Last Sunday, the Seahawks lost a frustrating Divisional Round game to the Green Bay Packers. After falling behind 21-3 at halftime, the Seahawks cut the deficit to just 5 points in the fourth quarter and had a chance to pull ahead. When they couldn’t score on their final drive and punted back to the Packers, Aaron Rodgers was able to secure the two first downs the Packers needed to end the game.
But maybe Rodgers shouldn’t have had the ball in his hands at the end. That last Seahawks punt came on 4th-and-11 from their own 36 with 2:41 left in the game. That seems like a tough conversion to make, unless you have Russell Wilson. If it wasn’t for Wilson’s brilliance in the first three Seahawks drives of the second half, the Packers might have won in a blowout. There also wasn’t enough downside if Wilson couldn’t convert. The defense would still have to stop Rodgers from converting a first down, and a field goal would only extend the Packers’ lead to eight points. Why not trust your own quarterback, who nearly led an 18-point comeback?
But maybe the Seahawks shouldn’t have trailed the Packers by 18 points at halftime. Marshawn Lynch shouldn’t have had so many carries just a few weeks after coming out of retirement. On the second Seahawks drive of the game, he rushed for eight yards on first down, then picked up just one more yard over his next two attempts. The Seahawks couldn’t afford to waste any drives establishing the run against a Rodgers-led team. And even though Wilson ended up converting key plays, the Seahawks might have had more time for a comeback if they didn’t run on early downs. The commitment to the run game also resulted in a lackluster offensive performance with just 17 points the previous week at Philadelphia. Even against an inferior run defense, there was no reason to give Lynch 12 carries in Green Bay.
But maybe the Seahawks shouldn’t have been playing on Wild Card Round before heading on the road for the Divisional Round. The Seahawks lost their chance to get a bye in Week 16 when they fell to the Arizona Cardinals at home 27-13. You can blame injuries all you want, but the Seahawks still squandered several scoring opportunities in the game. Facing 4th-and-1 at the Arizona 33 with the game tied at 7, the Seahawks took a delay of game and punted. It makes sense to not have the unreliable Jason Myers try a 51-yard field goal. It makes even less sense to punt in that situation. Did the Seahawks not trust the offense to pick up a single yard? Later in the game, the Seahawks kicked two field goals to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 7. But in going for field goals rather than touchdowns, they needed Myers to first hit the field goals, then count on their depleted defense to get stops, then score a touchdown on offense. It’s important to note that the Seahawks were still down 20-7 with just a minute left in the third quarter.
Myers’ first field goal was from 30 yards on 4th-and-6 at the start of the fourth quarter. That’s a very reasonable distance to go for it, though it could have been even closer if Travis Homer didn’t run for a loss of 3 yards on the previous play. Going for touchdowns instead of field goals would have given the Seahawks a much better chance to win the game. With the clock a very real concern at that point in the game, the Seahawks couldn’t afford anything to go wrong. The next possession after Myers hit a 51-yarder to bring the Seahawks within 7, Brett Hundley led the Cardinals on a touchdown drive to secure the win. What’s particularly baffling about that field goal attempt is that it’s the same distance Myers would have had to kick from if the Seahawks chose not to take a delay of game on 4th-and-1 and punt. If the Seahawks trusted Myers from 51 yards in the fourth quarter, why wouldn’t they have trusted him earlier? The over-commitment to the run game was also present against the Cardinals. Too often, the Seahawks set up long second downs by running on first down, or unsuccessfully ran on short third downs. The offensive gameplan needed to feature Wilson more than it did.
Of course, the man behind all these puzzling moves is head coach Pete Carroll. I could go on about other mistakes he has made in games, but he has more flaws than simply failing to make analytically sound decisions. Many Seahawks fans want offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. fired. Who hired those coaches though? Pete loves to stick with his outdated philosophy, and he’d certainly bring in coordinators just like them as replacements.
Even if the Seahawks bring in new coordinators, I’m sure they’d still try to establish the run and play base defense too often. Running the ball just isn’t as efficient as passing, which is why the run game has been on the decline for years in the NFL. Don’t tell me about the Ravens or Titans. Each of those teams has one of the most unique players the sport of football has ever seen. To counteract the rise of passing, teams are now playing nickel defense most of the time. Except for the Seahawks, who played their preferred base defense at by far the highest rate in the league. Rodgers burned the Seahawks on several key plays where having an additional defensive back over a linebacker might have helped. The refusal to adapt has hurt the Seahawks, and it’s a bigger problem against better teams in the playoffs.
Wilson has been in the NFL for eight years now, and it still feels like the Seahawks don’t want to fully unleash him. He’s not a young player anymore. He’ll turn 32 next year, so the clock is ticking on his prime. Sooner or later, the Seahawks will need to take full advantage of his talents. Besides Wilson, there are several other very talented players on the Seahawks who are arguably being held back. John Schneider is one of the best general managers in the NFL, and the Seahawks need someone to get the most out of the excellent teams he consistently builds. I’m not sure Pete Carroll is the right coach to do that.
There are some legitimate arguments for keeping Carroll. You can’t overlook what he’s done off the field. His leadership and the culture he’s developed in Seattle have without a doubt been essential to the Seahawks’ success during his tenure. When people were talking about the “collapse” of the team during the reset in 2018, the Seahawks seemed to be revitalized that year. If the Seahawks were to move on from Carroll, the players might not respond well.
Then there’s the matter of finding a replacement. Dismissing Carroll is easy. Choosing the right guy to lead the team next is difficult. If the Seahawks hire the wrong coach, they could end up in an even worse situation. Just consider what happened with the Detroit Lions. Jim Caldwell was fired after winning 9 games in 2017, and Matt Patricia has won just 9 games in his first two seasons since replacing Caldwell.
Ultimately, I still think it’s time for the Seahawks to get a new coach. You can’t deny the impact he’s had on the Seahawks, but his style has fallen too far behind the rest of the NFL by now. The Seahawks need to take a risk and try to bring in a new coach who can get Wilson another Super Bowl. At this point, it doesn’t seem likely that Carroll can win a second one, so hiring a worse coach wouldn’t be a disaster. Given how incredible Schneider has been, I don’t think the floor would be low anyways. My personal pick for head coach would be Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs.
In 2011, most NFL fans would probably have expected Rodgers and Drew Brees to win their second Super Bowl before the start of the next decade. Yet here we are in 2020, and both quarterbacks still have just one ring. The Seahawks hope to avoid seeing the same happen with Wilson. And that might require a coaching change.