Theory: Pete Carroll wants his old-fashioned Seahawks back

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Coordinator changes suggest a pivot to the earlier days

You readers know I like the stats. The flawed but still useful traditional ones; the advanced ones with smaller error bars; the best stuff put out by footballoutsiders.com. I love the way numbers can tell a story, if you can find just the right digits to serve as words.

But how does one accurately quantify the moves made by the Seattle Seahawks front office in the past week? Gone are Darrell Bevell, Tom Cable and Kris Richard, in to replace them respectively are Brian Schottenheimer, Mike Solari and Ken Norton, Jr.

There are plenty of ways to manipulate statistics into making you feel one way or another about Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s hires. I try to avoid such deceptions. If I wanted you to doubt the new offensive line coach’s bona fides, the following would sow enough doubt:

More of a history of mediocrity than one of success up there. Likewise, it’s not very hard to push you toward distrust of Norton’s qualifications. His Raiders teams were 22nd, 26th and 23rd in yards allowed, never above 20th in scoring defense, and his defense’s DVOA fell from 15th in 2015 to 22nd in 2016 to 29th last year. The only trends there are bad; the very best statistical results are average.

Schottenheimer’s nine offenses have cracked the top ten in scoring only once. They’ve been in the top half of the league three times and the bottom half six times. You’d like to see the opposite. Or at least something approaching Bevell’s 9th-8th-4th-10th run of scoring ranks from earlier this decade.

The most important raw stats don’t like your new coordinators. But Carroll does. He likes them so much he didn’t waste any time at all adding them once the old coaches were sent packing. Let that sway you instead of the unfavorable numbers.

Carroll quite clearly didn’t care to wait and poach assistants or position coaches from the final four teams alive in the playoffs. He didn’t want to bring in a dozen candidates from around the country, for weeks of interviews. He wanted to move fast.

Because now he can hit the ground… running with his guys. And no matter what you think of them, Carroll trusts them to do the job. Okay — before this post descends into a complete appeal to authority, I’d like to establish its two main points, which are pure opinion but based just as much in numbers as in conjecture. (Meaning I welcome your disagreement, wrongheaded as it might be. In fact, many of us could disagree and still be wrong in our own adorable fashions. Plenty of ways to misinterpret a move and mispredict the future.) Anyway:

1. Pete Carroll is retaking control of the direction of the Seahawks. He spent 2016 and 2017 losing a handle on his team’s identity, and he didn’t like it. Who would?

2. The departed coordinators weren’t necessarily fired for performance reasons. In each case there is enough poor performance to warrant a dismissal, but even then I’ll offer a complementary reason.

It’s Pete’s team again, like it or not

What I mean is that the Seahawks of recent memory strayed from Carroll’s long-standing and oft-explained vision for the team.

We can speculate on why but not on whether. Carroll values the running game and the last two editions of his team couldn’t run the ball effectively. He treasures explosive plays and they didn’t dominate explosives, not any more. He stresses ball protection, which the Seahawks did just fine, but if you don’t force enough turnovers, which they didn’t, ball protection is an empty goal, closer to a zero-sum game.

Carroll wants the run stopped, and more often than not the only rushing offense the Seahawks bottled up was their own.

Doug Baldwin understands. He buys in. This tweet (probably) isn’t just a job audition for Carroll’s staff in 2025.

The 2017 Seahawks were not made from Carroll’s mold. Instead, they were an attempt to break from it and win anyway. It didn’t work the way anyone wanted.

  • One solitary touchdown on the ground came from legs not attached to Russell Wilson.
  • Running backs posted hard-to-look-at numbers. Eddie Lacy ran for 2.6 YPC, Thomas Rawls for 2.7, and your leading rusher by yardage (Mike Davis) finished with a 68-240-3.5-0 line. When the best thing you can say about your backfield is “Man, I wish Chris Carson hadn’t been lost to injury,” then you’ve got RB problems. Or offensive line problems. Or both. Probably both. No matter what angle you latch on to, the run game was the worst we’ve seen it since Carroll arrived. Even Carroll’s “rookie” year here featured two 500-yard rushers in Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, and got into the end zone 13 times. Blaming Cable only goes so far. For reasons related to Cable or not, the ground attack was a step below anemic and several whole staircases below Carroll’s standards.
  • The 2017 Seahawks finished eighth in turnover differential (+8) and ninth in takeaways (25). Those are respectable numbers but the 2012-2014 teams crushed in both categories, averaging +15 and 31. Carroll wouldn’t mind generating an extra six takeaways annually — those can easily be the difference between earning a 10-win wild-card berth and a first-round bye, between a playoff-less nine-win season and a division title.
  • The last two seasons of Seahawks offense saw them pass the ball almost 60 percent of the time: 59.4 percent in both years, coincidentally. In 2012-2014, it was less than half the time (45.8, 47.3 and 48.6).

The 2012-14 teams contended for Super Bowls. They hosted four playoff games. Since then, the Seahawks have been on the fringe of title contention, on the road for all but one contest. I don’t think the turnabout here is strictly because the team got away from Carroll, but if you caught him in a moment of unguarded honesty, I bet it feels that way to him. (There’s your sweet, sweet speculation, at last.) He owns the results from 2015-17: the 2-2 playoff record, the first postseason whiff of Wilson’s career. But he might not have recognized his own team at times.

Look: the offense began to revolve around the quarterback, not the run game. With slow starts caused by drives thrown off schedule, the team was forced to play from behind, being dictated to instead of doing the dictating themselves. Carroll’s press conferences are filled with reminders to stay on schedule. And under Bevell and Cable, the Seahawks looked like Carroll wanted for a while, for a brief, glorious while. Then they didn’t. For two whole years. Pete’s loyalty has limits.

Look: under Richard, the Seahawks led the league in scoring defense once but never returned to their ball-hawking ways of 2012-2013, when they produced a staggering 70 takeaways. Whether opposing teams got wise in 2014 and beyond, refusing to take chances downfield, or the defense got slower and less hungry, or both, or something else entirely like chance bounces or lousy health, that’s up to each of us to conclude. But my number-friends, they tell the truth today, as if it were a regular-season Monday at the V-Mac, early, at dawn, when the first men arrive to take apart the previous week and assemble the next one. Which we are at now, sort of, if you think of all of 2018 as one giant week.

Look: Seattle’s defense in 2017 came up with multiple takeaways five times and won all five games. Which means Seattle went 4-7 in the other 11 contests. It still helps to help yourself to the ball when another team is trying to use it.

In addition, the defense recently began to allow more explosives, more points, more yards per play, resulting in more clean drives by the opponent. It’s reflected in the 2017 Seahawks falling to 13th in scoring defense, allowing 200 more yards rushing than they gained, and especially 10 more rushing touchdowns than they produced. If the defense is really Pete’s baby, and he just needs people to help him lead it, not make it, the choice of Norton makes all the sense in the world.

One thing you won’t fault Norton for is passivity. He’s fiery, intense, and a motivator from the old school. Nor will he be unfamiliar with Carroll’s ideals. He’d been on staff with Carroll for 11 seasons (six at USC) before his stint in Oakland. And I think there’s a pretty good chance Carroll was dissatisfied with Richard’s leadership as much as his results. For as good as Richard looked in front the cameras, the sideline flare-ups by Richard Sherman and the Cowboys locker room visit by Earl Thomas don’t project an image of team unity.

Carroll might not be right about everything (it is a little bit how you start, Pete, just look at the win probability graphs) but he has vision and the wherewithal to execute that vision. With guys by his side who are all in with him. It’s silly to call the staff shakeup a power play by Carroll. He was already holding all the cards by virtue of his position. Maybe, to borrow from the previous paragraph, a “unity play” is the better way of putting it.

I think there’s a pretty good chance that over time, we saw Pete Carroll — with the assistance of fellow coaches and unfortunate circumstances — trap himself into building an offense he didn’t particularly care for. When it crashed and burned this year, in no small part because of a woeful running game, he cleaned house. It’s conceivable he saw Bevell as a useful innovator when Seattle was installing the read option but then a voice of dissent since. Or, better said, not of dissent, but one that was always looking for a way to make stuff outside of Pete’s plan work. Integrating wrinkles until the whole plan was wrinkles, until the offense was only nominally Carrollian. A voice of distraction, perhaps.

Schottenheimer won’t be that. His Jets were three times in the top ten in the league in rush attempts and four times in the top ten in touchdowns. He worked with Mark Sanchez in New York and then Sam Bradford/Austin Davis in St. Louis, so Wilson will be by far the most talented quarterback since a washed-up Brett Favre squeezed into a Jets jersey in 2008.

Schottenheimer will run Carroll’s offense: the stay-on-schedule, take-few-chances, run-first-run-second formula in which Pete believes.

To take this round of speculation all the way to its final destination, I don’t think Bevell and Cable cooperated well because the slow starts and frantic finishes suggest inferior pre-game planning and superior in-game adjustments. The hierarchy of having Bevell in charge of the offense as a whole but not the running game (Cable’s partial title) seems like something a team can pull off when it’s rolling, or staffed by a transcendent runner like Lynch. But also something that can turn sour, inefficient or devoid of synergy in a hurry. Too many cooks in the kitchen and whatnot. I find it extremely uncoincidental that a single coordinator now oversees the entire offense.

Now everyone’s on the same page. If the script is outdated — a common criticism of Carroll these days — then at least they’re all reading from the same one.

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