O’Neil: Carroll coaching Seahawks like it’s 2013, but that’s not the team he has
Pete Carroll is coaching the team he wishes he had instead of the one he’s currently in charge of.
As confusingly philosophical as that may sound, it’s the only way I can make sense of not just the decisions he made in Sunday’s loss to the New Orleans Saints, but the regrets he expressed over some of those decisions that he expressed over some of his fourth-down gambits afterward.
Pete seems to think he was too aggressive on fourth down. I don’t think he was aggressive enough.
Pete wants to believe his team is best suited to playing the game in terms of field position. I know that his team would be better off going for the points that a fourth-down conversion would lead to when going for it on fourth down anywhere on the opponent’s half of the field.
I am not hopeful of a change any time soon. Pete’s got an approach that has worked historically well for him first at USC and for a decade now in Seattle, but that success has created a blind spot. He’s not looking at a strategy that will maximize the odds that this particular iteration of his team – with its specific strengths and weaknesses – will win. He wants to use the strategy that worked for the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, and these are definitely NOT the 2013 Seahawks.
Six years ago, you could defend the decision to punt facing fourth-and-4 at the opponent’s 39-yard line as Carroll did in the first quarter of Sunday’s game against New Orleans. That doesn’t mean it was the right decision back then. There are years of data from NFL games that indicate an average team would be best served by going for it in that situation, but you could defend it considering just how historically good Seattle’s defense was.
It’s not historically good any more. It might not be good in comparison to the other 32 teams in the league so the only real justification for that first-quarter punt against New Orleans was that it’s how this coach – whose background is on the defensive side of the ball – likes to do things.
The best player on this team is Russell Wilson, and Carroll would be best-served to give that player as much influence as possible over the outcome. This isn’t just about the run-pass ratio of the offensive play-calling. It’s about giving Wilson the most opportunity to get points out of a possession. Instead, Seattle accepted 29 yards of field position instead of giving the offense a chance to gain the 4 yards it would have needed to get a first down and put it in position to score points.
This is not revolutionary thinking. It’s a math exercise based on decades of data. The New York Times has compiled it into a ready-to-use application that offers real-time assessments.
Pete is one of the more open-minded coaches in the NFL when it comes to new approaches to nutrition and training. He’s constantly looking for insights into how best to motivate and manage his team so it’s not like he’s never heard this argument or evidence about going for it on fourth down. He’s using a different strategy, one that doesn’t play to this team’s specific strengths. Same goes for Seattle’s deliberate starts which are heavy on rushes and short passes. He’s playing like a coach who wants to shorten the game. He should be playing like a coach who wants to give his quarterback as many opportunities as possible to make game-changing plays.
If anything, Seattle should be more aggressive on fourth down than the average NFL team given the caliber of its quarterback, yet Seattle went for it on fourth down just 14 times last season. Only six teams attempted fewer fourth-down conversions.
Seattle’s defense is an average one at best. It has been that way for more than a year now, and the single best thing this team has going for it is Wilson. The worst thing for Seattle would be for Pete to become more reluctant to go for it on fourth down after his team’s 1-for-4 performance on Sunday.
More Seahawks coverage
• Clayton’s Observations: Making sense of Hawks’ mess of a loss to Saints
• What Duane Brown, Bobby Wagner and more said after Seahawks’ loss
• Pete Carroll recaps Hawks’ baffling loss to Saints
• Rost: Seahawks’ run game hasn’t found its footing
• O’Neil: Seahawks’ utterly agonizing loss their worst at home under Carroll