O’Neil: What We Learned from Seahawks’ 34-31 loss to Falcons

Nov 21, 2017, 1:38 PM | Updated: Nov 22, 2017, 1:46 pm
Should Blair Walsh have made his 52-yard field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter? (AP)...
Should Blair Walsh have made his 52-yard field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter? (AP)

The Seahawks have the best chin in football.

They’ve shown that repeatedly over the past six years, a period in which this team has been blown out exactly once.

We also know that they’ve got a puncher’s chance in just about every game they play, but after losing a second consecutive home game for the first time since 2011, what else did we learn from Monday’s loss to Atlanta?

1. You can’t say Blair Walsh “should have” made that final field-goal attempt.

He could have made it. After all, the kick was online and only about 4, maybe 5 feet short of the crossbar. Everyone in Seattle certainly wishes that Walsh would have made it, and you can even debate whether Steven Hauschka would have made it. Or Stephen Hauschka, for that matter. But “should” denotes a level of expectation that simply isn’t fair. Not from 52 yards out in Seattle on a cold, wet night in November. Not in a stadium where kickers have made 28 of 53 field-goal attempts of 50 yards going back to 2002 when CenturyLink Field first opened as Seahawks Stadium. That’s a coin flip, not a fire-able offense.

2. There is a risk in having Russell Wilson do so much.

That risk isn’t just one of injury to the quarterback or leaving the team’s fortunes vulnerable to an off day by the quarterback. The risk comes because the quarterback is the single most likely player to fumble the football on the field. That reality comes in large part because he’s the one guy most likely to be hit when he’s not expecting it, and he’s the only guy who’s expected to be doing something else with the football – namely preparing to throw it – while opponents are preparing to knock it away. Every other player has one job with the ball once he gets it: don’t fumble. So while it’s a bummer that Wilson lost that fumble that was returned for a touchdown in the first minute of the second quarter, it’s kind of inevitable that those sort of mistakes are going to happen when you consider that Seattle effectively serves its offense in one of three flavors:

a) Wilson passes the ball; or
b) Wilson runs the ball; or
c) Wilson scrambles amid the hellfire of an opposing pass rush until he can pass the ball.

You have one guy doing that much – especially if he plays the position that’s the most likely to fumble – and there’s bound to be a bump or two along the way.

3. Pete Carroll needs a challenge consultant.

Seriously. He is impulsive and relies way too much on what he perceives as the importance of the moment, which leads to decisions that cost Seattle timeouts, which is exactly what happened in the fourth quarter. But before we get to that, let’s deal with the formula for determining whether a play should be challenged, which requires you to weight two different factors:

1) The likelihood that the play will be overturned;
2) The value that would be gained should the play be overturned.

Anyone remotely familiar with the concept of pot odds in poker will intuitively understand what is going on. Actually, anyone remotely familiar with the concept of pot odds in poker would probably be better at deciding whether to challenge an NFL play than Seattle’s coach.

That’s because Carroll routinely botches challenges in both regards. He has challenged plays early in games that result in insubstantial gains in yardage, which is a problem because even if the challenge is successful, it impacts the risk of using future challenges since those come at a cost. The value that is gained by that challenge is so low it’s not worth any risk even if it’s something as marginal as affecting the stakes for a future challenge.

More importantly, he also tends to challenge plays which are very unlikely to be overturned, which is exactly what happened on the incompletion to Doug Baldwin in the first half of the fourth quarter. The value of having that call overturned was huge. It was third down, meaning a reversal would have extended the drive and kept Seattle from punting at a time the Seahawks trailed by 11. The likelihood that the play would be overturned was excruciatingly low, though, as replays clearly showed the ball touching the turf and he should have – or at the very least could have – seen that before challenging the play. Still, Carroll threw the flag, and it ended up costing Seattle a timeout that would have been very valuable on the Seahawks’ final drive.

Also, it should be noted that any time a referee says that a call is “confirmed” instead of saying it stands, that is a tell-tale sign that the play should not have been challenged. And unless the coach had to decide on throwing the challenge flag before a replay aired, that was a wasted challenge because there was very little likelihood of success.

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O’Neil: What We Learned from Seahawks’ 34-31 loss to Falcons