I’ll start this piece by saying the following up front:
Pete Carroll is good at coaching and recruiting defensive backs. The list of players who have gone on to be perennial All-Pros or starters in the league despite draft position is long. Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Kam Chancellor, Brandon Browner, DeShawn Shead, Shaquill Griffin and Walter Thurmond all succeeded with the Seattle Seahawks, and (some) were coveted elsewhere despite being drafted in the 3rd round or below.
Carroll has, in the past, fostered an environment where players were rewarded for their hard work in practice. If you show out, you get to play.
Carroll doesn’t try to change his players to be something they are not. He and his coaching staff have historically worked to accentuate the strengths of their players and mitigate their weaknesses.
Now with that out of the way, lets talk about the elephant(s) in the room.
- Carroll and his strategic and tactical approach to football no longer work.
- Carroll’s role as both coach and pseudo-GM harms the team.
- Carroll’s inability to adapt to the recent changes in football makes keeping him around more trouble than it’s worth.
Pete Carroll’s strategic failings
Carroll’s philosophy centers around playing stout defense and running the ball. The former has pretty obvious benefits while the latter has the advantage of running the clock and, despite the protestations of the pro-run crowd, seemingly nothing else. Despite the prevalence of data literally everywhere on the internet saying that teams run too much, and the fact that the rate of success for drafting a running back in the first round is about the same as you would get from drafting one later, the Seattle Seahawks drafted Rashaad Penny with the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft.
They did this despite having Chris Carson, Mike Davis and the mercurial C.J. Prosise on the roster, and a plethora of running backs available later in the draft, like Nyheim Hines, Royce Freeman, Derrius Guice, Ito Smith, Nick Chubb and Kerryon Johnson. This on top of a pressing need for pass rush help. Not investing resources there is inexcusable, especially with Frank Clark in the final year of his rookie deal.
What’s worse is that the things that matter more, like the number of men in the box, offensive line performance and run scheme (based on work done by Josh Hermsmeyer) were not addressed. Unless you consider street free agents D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy, and OC Brian Schottenheimer “addressing” the problem. (I’ll spot them Solari, he looks like a not bad hire.)
Investment of resources on offense vs defense
Investing on defense is fine if you have the talent for it, and historically the ‘Hawks have had that, with a bunch of Pro-Bowlers and All-Pros on the defensive side of the ball. The problem is, unlike at QB where a single player’s transcendent talent can make or break your team’s performance, on defense you need a group of players performing at a high level to even stand a chance. A group of players who are at a significantly higher risk of injury than your franchise QB. (I hate Glendale, Arizona so much.)
4th down strategy
I don’t mean to harp on this more than I already have, but the 4th down strategy this team is employing is both baffling and self-destructive. Seattle had 10 4th downs over the course of Sunday’s game. Of those 10, one was the final play of the game, a 52-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski, so we can safely ignore that one. Of the remaining nine 4th downs, the Seahawks faced 1, 4, 1, 20, 1, 1, 17, 1 & 3 yards to gain for a 1st down. Punting or kicking on the long yardage situations is perfectly reasonable in a vacuum, so we’re going to evaluate the seven plays that were viable options.
On 4th-and-1 situations, unless your offensive line is a veritable dumpster fire, you should always go for it, based on some older research done by the NY Times. There were five such situations on Sunday and they went for it twice, succeeding once. and literally shooting themselves in the foot the other time by trying to pass—and not a play action pass, either.
The other two cases on 4th down, a field goal attempt on 4th-and-4 at the Cardinals’ 20-yard line. and punting on 4th-and-3 from their own 29 were justifiable decisions. That leaves three choices to punt, at Arizona’s 35- and 44-yard lines, as well as Seattle’s 44-yard line, and cost the Seahawks at least the equivalent of a field goal and possibly more. All of this is being done to minimize the risk on defense, but ends up actually hurting the offense and could cost the team 1-2 wins over the course of a season.
Pete Carroll as part GM, part head coach negatively affects decision making on the team
Seattle traded a 2nd round pick for Sheldon Richardson only to let him walk in free agency (for reasons), and a 2nd and 3rd for Duane Brown all in the last 18 months. Those were bad enough, but the failure to offload Earl Thomas before the draft has seemingly hurt both parties, with Thomas being placed on injured reserve in the coming days.
I’d imagine that a large part of the reasoning behind this is that Carroll knows how much his system relies on a Hall of Fame player at the free safety position. Carroll is also on thinner ice than at any other time with the Seahawks, having missed out on the playoffs last year, and with a lower chance of making it there again this year than last even with Thomas. We’ve seen for years that every Thomas absence is accompanied by a pretty horrific performance against the pass, particularly deep passes.
It’s possible, even likely, that Carroll chose the short-term (potential) win over the future of the franchise.
Pete Carroll doesn’t want to/can’t change his approach
Some of the things we’ve seen this year, particularly on offense, have been troubling to say the least. The thing is, signs of these problems have been obvious for at least 2.5 years but have been masked by an incredibly talented and productive defense.
This offseason saw Carroll clean house and double-down on his approach to football. A tiger can’t change his stripes anymore than a leopard can hide his spots, and Pete Carroll only knows how to play and win one way. This is a way of playing that has served him incredibly well in college, and in the NFL, when he had an overwhelming talent advantage on defense.
You can’t play scared in the league anymore, you can’t run the ball—and your backs—into the ground and expect to win. You can’t run a vanilla offense that anyone on the couch can decipher and predict with reasonable accuracy. You can’t do what you did in 2010 and in 2018 and if I’m Paul Allen, I’m starting a search for a new coach right now and doing so quietly, just in case.