Pete Carroll bypassed a makeable field goal up 10-6 against the Miami Dolphins. He gave the green light for Russell Wilson to try and convert 4th and 3, which unfortunately ended in a sack.
The play didn’t work and it effectively cost the Seattle Seahawks three points the other way, but sometimes you just live with the result. Here’s what Carroll had to say about that call on Monday.
Carroll on the Seahawks' 4th-down attempt Sunday, being more aggressive on offense: "We're continuing to look for those opportunities because we believe in our guys."— Ben Arthur (@benyarthur) October 5, 2020
By the way, Carroll later opted not to call it a half at 10-9 and the Seahawks were able to score on a 75-yard touchdown drive with just :24 to work with and two timeouts.
The hallmark of great coaches is their flexibility and ability to adapt even if it runs counter to what they typically prefer. Carroll was farcically conservative on 4th downs in 2019, finishing ahead of only (the secretly quite conservative) Sean McVay and Washington’s Jay Gruden and Bill Callahan in aggressiveness.
Final 4th down aggressiveness in 2019 pic.twitter.com/TIUw1NVboj— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) January 2, 2020
This was a significant point of contention on a couple of key moments last year. There were two instances where the Seahawks opted to kick a field goal instead of go for it on 4th and short, and not only did Jason Myers miss those attempts against the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Rams, but it led to touchdown drives for the opposition. When they lost to the Arizona Cardinals last Christmas Eve, I wrote the following sentence: “Carroll coaches the team that he thinks he still has, rather than the team that he actually has. “
It is early days, but I think Carroll has learned his lesson and has adapted. There is every reason to trust your potential league MVP quarterback to score points than for your bottom of the league defense to prevent points. The failed 4th and 3 ideally will not deter Carroll in future games, as you may recall that DK Metcalf’s first touchdown of the season came on a 4th and 5 at the Atlanta Falcons’ 38-yard-line. Seattle never looked back the rest of the afternoon.
But there’s more to Carroll’s mindset change than just going for it on 4th down when he doesn’t have to. One of the justified concerns for the “Let Russ Cook” supporters was whether or not Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer would be willing to sacrifice their run-first tendencies and shift towards centering the offense around Russell Wilson’ arm. Have a gander at this:
Congrats, #LetRussCook movement. You have won.— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) September 28, 2020
The Seahawks are currently operating the league's game-script-adjusted pass-heaviest offense.
Now I don’t know if that still holds up because I wrote this on October 5th and I’ve not seen the latest rankings following the two Monday night games, but did you ever in your wildest dreams envision the Seahawks being top of the league for pass-heaviness? And they are clearly not passing because they are having to play from behind — they’ve not trailed by more than seven points this season and they’ve led wire-to-wire in the second half of the Falcons and Dolphins games. Proactively establishing the pass has made Seattle an elite offense with a quarterback who is slicing up (admittedly largely terrible) defenses for fun.
And yes, Wilson has been getting hit. He has taken 11 sacks and is on pace to be sacked 40+ times for the eighth year in a row. But his sack percentage is also the lowest it has been under Brian Schottenheimer and third-lowest of his career, only behind his injury-affected 2016 season and the “run game is broken and we’re constantly trailing” 2017 team. The 2016 and 2017 seasons remain Wilson’s most pass-heavy years in terms of raw attempt numbers, but they were his least efficient seasons and the running game was also a total mess. Two seasons after Wilson was dead last in pass attempts due to Carroll’s year-long obsession with fixing the running game, Brian Schottenheimer has helped make the Seahawks offense a juggernaut because of its passing attack first and foremost.
This development has come at a time when the Seahawks defense is a shell of its former self. It has extended Seattle’s window of title contention with an offense that is blossoming with a mixture of established and emerging talent both at the skill positions and along the much improved offensive line.
Are there still issues to workout? Yes. They are once again near the bottom in punts per drive and three-and-outs per drive. But they’re tops in red zone efficiency and 7th in Drive Success Rate. Third down conversions remain a struggle but dating back to 2019 Schotty has been earnestly working on one of his worst habits by being more aggressive in early downs. They rank 2nd behind the Kansas City Chiefs on early-down passing rate, one year removed from ranking 24th and two years from ranking 32nd by a massive distance. For what it’s worth, they were 2nd in early-down passing in 2017 but that was a direct product of a 32nd ranked rushing offense and repeatedly having to play from behind. This is a pass-first offense that is actually designed to be pass-first, not a run-first offense that is passing out of necessity because they are real shitty at the thing they want to do more of.
Lastly, I want to circle back to Carroll’s “we believe in our guys” quote. It’s coach speak and usually it’s not something to take at face value. But noodle in your head the possibility that the Seahawks have bought into “Let Russ Cook” not just because of Wilson himself and his self-improvement, but the trust in the pieces around him. The talent at wide receiver is the deepest it has been since 2012-2013 but with a quarterback who is a much more advanced passer than he was early in his career. Chris Carson is not Marshawn Lynch but he is (in my opinion) a top-ten running back. Greg Olsen, Will Dissly, and Jacob Hollister are all reliable pass-catchers and Dissly is the best blocking tight end of the three. The offensive line is at least average with the upside of being above-average thanks to Ethan Pocic and Damien Lewis. Hindsight is 20/20 but I think it would’ve been a hard sell trying to run this year’s offense behind 2017’s line:
Carroll and Schottenheimer received a lot of criticism for holding Wilson back and I think a good chunk of it was fully warranted. Well in this pivotal 2020 season, they have fully unleashed the best Wilson there has ever been and the Seahawks are reaping the benefits of an undefeated record with 12 games to go.