Seahawks

Breaking down Pete Carroll’s baffling explanation for punting on 4th-and-inches

Seahawks
USATI

Here we are again. Just one week after expressing surprise that the Bills completely ditched their running game in favor of passing it all over the yard against the Seahawks, we have more mind-bending quotes from Pete Carroll to break down.

Amid Seattle’s 23-16 loss to the Rams in Week 10, Carroll chose to punt with the Seahawks facing 4th-and-inches from their own 42-yard line. The decision came on the opening drive of the third quarter with Seattle trailing, 17-13.

Los Angeles promptly engineered an 88-yard touchdown drive following the punt to make it a two-score game.

Let’s make a few things clear before we dive into Carroll’s comments on why he chose to punt the ball in that situation. First, this column isn’t about the outcome of the Rams scoring, it’s about the thought process that led to Carroll’s decision. Secondly, this isn’t to suggest that Seattle lost solely because Carroll didn’t keep Russell Wilson and the offense on the field for that particular fourth down.

However, especially after a loss, analyzing Carroll’s decision-making process provides important insight into how he might reflect on this game and adjust moving forward. Given that Carroll doubled down and said postgame that he’d make the same decision again if given a re-do, the following comments are worth fully dissecting.

Here are Carroll’s line-for-line quotes, along with interjection and analysis as to why his rationale makes little to no sense.

 

“That early in the game, when there was so much going on and so many opportunities, I don’t want to give them the ball at the 40-yard line,” Carroll began. “That’s a turnover. That’s like handing them an interception if you don’t make it. If they penetrate and make a play in the backfield and get you– knowing that Mikey (Dickson) would kick the ball inside the 10-yard line and do something good with that, we’ll go ahead and play defense. That’s believing that we’re going to be alright.”

It’s baffling what Carroll is choosing to believe in here. He’s essentially making this decision while considering the worst-case scenario from the league’s top-scoring offense and the best-case scenario from a historically bad defense.

Seattle’s defense has shown all season long that it is more than capable of giving up long scoring drives. Heck, the Rams had a 93-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. The assumption should be that the defense is going to give up points every time it takes the field, which is why maximizing possessions offensively is paramount.

“The logic of saying ‘because we’re such a high-scoring team you should go for it right there’ doesn’t fit in my brain,” Carroll continued. “I don’t understand that. That really isn’t the case right there. It’s really about playing the game more than the potential of our play and all that kind of stuff.”

That’s rather alarming, but let’s continue…

“The players would have loved to go for it,” he said. “I know that, and I would have liked to go for it, too. So I have to work against my nature to go ahead and kick that ball right there. I would probably do it the same way again.”

In a vacuum, playing the field position game makes sense. It is statistically harder for a team to score when starting a drive at its own 12-yard line compared to the opponent’s 42. But at some point, Carroll can no longer go by the book, and he must consider the extreme disparity that exists between your offense and defense.

The issue is that Carroll is putting more faith in a defense that isn’t worthy of his trust than a future Hall of Fame quarterback. So if his “nature” is telling him to go for it, then it seems he needs to start trusting his gut more.

“You can say that, but I’m just playing the game,” Carroll said. “The game there wasn’t worth giving them the football (with) as well as they’d done in the first half.”

Let’s cut Carroll off right there, because he’s making my point for me. With as well as the Rams offense moved the ball in the first half, the goal should have been to keep Jared Goff and Co. on the sideline. Only one option could have made that happen: going for it on 4th-and-inches.

 

“I didn’t mind giving them the ball inside their 10-yard line,” he went on. “We’ll go play defense back there. There are too many opportunities to give them that advantage.”

Counterpoint: You only get so many opportunities to possess the football with the highest-scoring offense in the NFL. Carroll quite literally conceded one of those opportunities with the hope that Seattle would get another possession while still trailing by four points.

Carroll continuing this discourse while only focusing on “what if we didn’t convert” is an egregiously flawed process. Because it’s incumbent on him, especially considering the quality of the offense at his disposal, to consider the advantages of converting in that situation.

“What if they took the ball down and scored right there,” Carroll said. “Then the game feels like it’s lopsided, and you’re way behind it.”

But the Rams did take the ball down and score, they just had to cover more ground in order to do so. And not a single person watching the game was surprised by the outcome.

“But think about it, you don’t think they’re going to score every time they get the football,” he said. “They scored one time in the second half. That was it.”

Well of course no offense is going to score on 100% of its possessions. But Seattle’s defense has been such a liability this season that Carroll should be conditioned to assume that the Seahawks are going to get scored on every time that defense takes the field.  

Beyond that, crediting the Seahawks defense for stops that hadn’t taken place yet is an irresponsible way to rationalize this decision.

“At that time I would probably do it again,” he concluded.

It's worth pointing out that not once did Carroll mention the absence of Chris Carson, Carlos Hyde or Ethan Pocic. Pointing to those players would have been a far more justifiable explanation than what he provided.

Carroll is a wonderful coach who could teach a master class in building and maintaining positive culture. There is no shortage of X’s and O’s brainiacs who can’t cut it as an NFL head coach because they lack Carroll’s most profound attribute.

Being a leader of men has always been Carroll’s superpower. It’s why he’s the most successful coach in Seahawks history and why he was just rewarded with a contract extension through the 2025 season.

But Carroll’s Achilles heel remains to be his inability to pivot from dated philosophies that are woven into his DNA through decades of coaching football. At some point he must recognize that the “Legion of Boom” is long gone and is never coming back.

Carroll would surely roll his eyes and tell you he’s well aware, of course, but his in-game decisions continue to suggest otherwise.