Pete Carroll's program, over the past decade or so, has included themed days of the week, in-season, and the one that may be the most important, considering his "rah-rah," all-positivity reputation, is "Tell the Truth Monday." Now, I've never sat in on one of the meetings on Tell the Truth Monday, but I'm guessing, based on the name, that it's meant to be an honest and frank assessment of every player's game, sans sugarcoating rationalization or anything like that. I think, in general, Carroll gravitates toward confidence building and accentuating the positive over harping on the negative, but surely at some level his players must know what they did wrong game-in, game-out.
With that said, I thought a cool feature here would be my frank assessment of a few things that didn't go to plan each week for the Seahawks. It's not really in my nature to harp too much on the negative; for some this actually has been a flaw of mine, so I thought to become more well-rounded as an analyst, it'd be a good exercise. Some of you might be annoyed after reading this considering the Seahawks are 2-0 and just beat what some people had considered the best team in the NFL, but there are always areas for improvement and this is an attempt at process-based critical analysis. Not necessarily meant to be nit-picking but inevitably I'm sure that's what it'll sound like at times. Anyway.
Starting at the top. Russell Wilson. Wilson's play, has been, I guess I'll just say, slightly disconcerting. Slightly. If that's a criticism it's the lightest one I could levy.
Wilson left Carolina with a very good stat line, but the eye test, at least originally, was that Wilson was often frenetic and off balance, inaccurate at times, and struggled going through progressions and/or throwing off his back foot in rhythm.
This week's game was worse. At least against Carolina, Wilson had a few 'big-time' throws that really kind of tempered any worry I had been developing, but against San Francisco, these plays seemed to be less common. There were three plays by Wilson that stood out to me - the deep bomb to Doug Baldwin after escaping the pocket narrowly (improv in the face or pressure), the hot-route lob to Marshawn Lynch in which Lynch walked into the endzone (might be the play of the game), and the little Favre-esque shovel pass to Golden Tate late in the game that kept a drive alive (another improv in the face or pressure). I'm still waiting for the trademark Wilson poise, footwork, and precision within the construct of the play design to show up, for the most part.
My co-writer Jacob Stevens framed it well in the comments section of my game recap this morning and I'll risk republishing that here without asking first because I found it to be insightful. Said Jacob:
I think SF's defense played super well and that factored into Wilson's performance, but he has, overall, been quite underwhelming so far this year. By the eyes, he's just not done well. Receivers covered for him vs. Carolina, but then made him look worse vs. SF. I seem to be the only one beating this drum right now. His accuracy is off, his timing & anticipation a little delayed, he's not beating pressure with quick check downs in the pocket, but scrambling to buy time - something he's talented at, and which is valuable, but what I hope to see less of - and he's letting pressure disrupt his progressions too much.
He's just not playing well. He's now a legitimate league star and the book says he'll flay you alive if you give him 4 seconds so flush him in 2 seconds and play containment. That's what teams are doing and will continue to do, and he has to beat pressure in the pocket more. Has to.
The good news is he adjusted, by necessity, in Carolina. The bad news is the play-calling, and/or the playbook, did not adjust. The running & RO play-action passing game is not providing enough hots or sight adjustments. They adjusted with deeper drop-backs but the routes took the same time to develop. Even though the pass protection needs to improve and will, Wilson and the playbook are making unnecessary problems for the offense right now.
I've noticed the same things that Jacob describes above. Wilson has shown the propensity lately to try to throw off un-settled, unbalanced feet. He has struggled a bit with pressure. He hitches before throwing, which affects accuracy. Maybe Seattle is trying to get too cute. Maybe they've opened the playbook up too much for Wilson early on after mostly easing him into it last year.
Cris Collinsworth pointed out last night, after Wilson scrambled for a ten-yard gain after a long designed bootleg rollout, that the Niners "play about as deep as just about anyone in football after they recognize the play-fake. So, two things are going to come out of that: A lot of check downs, and a lot of chances for Russell Wilson to run."
Check downs and Russell Wilson runs. Those aren't exactly the two things we necessarily want to be seeing a ton of. I mean, I'll take them, when nothing else is working, but ultimately those aren't among Seattle's stated priorities.
I feel like the same could probably have been said about the Carolina defense too, as the Panthers did well to take away almost all deep passing opportunities on Seattle's play-action. Russell snuck a few dimes in there against one of the league's worst secondaries, but perhaps this is how teams will continue to defend the 2013 Seahawks - 'nothing over the top, keep everything in front'. Wilson must adapt. Luckily he practices against those philosophies every day at the VMAC.
Regardless, Wilson started out against a very strong, talented Niners defense this week with an atrocious first-half line, which included several overthrows on the first drive alone - one to Sidney Rice in the flats, another to Luke Wilson running deep, and another to Sidney Rice at the sideline on a third down. Wilson took a shower during the lightning delay just to get the stink of that start off of him.
His interception wasn't egregious - Golden Tate fell down, which pretty much screwed the play's chances of succeeding, but I did find it to be overly lofted, which affected timing. Tate may have fallen down because he looked back way too early, only to find the ball was still about 40 feet up in the air and not coming down any time soon. Tate's feet got tangled and he fell, allowing Eric Reid the easy interception.
Wilson ended up completing 8 passes on the day - feels like the beginning of last year - though it's worth noting that several big-time defensive pass interference calls hurt his chances at better numbers while simultaneously helping the 'pass game' grow roots. This included a 40-yard 'completion' to Golden Tate down the sideline, care of a PI penalty by Nnamdi Asomugha.
At the end of the day though, if I'm telling the truth, I'd love to see Wilson show a little more decisiveness with the football, getting the ball out as he hits his back foot or throwing the ball away when pressure closes in around him on three sides. Rein the accuracy in. Clean up the footwork. Again with a caveat - Wilson's done a lot of really great things already this year, but there are some areas that he needs to improve on, without a doubt.
Pete Carroll praised McQuistan's play this morning in his interview with Brock and Danny, noting that McQ didn't see any snaps at left tackle all week and that he was thrown into a very tough position. That's understandable, but regardless, McQuistan seemed to struggle badly in my eyes. He gave up at least two sacks to Aldon Smith (on one, half of the blame could probably be given to Robert Turbin for a very poor chip block), and Smith blew up Lynch on a stretch play for loss when McQuistan couldn't get much, if any, push or leverage on the elite pass rusher. With Russell Okung out indefinitely with a supposed turf toe injury, the left tackle position becomes a big concern going forward.
Would Alvin Bailey, inactive in this one, be a plausible replacement? Tough to say. He played well on the edge in the preseason but it was the preseason and he didn't have to go up against the likes of Aldon Smith. Whether or not McQuistan holds on the responsibility of protecting Wilson's blindside against Jacksonville remains to be seen, but if he gets the call, he'll need to improve on his reaction time at the snap, he'll need to improve his kick slide (he was beaten around the edge on both sacks), and he'll probably need to get covered up more often by Zach Miller. McQuistan's a tough lineman, but he looked rusty on the outside.
Three more penalties, at least that I saw, including two holding calls and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the game. One of the 'holds' was suuuuuuper ticky tack, for what it's worth. I'm honestly just really sick of all these penalties. 10 more for Seattle today.
Unger didn't have his best game. He snapped the ball before Wilson was ready for it again this week (prompting an "Oh shit!" from Wilson, which is kind of weird, considering I'm pretty sure that's the only time we'll ever hear Wilson swear ever again) following another premature snap last week against Carolina. He was pancaked by Justin Smith on another play, and had at least two holding penalties called against him. I didn't see anything outwardly positive or negative in the run game from Unger past those three mistakes, but these aren't the types of things you expect to see from your All-Pro center.
I railed against the ball-spinning penalty on twitter during the game and while it was probably a 'bad' call in that he didn't appear to be spinning the ball in anyone's face at the time, the rulebook does explicitly list ball spinning as an example to the taunting rule. How about you just not spin the stupid ball? Why even risk that, really? Just do the "first-down" motion or something stupid like a dance, like everyone else. Either way, Pete Carroll apparently felt the same way, saying that while he thought the call was wrong, he was glad they called Rice for it, because Carroll had been warning his receiver about it for a few weeks now. I'm guessing/hoping we never see this again.
Apart from that faux pas after a big first-down catch up the middle, Rice missed what would have been a big touchdown when the ball skipped off his hands and through the endzone. I'm not going to call it a drop, but it's the type of pass we've grown accustomed to seeing Rice catch, so it was a bit surprising he didn't come down with it. Rice also accumulated a few other penalties, though the one holding call he was credited with later in the game was absolutely another awful call. I won't criticize him for that, but just in general, Rice seemed the target of the officials' ire in this one.
What can you say about the defense, really? They forced five turnovers and limited the Niners' vaunted offense to three points. That said, if I had to quibble about one thing, it would be their inability to tackle Colin Kaepernick once they had managed to close the pocket in on him. Now, Kaepernick is as good as they come when it comes to escaping pressure and a few of his escapes were highlight reel worthy, but there's nothing more frustrating than seeing a 'sure sack' for your defense turn into a ten or fifteen yard gain by the offense. Finish the play, try not to go off script too much in your rush because then you create open running lanes for mobile QBs.
Thankfully, the Seahawks don't face Cam Newton or Colin Keapernick for a while. Running with them is like trying to cover a f*cking racehorse.
Concerns that I've left off? Tell the truth.