Going into this week's NFC championship game there is much hand wringing over the performance of Russell Wilson, the play calling of Bevell, the overall lack of production and their chances against the "red hot" 49ers offense. That both teams put up 23 points against good defenses on Sunday is irrelevant to this story line (one team doing so in monsoon conditions, the Russian judge awards 3 extra points for degree of difficulty), because clicks need baiting, drama must be created. The Seattle offense is just not getting it done.
The reality of the situation however is much simpler, Pete Carroll has taken a conservative turn to that would make even Mussolini blush. Wilson isn't really struggling. He isn't exactly getting going either, but he is doing what he is asked to do, and more importantly, what he is allowed to do. Carroll-"I think he’s doing great. I think he’s doing what we need to do in these games"
Pete's philosophies, the way the program is structured is conservative to begin with, but as we have witnessed over the past 6 or so weeks, since the playoffs were clinched, the game plan has shifted risk aversion into overdrive. The offensive ability remains, yet largely untapped. We know this because we see the offense produce when it is forced to produce, or there is little risk in playing aggressive. And it has been this way nearly the entire season.
The easiest way to demonstrate this is to chart out Seattle's drives to close out second quarters. This is the offense operating under time constraints (available time) and smaller risk (he trusts the defense can hold the opponents offense operating under the same time restraints). Darrell Bevell and Russell Wilson are turned loose in the high reward/low risk situation, and by the end of the season they nearly perfected the process.So a quick glance at the Hawks offense heading into the break:
Week 1 vs. the Panthers: a 9 play, 61 yard drive that ended in a fumble. The drive eats up 2:38 of game clock and leaves the Panthers 35 seconds and bad field position which they do nothing with.
Week 2 vs. the Niners: 8 plays, 15 yards and a punt that closes out the half. 3:27 of game clock burned
Week 4 vs. the Texans: 4 plays, 32 yards and a punt & we're not quite cookin' yet.
Week 5 vs. the Colts: a 6 play 34 yard drive that ran out the clock. 58 seconds total time elapsed.
and here we go...
Week 6 vs. the Titans: 12 plays, 74 yards and a TD. This drive ate up 6:42 of the clock and left 2:41. They got the ball back again with 54 seconds and marched into field goal range. We'll not talk about the kick.
Week 7 vs. the Cardinals: 12 plays for 47 yards and a successful field goal. 3:35 of clock, with 5 seconds remaining before the half.
Week 8 vs. the Rams: two failed drives in the final 3:34 of the half
Week 9 vs. the Bucs: 3 plays and 80 yards for a touchdown Seahawks! Only 36 seconds elapsed.
Week 10 vs. Falcons: 7 plays for 60 yards and another touchdown. 1:02 elapsed, 1 second remaining.
Week 11 vs. the Vikings: 5 plays, 46 yards and it's a touchdown again. This drive was a whopping 38 seconds and left only 10 seconds on the clock.
Week 12 vs. the BYE: infinite touchdowns.
Week 13 vs. the Saints: 12 plays for 88 yards and a touchdown. Drive lasts 1:52 and leaves the Saints 13 seconds to take a knee.
Week 14 vs. the Niners: 7 plays for 72 yards and a touchdown. Drive eats up 4:09 and leaves 6 seconds.
Week 15 vs. the Giants: 10 plays for 40 yards and a field goal. 2:45 off the clock and 3 seconds remaining.
Week 16 vs. the Cardinals: a failed drive and a missed field goal off of a Palmer interception.
Week 17 vs. the Rams: a 10 play 44 yard drive for a field goal that uses up 2:40 of clock and leaves 3 seconds remaining.
Divisional round vs. the Saints: 12 plays and 63 yards for a field goal. 4:44 clock used, 1:18 left for the opponent.
That's pretty damn impressive.
From the week 6 game on Seattle has scored to close out the first half 10 times out of 12 opportunities (84%), for 6 touchdowns and 4 field goals. And keeping things a bit more current, they have done so in 8 of the last 9 (89%) games, only failing in the Arizona debacle where Hauschka was wide left on a 24 yard field goal.
This is what the offense looks like when Carroll is trying to score. If you play poker, or trade in the markets then you are probably familiar with the term aggression factor, or agg factor for short. When the clock is forcing the issue and Bevell is allowed to call plays accordingly Seattle moves the ball and scores, nearly at will. When Carroll ratchets up the agg factor.
So the primary concern is that Carroll is shutting down the agg factor too early in games because they have been virtually unstoppable for the past 3 months when the priority is scoring over burning clock. It's not Bevell. It's not Wilson. It's Pete and it's by design, however comforting or discomforting that may be.
As the game draws closer this week you are going to hear the line "Wilson must play better for Seattle to win", or some similar variation of that repeatedly. And then some more. This line of reasoning ignores that Seattle really only goes when Carroll pushes, save for the occasional times Lynch breaks free. Carroll controls the agg factor.
Deciding to squat on a 16 point lead with a full 30 minutes left to play nearly proved fatal (the magnitude of the near miss being debatable) to Seattle's super bowl aspirations last Saturday, like jerking the line before the hook is set and coming up empty handed. The foot was taken off the gas and the air was removed from the ball and I am out of metaphors, all a bit prematurely.
Sunday's championship game/Harbaugh grudge match will go a long way in defining part of Carroll's legacy and while there is wisdom in tempering youth's impetuousness, there is also a quiet desperation in playing out your final hands without past successes to fall back on. That is where Seattle sits as a franchise and where Carroll is in his NFL career.
The perfect agg factor is a delicate balance of balls and risk aversion, here's to hoping Pete dials it up.