Seahawks coach has Falcons envy

  • By John Boyle Herald Writer
  • Friday, September 30, 2011 12:01am
  • Sports

RENTON — When Seahawks coach Pete Carroll looks at the Atlanta Falcons, he sees a lot to like. In fact, the way he describes the Falcons, Seattle’s opponent Sunday, sounds a lot like what he wants the Seahawks to be.

First and foremost, the Falcons take care of the football. Last year they

had the league’s third best turnover ratio at plus-14. Atlanta, which like Seattle is led by a defensive-minded coach, Mike Smith, is also balanced on offense, solid on defense, and plays a disciplined brand of football — the Falcons had the fewest turnover is the league last year as they compiled

the best record in the NFL. All of that explains why the Falcons were so good despite being average, statically speaking, on both sides of the ball.

“This was a team that I admired throughout last year,” Carroll said. “They had an incredible season, but more than that it’s the way they did it last year with tremendous balance. The disciple of the team — Mike did a great job, they were the fewest penalized team in the league last year, which was hard to do that. They’re a tremendous possession team, the turnovers were great in their favor and they’re solid in the kicking game. So it’s a very difficult opponent for us.”

But while the Falcons are in a lot of ways what the Seahawks are hoping to become under Carroll, there is one big difference between the two franchises. In one of their first big moves after hiring Smith in 2008, the Falcons used the No. 3 pick of the draft on Matt Ryan, who has become an elite quarterback and the face of the franchise. Seattle, meanwhile, has made no such investment in the position.

Sure, the Seahawks hope Tarvaris Jackson, or maybe someday even Charlie Whitehurst, can be a good NFL quarterback, but they have yet to invest a high draft pick or big free-agent money on the position. Should Seattle continue to struggle this season, however, there is a good chance the Seahawks will look to do in next year’s draft what the Falcons did in 2008 — find a long-term answer at the game’s most important position. Of course, having a pick early in the draft is hardly a guarantee of finding a good quarterback. The Seahawks obviously value the position, and general manager John Schneider has said on multiple occasions that he would prefer to draft a quarterback every year, but that doesn’t mean Seattle will draft a quarterback, in the first round or otherwise, if that player isn’t the right fit. But in 2008, the Falcons not only needed a quarterback, but they saw one they really liked in Ryan.

“When we were doing our due diligence, it really became apparent that Matt Ryan was the best fit for us,” Smith said on a teleconference with Seattle media. “As a defensive coach, and having a defensive background, I know this — when you have to face an elite quarterback in this league, you don’t get a whole lot of sleep in your preparation. … I think when you get the chance to get an elite quarterback, you’ve got to go get him and that’s what (general manager Thomas Dimitroff) and myself going through the process came to that conclusion. It’s a quarterback-driven league and you’ve got to have one.”

So will the Seahawks be looking to find an elite quarterback next spring? That remains to be seen. Schneider and Carroll won’t reach just to draft a position of need, and who knows, as unlikely as it seems, Jackson could develop this season into a viable long-term option. But assuming Seattle still has questions at that position — and right now that looks to be a very safe assumption — there is a pretty good chance the Seahawks, like the Falcons in 2008, will be looking to add the most important piece to their roster.

And the good news for Seattle is that, now more than ever, drafting a rookie quarterback doesn’t necessarily mean a slow building process. Quarterbacks are coming into the league more and more prepared as college football offenses get more sophisticated, and NFL coaches no longer believe it is a mortal sin to play a rookie quarterback.

In 2008, Ryan won the starting job right away and helped Atlanta to an 11-5 record while earning offensive rookie of the year honors. That same year, fellow first-round pick Joe Flacco took over the starting job in Baltimore and also went to the playoffs. A year later, No. 5 overall pick Mark Sanchez helped the Jets to the AFC championship game. Last season, No. 1 pick Sam Bradford helped the Rams improve from 1-15 the year before to 7-9 to get within a game of the postseason. And this year, Cam Newton has turned heads by passing for more than 400 yards in each of his first two games. So adding a quarterback next year wouldn’t have to mean a setback for Seattle.

“I don’t think there’s any question,” Carroll said when asked if quarterbacks are coming into the league prepared. “It’s the willingness I think of our coaches in the League to recognize that and let them play, where in the old days you would never let a rookie play and you would never think he could. That’s part of it, being open to these guys, but they’re so much better prepared. … The guys are so well versed that you stick them in the plan and if you do it well, like (the Falcons) obviously did a great job, they picked out things that (Ryan) was really prepared to do, and he jumped at it and away he went. They played to his unique background and makeup and ability, and shoot he’s playing strong. Him and Flacco and those guys that came in that year have had phenomenal starts to their careers that are really almost unheard of if you look to the past.”

Injury update

S Kam Chancellor (quadriceps) missed a second straight practice. LB Matt McCoy (head/shoulder) returned after sitting out Wednesday’s practice, and FB Michael Robinson (ankle) also practiced fully for the second straight day.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog

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