids for kids are a good thing.