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Pete Carroll’s personal 4th down evolution is not a one-off

This ain’t the Pete from two years ago. And that’s a good thing!

Seattle Seahawks v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has had a very warranted reputation for being conservative on 4th down calls, even as the NFL trended towards being more aggressive with going for it over kicking/punting. Literally two seasons ago, no coach was as eager to see the punt or field goal team on the field as Carroll.

...But something’s changed. Maybe it’s those analytics staffers the Seahawks hired the previous offseason, but Carroll has been much more willing to go for it on 4th down than we’ve seen in recent years.

Take a look at the composite 4th down “go for it” rates in non-garbage time and non-obvious* situations since 2022, and you’ll find Carroll has changed his ways.

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*Non-obvious is when the Seahawks are trailing in the 4th quarter with limited time remaining and are in four-down territory. The Micah Parsons disaster does not count toward Pete’s aggressiveness.

There are a lot of different 4th down models out there, so for context, this is using Field Gulls alum Ben Baldwin’s 4th down model. Are the Seahawks going for it when they should go for it? Most of the time in 2023, they have. Are they frisky enough like Dan Campbell to go for it even when the analytics models suggest you can go either way on a call? No. But you know where Pete is nowhere near? The bottom left quadrant, which is where several reputable head coaches find themselves leaning towards punts and field goals over their own offense.

Ben Baldwin

Carroll is not Campbell or Nick Sirianni, who’s willing to go for it damn near any time even if it’s not necessarily the clear decision to make. It’s a major step in the right direction that he isn’t defaulting to trusting his defense as he’s been wont to do for years.

This is something I wrote about back in February, and there was reasonable skepticism to think that this was just a blip on the radar with a new quarterback at the helm. There’s been no drop-off in 2023 and indeed he’s actually more aggressive this year. Most of the plays are 4th and 1, but he has gone for it on 4th and 2 and 4th and 5.

Are the Seahawks great on 4th down? Not really. They’re 7/16 on the season when factoring in all plays, but they’ve converted 5/6 on 4th downs attempted prior to the 4th quarter. Four of those conversions eventually led to points, albeit all field goals and not touchdowns.

There are a lot of warranted complaints about Carroll’s coaching style over the years, but he is not completely inflexible. Seattle has been a pass-first offense for three of the past four seasons, and now the Seahawks are more willing to go for it on 4th down than the majority of the NFL. Is it translating to a lot of wins? No. But is it a sign that Carroll can adjust and modernize certain elements of his coaching philosophy? Yes.