Salk: Seahawks aren’t executing their philosophy due to compromises

Jan 4, 2024, 8:31 PM

Seattle Seahawks Pete Carroll Quandre Diggs...

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll talks with Quandre Diggs before an Oct. 22, 2023 game. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

After five months of watching and analyzing this season, the word that best describes Seattle Seahawks is “inconsistent.”

They have their moments where you could be convinced that they are putting it all together. They have others where they look hopelessly behind and without a clear path back to the top. That’s probably normal for .500 teams, but without a win on Sunday, it will be a clear step back from where they were a year ago.

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We’ve spent countless hours trying to figure out why they don’t quite have “it” this season. We’ve been frustrated by their lack of discipline and accountability, lamented the tackling problems, wondered when they’d win more at the line of scrimmage, and argued about their future at the quarterback position. To some extent, each of those issues has kept them from reaching their goals.

But after talking to FOX college football analyst Joel Klatt on Thursday morning’s Brock and Salk on Seattle Sports, it dawns on me that there is a bigger, wider problem. The Seahawks are inconsistent because they have made too many compromises.

Let me be clear, Klatt wasn’t talking about the Seahawks (well, mostly, but more on that later). In fact, UW Huskies fans may want to turn away because he was actually explaining how the Michigan Wolverines were built to conquer their biggest rivals to the southeast.

“What they have right now,” Klatt said of the Michigan defense, “is a complete rush that is cohesive in the way that it rushes. They maintain their levels of defense, they have hybrid players that cover well, they’ve got a lock down corner, they’ve got a nickel that might be the best nickel on the country. And that’s not a great matchup for Washington because that defense is built not just to stop Washington, because I don’t think they’re going to stop them. They’re built to force Washington to snap it 10 times. And what that does is it limits the number of possessions you see.”

Forgetting about its effect on Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship, doesn’t that just make sense? The pass rushers are chosen for the way they fit together. The “hybrid” linebackers are chosen to take away the short routes and the secondary was built to handle a three-wide receiver set. Everything fits together.

How does it work? According to Klatt, pretty darn well.

“Just to give you an example, if you go back to the 2021 game of Michigan and Ohio State, Ohio State actually threw the ball all over that Michigan team. (C.J.) Stroud had 350 yards throwing the football. Those three great receivers, they had a combined 28 catches for over 320 yards. And if you saw that stat line, you would have said Ohio State won. But they didn’t. Why? Because Ohio State only had 10 possessions! They forced them to snap it 10-plus times to drive down the field.”

That will be on Washington to figure out on Monday, and ultimately, we’ll see if they can be even more effective than that Buckeye team was. But it’s a smart gameplan for Michigan because it limits the primary strength of their opponent.

None of that is particularly earth shattering, but what I love is the final piece of the puzzle. Because Klatt understands that the Michigan defense wasn’t the only reason they took down Ohio State.

“On the other side,” he continued, “Michigan got that big ol’ boa constrictor out and they squeezed the life out of them with their run game. And they ran it 15 times out of 16 plays in the fourth quarter and 20 times out of 24 snaps in the second half.”

Yes, the offense and defense were built to complement each other. The team has success because they were built with one goal in mind.

Can you say the same about the Seahawks? It sure doesn’t feel that way, at least right now.

Over the last few years, we’ve heard plenty of grumbling about Pete Carroll’s philosophy.

“He runs it too much…”

“It’s an outdated scheme…”

And on and on. That noise didn’t just echo in a vacuum. Instead, it had a profound effect on the team. First, it was Russell Wilson and his well-documented desire to cook that ultimately led to the big divorce. But it went beyond that.

Before Russ left, we saw the team experiment with a more unbalanced passing game with mixed results. Eventually, he even played a role in the hiring of a new offensive coordinator, Shane Waldron.

Let me clear, I think Shane Waldron is a smart guy and perfectly capable offensive coordinator. He came into a tough spot with a coach and quarterback clearly not on the same page and handled it with aplomb. He has all the credentials and we’ve seen glimpses of his creativity and play-calling prowess. What he did with Geno Smith last year was incredibly impressive. But does he fit with the core principles of what Pete wants?

We’ve discussed that philosophy ad nauseam over the years. Pete wants a balanced offense, predicated on a physical running game with play-action and deep shots for explosive plays. He wants a defense that won’t give up big plays, will force the offense to be patient and not make mistakes, and hit you hard enough to make you think twice about throwing into danger zones. He wants to wear teams down with the “circle of toughness” led by the defense, the running game and strong special teams. And he wants to be the stronger team in the final minutes, both because his team is prepared for it and because they have worn their opponents down with bountiful body blows.

You can disagree with the merits of that philosophy, but it has been successful for a long time. And it is a coherent, fully-formed system that, much like what Jim Harbaugh has designed in Ann Arbor, works as an all-encompassing strategy.

But in order for it to be effective, you have to commit to it. You have to bring in coaches and players that fit. You can’t make compromises and concessions. You can’t be 29th in the league in rushing attempts. You can’t get pushed around up front. You can’t allow explosive plays one week and 132 yards after contact the next. Those aren’t problems with your philosophy; those are problems executing your philosophy.

And you probably don’t need a coordinator that specializes in a modern passing game. Nor do you want a highly paid safety that constantly gives up deep plays in coverage and a middle linebacker that doesn’t specialize in playing in space in the passing game. Those feel like compromises made to make your (ex) quarterback happy, to help generate juice in your locker room and to bring back veteran presence that was missed. Maybe those things are important, but they take away from the larger strategy with which your team is supposed to be constructed.

When I suggested to Klatt that UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (who we both think should be a top-five pick in the 2024 NFL Draft) would be amazing here in Seattle, he blanched.

“It’s like a Ferrari putting around 5 mph. Can we please send him to an offensive mind, like a young guy? … Can we see him with (the Rams’ Sean) McVay or (Miami’s Mike) McDaniel? I don’t want to see him hand off 37 times.”

Uh, 37 times per game? Let’s try 22. This isn’t the Seahawks’ offense many think it is, but it also isn’t the one I believe Pete wants. If he wants this team to pull out of its bout with mediocrity, he needs to recommit to his – or really any – philosophy. And go all-in.

More on the Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner intends to play next season
Seahawks Football 101: How Geno Smith, Michael Penix Jr. are similar
Seahawks Notebook: Carroll updates injuries, laments run game
Playoff Scenarios: How Seahawks can clinch postseason berth
What Carroll Said: Seattle Seahawks’ run D, tackling, late decisions

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