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If Pete Carroll won't change, the Seahawks need to move on before he wastes Russell Wilson's prime

For The Win logo For The Win 1/13/2020 Steven Ruiz
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I know I’m tired of writing about this same issue every offseason, so I can’t imagine how fed up Seahawks fans must be after watching the coaching staff let another playoff win slip away.

Seattle’s 2019 season ended the same way its 2018 season ended: With Russell Wilson trying to overcome his coaching staff and dig his team out of a hole that Pete Carroll and company created with a misguided gameplan. Just as it did in Dallas a year ago, Wilson’s valiant effort fell short and the Packers sent the Seahawks home for the offseason with a 28-23 win at Lambeau Field.

Wilson’s stat line was unsurprisingly efficient. He averaged 8.9 yards per attempt and added a total of 16.2 Expected Points, most of them coming in the second half after Green Bay had jumped out to a 28-10 lead. It was only then that the Seahawks finally LET RUSS COOK, and even then, Carroll couldn’t get out of his own way. More on that in a bit.

But first, we have to talk about Seattle’s indefatigable desire to establish the run, which somehow still persists in the year 2020. While offensive Brian Schottenheimer was doing his best to get the damn run established one plodding Marshawn Lynch carry at a time, the Packers were focused on actually scoring points and building their lead. By the time Seattle’s dream of throwing it back to 2013 died, Seattle’s win probability had plummeted 1.8%.  Even worse, the run hadn’t even been established yet. Oh well.

(I don’t even know what it means to establish the run, but I know it doesn’t look like that.)

Pete Carroll holding a football ball © Provided by For The Win A miracle would have been required to escape Lambeau with a win, but fortunately for Carroll, he has a quarterback who has a way of making the miraculous look routine. Schottenheimer essentially handed the keys to Russ and he did what he does best: Thrive in chaos. I don’t know if any of the numerous plays Wilson made down the stretch came within the structure of the offense, but it doesn’t matter. Not only can Wilson consistently create something out of nothing, he might also be the only quarterback in NFL history who is actually better when that creative burden is placed on him.

Once Wilson was freed, the Packers defense was powerless to stop him.

Thirteen unanswered points and a defensive stop later, the Seahawks looked like they were about to steal yet another playoff game from the Packers. Wilson had the ball in his hands down five points with just enough time on the clock to carve out a go-ahead drive. The shackles were off. The coaching staff could no longer get in the way.

Or so we thought.

After Preston Smith brought Wilson down for a six-yard sack on third down, the ball was back in Carroll’s court: Would he take the conservative route and punt the ball back to Green Bay, or would he let his quarterback try to make a play, as he had done all game?

Converting on 4th-and-11 is no easy task, but Carroll had watched his elite quarterback do the impossible all season; he’d also watched his defense fail to make key stops time after time over the course of 17 games. In the past, it would have made sense to ask the Seahawks defense to come up with one more stop. This season, it did not. The ball had to be put in Wilson’s hands. Carroll thought otherwise.

Instead, the veteran coach pressed his luck and asked his defense to come up with a third consecutive stop against one of the most talented quarterbacks to ever play this game. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t going to let that happen. Two clutch third-down throws later, and the Seahawks had to sit on the sideline as the Packers drained the clock down to zero. Wilson never got another chance.

As the dynamic of the Seahawks has shifted over the past few seasons — what was once a team that leaned on its dominant defense is now one being dragged to relevance by its dominant quarterback — it has become abundantly clear that Carroll is far too hesitant to adapt, which is one of the worst traits for an NFL coach and the main reason why we’ve seen so many successful coaches let the game pass them by. Carroll is in danger of being passed by.

I get that Carroll thinks the best way to win games, in general, is to run the football and play great defense. Well, this Seahawks team is just incapable of winning that way. At that point in the season, it was clear that Seattle couldn’t run the football efficiently (who can?) and the defense was mediocre at best. To steal a line from NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal: Carroll is coaching this team as if it’s the one he wants rather than the one he actually has.

It’s kind of fitting that this latest playoff loss came in Green Bay, where the Packers let an out-of-touch coach waste the better part of Rodgers’ prime. It looks like we’re headed down a similar path in Seattle, where we’ve already seen Carroll waste some brilliant postseason performances from his quarterback…

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And the Seahawks, as an organization, seem to be treading water — if not sinking into the abyss that is NFL mediocrity. The defense, Carroll’s baby, is getting worse and his game management skills have not improved over the decade that he’s been on the sideline in Seattle. So why is he here, exactly? The Seahawks continue to win games, but it’s been a while since they’ve looked like a true championship contender. And the numbers suggest that this 11-5 season was the product of luck, as the Seahawks finished with a point-differential of only plus-seven and an expected win total of 8.2, according to Pro Football Reference.

Ownership has to ask a difficult question before it’s too late: Is this coaching staff capable of getting the most out of Wilson’s prime? There’s no evidence to suggest that it is. This establish the run/play dominant defense approach was perfect for the young, play-making quarterback Wilson once was (and the defense the Seahawks once had). But now Seattle needs something different, and it’s evident that Carroll isn’t willing to adapt.

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