I was going to do a stats heavy piece today, but Keith already covered it. Instead I’ll just give more of the analysis and discussion part. The first thing that jumps out at me this week is that people really don’t want to assign much, if any blame, to Russell Wilson for not playing well. If you look back to comments made in preseason you’d think Wilson was the second coming. Granted, I’m harder on him than most but if you look at trends over the four games, the main constant negative is the passing game. This may be play calling, quarterback pay, or some combination thereof.
Over four games Wilson has been protected enough to be more effective than he currently is. The receivers have been open often enough to be thrown to regularly and get positive yards (they certainly haven’t been covered all game, every game) and they aren’t going to be running free all the time which means Wilson needs to hit them when they are (he currently isn’t). Seattle has the fourth best defense in the NFL (10th in passing and 2nd in rushing). The biggest negative is opponents’ third down conversion rate (48%) which is abnormally high for how good the defense is.
That being said the defense allowed no touchdowns to the Rams last Sunday. When I hear people try to say the defense is a main reason Seattle lost last week I want to blow a gasket. It might help if the offense could covert a third down more than 28% of the time (27th in the NFL). I just don’t see a way to hang the losses around the defenses neck and any attempt to do so seems disingenuous.
In my opinion spreading responsibility over several parts of the team takes away from the more meaningful improvement that can be focused on. There are always little things that can be fixed (the defense could be first instead of fourth), but that is ticky-tack at best. Instead it makes more sense to prioritize the glaring issues and work to improve them since any marginal improvement in those areas will have a multiplier-effect on overall performance of the team.
I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. Once again, I’m going to be in the minority and lower the hammer on Wilson and the coaches. As I mentioned above, there are two areas in the offense that seem the most egregious – quarterback performance and play calling.
First, let’s look at play calling. Last Sunday against the Rams, Seattle ran the ball very effectively which almost always helped get the offense into the red zone. Once there, however, the team started throwing the ball and abandoning the run game. This made absolutely no sense. As the phrase goes, go with the horse that got you there. In this case that was Marshawn Lynch and the powerful Seattle run game. Play calling should be one of the easiest things to fix. You can tweak it in stride during the game to be more effective. If the coaching staff for some reason can’t effectively call plays, maybe the team needs some new offensive play calling. If play calling is the problem the solutions are (1) you call different plays, (2) you fix the approach, or (3) if the coordinator continues to call plays badly you get a new coordinator (or coach).*
If the quarterback is the problem, then the solutions are obviously different. In relation to the play calling, I have come up with the Wilson Paradox: Is play calling constrained because of Wilson’s ability or is Wilson’s ability constraining the plays that can be called? Right now I agree with Keith that the team can’t open the playbook up more. Doing so would be suicide. The Seahawks do need to figure out whether or not Wilson has the ability to get Seattle to the post season this year. (If not, it might be time to start tempering expectations.) Yes, Seattle is 2-2, but 0-2 in the division. It would be better to be 2-0 in the division and 0-2 otherwise. Yes, some of Wilson’s shortfalls have been due to other players and situations he had no or limited control over, but, the reality is, you don’t get plays back. If any quarterback could get back a handful of plays their records would change. You can’t judge based on “wouldas” or “couldas,” but only on what actually took place.
The reality is that Wilson and Seattle’s passing offense rank at or near the bottom in most major metrics. For me, I’m just not seeing the potential. Wilson has a strong arm, I can see that and is mobile, though not as much as Robert Griffin. As far as commanding the offense, I just don’t see it. (That isn’t the same as saying the potential isn’t there, I’m just saying I can’t see it at this point.) Inexperience is such a huge factor. I have never been a fan of starting rookie quarterbacks and Seattle’s current situation hasn’t changed my mind. Like play calling, if the quarterback is the problem there are pretty basic choices. (1) You wait it out and hope he gains knowledge and experience at a rapid rate, (2) you replace him.
After the first four games I feel the same way at the end of games this year as I did with Tarvaris Jackson last year. No confidence in the offense’s ability to get points at the end and a quarterback that seems panicked as soon as the ball is snapped. I am not sure I buy the Flynn-elbow rationale either since Carroll walked it back after he said it. If Wilson is his guy then just say that and don’t offer any other rationale. It does nothing but muddy the situation. If Carroll is having doubts about Wilson, it is still probably best to say and hint at nothing.
Ultimately, I don’t care what the solution is but I hope that it is found and implemented before the season is lost. Watching San Francisco and Arizona in the postseason would be demoralizing. Both are teams that Seattle can beat, but that is a lot different than actually beating them. Something Seattle found out last week by being on the wrong side of that equation. I also get weary of teams that seem to be constantly “rebuilding.” When will the team finally be built and simply requires slight maintenance and tweaking?
*I’m not calling for the firing of Pete Carroll in any way. Darrell Bevell, maybe. I’ve never been a huge fan of Bevell but if he can adapt and improve, I’ll be behind him. These are just the logical potential solutions to play calling, if that is the problem.