During his end-of-season press conference, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll uttered words that drew a collective groan from the fan base.
“We have to run the ball better. Not even better, we have to run it more.”
Cue the avalanche of furious and indignant tweets declaring Carroll an out-of-touch dinosaur.
With the NFL becoming more of a passing league every year, with the analytics crowd shouting that the numbers say teams should favor the pass over the run, and with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson providing a taste of what’s possible when he’s allowed to cook, Carroll’s words were the last ones a large and loud portion of the fan base wanted to hear.
Even Carroll acknowledged that: “We have to dictate what’s going on with the people that we’re playing, and (running the ball is) one of the ways to do that. And I know the fans aren’t really jacked about hearing that.”
For some this was the final straw. It’s time for the Seahawks to dump Carroll in favor of a more progressive coach, they say. Thanks for your service Pete, but it’s time to go.
To those who feel that way I have one thing to say: Please stop. But I would also tell Carroll it’s time for some serious introspection.
First off, firing Carroll is a terrible idea. In his 11 years as Seattle’s head coach Carroll has a 112-63-1 record, five division titles, nine playoff qualifications, two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl win. His winning percentage with the the Seahawks (.639) is better than the career winning percentages of Hall of Fame coaches like Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs and Bill Cowher.
Carroll’s done so well that I think the fans forgot Seattle doesn’t have some inalienable right to be a winning franchise. Carroll’s accomplishments in 11 years are equal to the previous 34 seasons combined, when the Seahawks won six division titles, made the playoffs 10 times and had one Super Bowl loss. I’m old enough to remember the long playoff droughts, when there were plenty of good seats available at late-season games. Yes, it can get worse. Much worse.
It’s also important to acknowledge that coaching is about more than Xs and Os. It’s also about player management. Carroll is renown for being a players’ coach, someone who allows his charges to express themselves rather than forcing them to toe the NFL line. Good players want to play for Carroll — look at the likes of Jadeveon Clowney and Jamal Adams angling for trades specifically to Seattle — and that’s been a big advantage for the Seahawks.
But as well as Carroll has done during his tenure with the Seahawks, it doesn’t mean he’s infallible, and the time has come for Carroll to examine the way he does things and re-evaluate what is best for the team.
Carroll has won in Seattle behind a philosophy of ball security, limiting explosive plays and field position. It’s a conservative strategy that tends towards running the ball on offense, bending but not breaking on defense, and punting on fourth-and-short. The problem is the league has evolved. The rules have changed to favor the passing game, and defenses can’t get away with the same type of tactics that worked in 2013.
Before the playoffs began I examined the teams that reached the Super Bowl the past five years to see what characteristics they had in common. The thing they most had in common? The ability to score points, as nine of the 10 teams were in the top five in the league in scoring. Look at the teams that won the past weekend in the divisional round of the playoffs: Green Bay, Buffalo, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. Those were four of the top six teams in the league in scoring. When Carroll says, “I don’t mind winning 20-9, I don’t mind winning 17-14,” well, that’s just not how championship teams do it in today’s NFL.
Part of Carroll’s reasoning for needing to run the ball more is that defenses adjusted during the season, switching to two deep safeties to take away the long ball. He said that by running the ball more defenses will be forced to move one of those safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, thus opening up more deep passing lanes. Maybe that will work, but maybe not. Many successful defenses are willing to give up modest gains to prevent big ones, then get tough when the opposition has a condensed field, forcing them to settle for field goals. Defenses like … the Seahawks.
Carroll has a big decision to make on offense after the team parted ways with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer over “philosophical differences.” The theory is that Schottenheimer wasn’t on board with the run-the-ball-more plan, and that Carroll will hire a replacement who is. I urge Carroll to pause a moment, reassess what works in today’s NFL, and choose someone who will hand the tongs back to Wilson.
But whoever Carroll hires, even if it’s a wishbone specialist, I suggest you take a deep breath and smile. The Seahawks are still in their golden era, and no one has had more to do with that than Carroll.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.