Rost: No easy answer for Seahawks’ struggles, which are nothing new
After the Seahawks were shutout for the first time in a decade last week, Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson were asked an obvious question: is it the finger?
That would be the surgically repaired middle finger on Wilson’s throwing hand, which both quarterback and head coach acknowledged may not be at 100 percent heading into Week 10. But both men stressed not only that Wilson could make all the throws in practice, but that the finger wasn’t hampering his play during games.
If that’s true – and I think, for the most part, that it is – the Seahawks have a bigger problem.
The offense has scored a single touchdown since Wilson’s return and put up just 13 points across eight quarters. Wilson is completing just over 50 percent of his pass attempts (51.5%) and has struggled with overthrows and missed targets. There have also been some questionable decisions, evident in two interceptions last week.
Forget the finger. The real question facing the Seahawks is just as obvious, but without nearly as clear an answer: What’s wrong with this team?
There are warts that have always been part of a Pete Carroll team; it’s a give and take that’s normal for any scheme.
A Carroll defense prioritizes stopping the run and avoiding explosive plays and will always give up pass plays underneath to prevent getting beat over the top. Seattle will instead lean on speedy defenders and sure tackling to stifle a shorter play for a minimum gain, and then hunker down in the red zone – a classic bend-but-don’t-break approach. The offensive approach leans into similar logic, valuing both the run game and the explosive pass in lieu of a dink-and-dunk approach.
It’s one thing to embrace some of those tradeoffs when a team is winning. But this is no longer a Seahawks team that excels with explosive pass plays and takeaways on defense. They’re not a team that can run all over opponents – criticism of a run-first approach be damned. Instead, this is an offense that isn’t doing much of anything well right now.
The Seahawks are 30th in yards per game and passing yards, and 22nd in points per game and rushing yards per game. They’ve been abysmal on third down, converting just 33 percent of attempts. And that’s not because they’re always converting on first and second down; they rank second-to-last in total first downs per game (17.3), better than only the 2-8 Houston Texans. They rank dead last in average time of possession (25 minutes) and, for that reason, also rank dead last in plays per game.
Here’s what must also be frustrating this team and is certainly frustrating their fans: So many of these struggles aren’t new. The Seahawks were 27th last year in third down efficiency and, even after making it an offseason focus, haven’t improved. Running back injuries are a problem and have been before. Even losing to Colt McCoy is a repeat. The defense has certainly taken a step forward over the last several weeks, and credit them for that, but struggles there also aren’t new. Seahawks defenses have been giving up more points and more yards per game pretty much every year since 2015.
It’s no wonder that a visibly frustrated Pete Carroll cut his own postgame press conference short and walked out of the room.
“I’m just not any good at this,” an apologetic Carroll said after returning later. Carroll said his single year as head coach of the New York Jets in 1994 might be the closest he’s been to being as far behind as Seattle is now.
“I’m not prepared for this,” Carroll said. “I’m struggling to do a good job of coaching when you’re getting your butt kicked week in and week out. It’s new territory. And I’m competing in every way I can think of, but I’m just unfamiliar with it. So, if I leave (a press conference) early or I make a mistake, I’m not on my best game here.”
The right answers are tough to drum up. How can he explain the team’s third down struggles if the week of preparation leading up to the game felt so solid? What kind of answer feels right if the talent you have on offense should be so much better than those time of possession numbers? What answer is there to questions about why a franchise quarterback, who has been a model of consistency, is completing half of his passes?
There’s no easy answer because there’s more than one source of these problems.
The Seahawks’ 2021 season feels less the fault of a single finger injury and more like the amalgamation of draft mistakes, costly trades, and a veteran-heavy roster. Mistakes by Wilson – who certainly bears the greatest burden for Week 10’s loss and didn’t take much of a step forward Sunday – were also a factor late last year and have become one again. Wilson himself isn’t the biggest issue with the Seahawks, but his inability to mask Seattle’s problems with MVP-caliber play certainly is one.