Playing Russell Wilson vs Arizona embodies Pete Carroll’s approach with Seahawks

Jan 2, 2016, 1:13 PM | Updated: 1:17 pm
Russell Wilson is starting Sunday even though the Seahawks will be without two of their starting li...
Russell Wilson is starting Sunday even though the Seahawks will be without two of their starting linemen. (AP)

PHOENIX – Pete Carroll isn’t concerned with what his team might lose.

He’s more interested in what it can gain.

That outlook explains much of what Carroll has done as Seattle’s coach, and it is also the reason that Russell Wilson will be playing in Arizona on Sunday.

Yep, Wilson is starting a game that won’t include two starting offensive linemen and might not impact Seattle’s playoff positioning at all, and if you don’t understand why Carroll isn’t sitting his quarterback for safe keeping, well you don’t really understand Carroll’s coaching.

“We’re going to play ball,” Carroll said. “We’re going to play ball to win.”

This is the way he has always been. It’s the reason he attempted a game-tying field goal in the final minute of a preseason game in his second season. Who makes a play to potentially force overtime in August? Carroll did.

Carroll doesn’t believe in playing it safe. That explains everything from the impulsive decisions he’s prone to make on fourth downs to his rationale for challenging an official’s call without knowing that there’s clear video evidence to overturn it.

So it shouldn’t be all that much of a shock that Carroll’s plans for Wilson remain unchanged for this final game that won’t substantially alter Seattle’s playoff trajectory. And even after Carroll announced Friday that right guard J.R. Sweezy is out with a concussion and left tackle Russell Okung is doubtful because of a strained calf, the coach didn’t hesitate on reaffirming his intentions. In fact, he didn’t even hear the whole question.

Reporter: “Would there be any thought – if you’re without a couple of starters out on the offensive line – to changing anything with regard to …”

Carroll: “No.”

Actually, a more accurate transcription: “NO!”

To say Sunday’s game is meaningless to Seattle isn’t true. It’s just that the outcome of the game in Arizona is only one potential part of determining which of three opponents Seattle will travel to play in the wild-card round:

• 1) If Minnesota beats Green Bay on Sunday night, the Seahawks will play the Vikings regardless of the outcome in Arizona.

• 2) If Green Bay beats Minnesota and Seattle beats Arizona, the Seahawks will be the No. 5 seed and travel to Washington for the wild-card round.

• 3) If Green Bay beats Minnesota and Arizona beats Seattle, the Seahawks will be seeded No. 6 and play at Green Bay.

In simplest terms, the only thing a victory would assure Seattle on Sunday is that it isn’t going to Green Bay.

Except, Carroll doesn’t believe that you play hard when you have to. He doesn’t believe that the strategic importance of a game should dictate the level of effort expended or the caliber of performance that is expected.

This certainly isn’t the only way to coach. The past 10 years is full of examples of coaches who have dialed back playing time when playoff position is secured. The Colts sacrificed a chance at going undefeated in the regular season doing just that.

And in a league that is often viewed as a battle of attrition, there certainly could be a benefit in avoiding the bumps and bruises that are an unavoidable part of playing any game.

In Carroll’s mind, there is a bigger advantage to be derived from not just playing, but playing well. The confidence that breeds. The cohesion. That camaraderie.

The fact that Seattle played so poorly last week against St. Louis only increases the importance of a solid performance on Sunday.

“We were so unlike what we have been,” Carroll said the day after that game. “The consistency that we have come to really appreciate wasn’t there.”

Winning in Arizona on Sunday won’t cure what ailed the Seahawks against St. Louis, but a good performance will help chase away the aftertaste of the team’s first December loss in two years.

The Seahawks may not have much to gain in playoff position on Sunday, but they have plenty to play for this season and the only way they’ll achieve that is by playing significantly better than they did last week.

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Playing Russell Wilson vs Arizona embodies Pete Carroll’s approach with Seahawks