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Evaluating Pete Carroll’s six biggest 4th down decisions

NFL: Player Headshots 2021 Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t punt in today’s NFL.

That’s actually not true, but the various 4th down decisions with more weight that are scattered across each week are such big moments that it can easily feel like kicking is always a bad idea.

Pete Carroll has been taken to the town burn pile and offered at the social media stake far more times than some coaches have ever survived. However, he remains, with his questionable time out and 4th down decisions in hand.

After some looking into, it is bad - though not nearly quite as bad as many fans believe, surely.

I will link the Athletic.com article (paywall) in which former Field Gulls contributor Ben Baldwin describes the mysterious sauce that makes his 4th-down decision bot spicy. It’s very complicated, but at its core measures the change in win percentage for a team whether they go for it, punt, or kick a field goal. In the piece however, he exemplifies the five worst decisions of 2020, one of which happens to be a Seattle Seahawk punt.

These are to date and the best of my knowledge, the six biggest missed opportunities this season. Some might be surprised that there aren’t more, and the infractions aren’t worse.

#1: Week 5, Los Angeles Rams

We’ll start with some garden variety trigger-shyness. Fourth and short, across midfield, no score yet. Pete Carroll has had aggressive moments, but rarely does he want to go first. This fails the run-the-ball, feel the defense out sort of philosophy. The reason these things pop up high on the bot are because it’s only a 31-yard gain. That’s including phenomenal punter in Michael Dickson; a touchback is very likely in these scenarios, netting Seattle 23 yards.

At that point, the defense would have to stop the Rams...two fewer conversions? Three?

#2: Week 7, New Orleans Saints

This one got me pretty good because these are the types of moments when, with a backup quarterback, it’s not like playing it safe was ever going to be the odds-on better choice.

#3: Week 6, Pittsburgh Steelers

These are simply the times when 2020 Jason Myers would be nice. The frustration of repeatedly not kicking 55-yard field goals is only superseded by regularly missing 45-yard goals. Carroll’s order of confidence this year then has largely been:

  1. Michael Dickson
  2. Defense
  3. Offense to get the ball back and drive 80 yards as opposed to one make-or-break-play
  4. Jason Myers

#4: Week 5, Los Angeles Rams

This play, and others like it, are why the head coach of your Seattle Seahawks continues to not make better 4th down decisions. We have a STRONG recommendation to go for it, against a better divisional opponent, at home, deep in opponent territory.

Does Carroll take the field goal? Nope, he follows the numbers.

So what’s the problem? The play call:

Seattle lined up in such obvious run formation that the Rams stacked 9 in the box, and Alex Collins proceeded to jog up the middle and get completely trounced by two of the defenses three best players.

Carroll was asked about the call after the game and offered nothing insightful, but you can tell it’s these moments that make him gun shy about the rest.

#5: Week 2, Tennessee Titans

This.

We spent days wishing the Seahawks had stepped on the gas a bit more against the Titans. This was the biggest offender.

I’m not convinced they were actually going for this play; it felt far more that they were aimlessly trying to get the defense offsides. Instead, Damien Lewis false starts and they punted on 4th and 6 the next play.

This is a lesser Win Percentage swing but a worse call than some of the others, because of game situation. Up 7, the worst case scenario would be a failure and touchdown by Tennessee, tying the game. Russell Wilson would have had a couple of minutes to go get in field goal range, which is what happened anyway - later - with less time. Furthermore, with only 4:24 left in the game, if they converted plus gained even one more first down, Titans would have had to start burning time outs. If Seahawks got even a field goal on this drive the game would have been over.

Frustrating.

#6: Week 3, Minnesota Vikings

This is one of those where many fans would probably be surprised that the better play is to go for it instead of kick a 44 yard field goal.

For the record, after Seattle missed, the Vikings charged down the field and scored a touchdown with 18 seconds left to take a lead before halftime.

It’s unlikely, but perhaps in the second half of the season, his team up against a wall a bit, Carroll may finally take the more aggressive route on occasion, and help his team out a bit.