Pete Carroll spoke to the media for more than an hour Monday morning. He spent 30 minutes doing his weekly hit on 710 ESPN Seattle radio and then joined local media for one final year-end Zoom press conference that spanned upwards of 40 minutes.
The most notable talking point, by far, was Carroll’s emphatic desire to feature the running game more prominently in 2021. Even when asked to evaluate Russell Wilson’s season, he chose to discuss the offense holistically, particularly in regard to where Seattle must improve on the ground.
“We have to run the ball better, not even better, we have to run it more. We have to dictate what’s going on with the people that we’re playing, and that’s one of the ways to do that."
As a quick aside, Wilson may “know it, too,” but that didn’t come across on Saturday when the QB discussed wishing the Seahawks utilized a more up-tempo approach.
Anyway, back to Carroll’s comments. While he didn’t spend much time discussing it, the regression of the passing game in the second half of the season remains the most notable development of 2020. Wilson eclipsed 260 passing yards just once over the team’s final nine games (playoffs included) and his once stout O-line rarely provided ample protection.
You can send some of the blame Brian Schottenheimer’s way, as well, but there’s no denying that Wilson wasn’t the same guy in December that he was in September.
Thus, I followed up with this question: Do you think Wilson regressed because you didn’t run the ball enough this season or do you think you need to run the ball more next season because Wilson regressed? It’s sort of a chicken or the egg type deal, but understanding where he stands in regard to Wilson’s play is important.
“It’s a football thing. It’s a scheme thing,” Carroll said. “I want to see if we can run the ball more effectively to focus the play of the opponents and see if we can force them to do things like we like them to do. That doesn’t mean we’re going to run the ball 50 times a game. We need to run the ball with direction and focus and style that allows us to dictate the game. Frankly, I’d like to not play against two-deep looks all season long next year. We have to be able to get that done.”
And that brings us to the root of Seattle’s issue offensively: The dreaded two-deep look. After the Giants completely neutralized the Seahawks passing game in Week 13, every opponent the rest of the way, save for the Jets, copied that blueprint and gave Seattle fits.
Things bottomed out on Saturday when the Rams dominated the Seahawks offense, whooping Seattle in the trenches most notably.
“You can chase them out of it by beating them in their two-deep looks or you can chase them out by running the football and drawing them up,” Carroll said.
Carroll choosing the latter (running the football) is indirectly saying that he doesn’t believe his team is capable of accomplishing the former (beating them in their two-deep looks). And whether Carroll wants to admit it or not, that is an indictment of Russell Wilson and a passing game that features Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
Wilson is the team’s $35 million man. Rather than demanding more from him and stating the need to invest in an offensive line that can better protect him against teams like the Rams, Carroll is choosing to focus on the ground game.
And here’s the hole in that logic. Every team in the NFL knows that the Seahawks are at their best when Wilson is… well… cooking. Allowing 5-yard runs while eliminating 40-yard passes is a trade-off opposing defenses will make 100% of the time. It takes a lot of 5-yard runs and third-down conversions (more on that in a second) to drive the full field and score a touchdown.
That means Seattle would have to be “49ers in the 2019 NFC Championship Game-level” dominant running the football in order for opponents to abandon the two-deep look. That implies not only averaging 7.5 yards per carry, something that allowed Kyle Shanahan to call just eight pass plays in that 30-27 route over the Packers, but a dominant defense as well.
The Seahawks defense made great strides in the back half of 2020 and could take another step forward in 2021, but banking on the defense to be the 2019 49ers is more of a pipedream than it is a logical solution.
Let’s go back to third downs really quick. Carroll noted that as another point of emphasis, which makes sense given Seattle’s offense ranked 20th (40.2%) in the regular season. The Seahawks also went just 2-14 against the Rams, which includes a stretch of 0-8 to start the game.
Carroll said that number needs to be in the 45%-48% range moving forward.
“That’s one of the primary areas that will allow us to run the ball more,’ Carroll said. “If you convert, you get more chances. … It’s running the football more effectively to control the scheme, and it’s third-down play. If you want to nail it down to, ‘OK that’s where Pete thinks it needs to go this offseason.’”
But that goes without saying, doesn’t it? Third down conversions mean longer drives; longer drives mean more plays; more plays means more rushing attempts. The goal of running the ball more would be naturally remedied by improving on third down.
And who will be predominantly responsible for converting on third down? Wilson, of course, which is another reason why Carroll’s list of priorities seems to be skewed.
Carroll did add that he wants Wilson to be hyper-efficient next season and reach a completion percentage of 70%. That would indicate a revamped passing game with an added emphasis on getting the ball out quicker rather than relying so heavily on the deep ball.
Some (many? most?) Seahawks fans will understandably groan by all this because they’ve seen this movie before. The eight weeks of “Let Russ Cook” will be a footnote in Carroll’s tenure as Seattle’s head coach and a movement best remembered for taking a one-punch knockout midway through the 2020 season.
We will spend all offseason discussing whether this refocus on the ground game is an overcorrection to the midseason stretch where Wilson turned the ball over 10 times in four games. And next year will arrive and Seattle will inevitably remain a damn good football team that is likely to make the playoffs.
But those banking on a massive overhaul in philosophy, creativity and personnel (Carroll said he expected both coordinators back in 2021) shouldn’t get their hopes up. Nothing Carroll said on Monday indicated he's discovered the key for getting his team back to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2014.
“Remember, I don’t mind winning, 20-9,” Carroll said. “I don’t mind winning, 17-14. I want to win controlling the game. That means we don’t give them the football.”
He is who he is, and some stripes never change.