Pete Carroll’s fourth-down calls were called into question yet again in Week 6. On a 4th and 9 from the Cleveland Browns’ 39-yard-line, the Seattle Seahawks head coach decided to punt the ball rather than going for it. The numbers said this was a terrible decision.
SEA decided to punt to CLE from the CLE 39 on 4th & 9 with 1:25 remaining in the 1st while losing 6 to 14.— Surrender Index (@surrender_index) October 13, 2019
With a Surrender Index of 30.83, this punt ranks at the 99.1st percentile of cowardly punts of the 2019 season, and the 98th percentile of all punts since 2009.
Context, however, is friendlier to Carroll. Seattle’s straight pass protection was struggling to pick up Cleveland’s nickel blitzes. Furthermore, the pass pro had no Duane Brown or D.J. Fluker. The weather conditions were another factor not in Carroll’s favor, with high levels of wind seeming to halt Russell Wilson from pulling the trigger on deeper throws. Furthermore: the Browns were scheming well in the first half, nailing down their safeties to stop staple concepts.
Carroll was backing Michael Dickson’s ability to pin Cleveland inside the 10-yard line, not punt it through the endzone. The Browns starting on the 20 versus starting on the 39, a mere 19-yard difference, does not feel significant enough to justify not going for it. Yet, if Cleveland had began on the 10 or less? That feels worth punting the ball.
Dickson has been fine this year but been hampered by bad punt protection and, on his last punt against Cleveland, a short run-up out of his own endzone. As it was, Dickson punted the ball well on the 4th and 9, getting Jarvis Landry to fair-catch the ball on the 8-yard line. A 31-yard improvement? Given the above context? This all makes the heavy criticism of Carroll for the decision to punt feel obtuse.
This was a less egregious decision than Carroll’s call to not go for the 4th and 1 against the Los Angeles Rams. This take is based purely on that choice to kick the field goal, not the subsequent miss. Seattle lost 2.6% game-winning chance from the initial decision not to go it on 4th and 1. Plus their offense was rolling in both the run and pass game; the Rams were ready to roll over.
Overall, the worrying thought is this: is Carroll overreacting to his self-criticism of the New Orleans Saints 4th-down decision, a game Seattle lost 33-27? Indeed, over-correction has been a motif of the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era. There, Seattle decided to go for it on 4th and 1. The timing of the play was grim and they didn’t pick it up, but going for it on that down-and-distance from the New Orleans’ 41-yard-line, down 13-7, was obviously the right call.
Not to Carroll, who described it in bemusing fashion: “I tried too hard,” he reflected post-game. “I could have changed the situation on fourth down some.”
“I could have kicked the ball and done a couple more conservative things that I like to do often,” Carroll said. “But I felt pretty good about how we were playing D.”
There are times where going for it on 4th down is the correct call from a numbers and context perspective; let’s hope Carroll’s cautiousness does not rise to a level that gravely damages Seattle’s chances of winning a crucial game—like it did on Thursday Night Football, not last Sunday against Cleveland.