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Salk: Blame Seahawks’ playoff loss on offense’s execution, not play-calling

Penalties and a defensive breakdown kept Russell Wilson from leading a Seahawks comeback. (AP)

I am disappointed that the Seahawks lost. I am mad that they came this far only to lose to the Cowboys because it felt like they had one more week left in them. And there are a lot of reasons why they lost. But the idea that this is solely (or even mostly) on the coaching staff is absurd.

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Of course the coaches play a role in it – everyone does. But this was a team effort, or maybe a two-team effort, because I thought Dallas deserved a ton of credit in all three phases of the game.

Let’s start here. The Seahawks got to this point by staying true to their identity. It was unpopular, different and unmistakable. And it worked.

I don’t mind a team occasionally deviating from its formula when the situation calls for it. We saw it at times this year. But in the biggest moment of the year? The playoffs? I just can’t fault them for sticking to their guns.

I can fault the offense for not executing plays that were successful all year. The Seahawks weren’t able to get much of a push nor could they open up running lanes for Chris Carson, who was largely ineffective. I can credit Dallas for playing some killer run defense. And I can certainly wonder if they would have had more success turning Russell Wilson loose. But fault? No, I can’t blame offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer for sticking with what got him to that point. I’d be much more willing to criticize if he had gone away from his bread and butter.

In fact, sticking with the plan set the Seahawks up for success.

Trailing 17-14 in the final minutes, they needed to stop the Cowboys on third-and-14 in order to force a field goal attempt and set up a chance for a two-minute drive to win the game. Instead, their two best tacklers, Bobby Wagner and Bradley McDougald, were unable to reach Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott in time.

This wasn’t a third-and-1 where the advantage was to the offense – it was third-and-14 with a short field. Seattle had every advantage and instead allowed Prescott to make a bonafide great game-winning play.

If the Seahawks had stopped the Cowboys there and forced the field goal, Russell would have plenty of time to do his thing. The story of the game would have been that the conservative gameplan kept them from making any mistakes on the road and ultimately allowed Russell a chance to win the game. The fact that the defense allowed that conversion isn’t going to change my view of the offensive gameplan.

Everything after that is just frustration and needing a scapegoat. We saw this team as a pass-first offense in the first two weeks of the season and it stunk. We saw the Seahawks turn to the pass in this game with mixed results. Yes, they hit a few big explosive plays (due in part to the threat of the run), but they also took an 8-yard loss on a screen and a killer holding call on a play-action pass. Both of those losses set them back and forced them into punts.

There will be calls for a new offensive coordinator. Some have even demanded the coach be fired if he is unwilling to make a change to a more pass-friendly offense. I think those making suggestions like that need a timeout and a little space before commenting.

There is a legitimate argument to made that an elite franchise quarterback like Russell Wilson is best with a scheme designed to let him throw it all over the yard. But these Seahawks weren’t designed that way, and their unique identity got them all the way to the playoffs, surprising a lot of people along the way. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough in Dallas. That stinks, but it isn’t a coaching flaw. It was a team out-executed by its opponent.

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