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Larry Stone: GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll must look within to fix Seahawks’ issues this offseason

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 13, 2021

Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider, center back, looks on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020, during an NFL football training camp in Renton, Wash.  (Associated Press)
Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider, center back, looks on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020, during an NFL football training camp in Renton, Wash. (Associated Press)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The Seattle Seahawks are approaching six years in their unending, yet so far futile pursuit of a return to the Super Bowl. And on Tuesday the team announced that general manager John Schneider will be around for at least seven more years to aid in that quest, having signed a five-year extension.

It will continue to be a treacherous and highly elusive task – one that took a stunning turn later Tuesday with news that the Seahawks had parted ways with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer over “philosophical differences.” It’s too soon to know if Schottenheimer is being made a scapegoat for the Seahawks’ offensive woes, or if he decided to take a hike because he doesn’t like the direction coach Pete Carroll is taking Seattle’s offense – or some combination of the two.

The Seahawks don’t have a first-round draft pick this year (or the year after, for that matter), because Schneider traded it to the Jets to get Jamal Adams. They are limited in their free-agent maneuverability by the NFL’s salary cap, and the disproportionate amount of it that is devoted to quarterback Russell Wilson. The rest of their division could be even more formidable next season.

The lion’s share of the improvement, if it is to happen, will have to come from within. That means coaxing better performances from players already on hand. It means, even more to the point, figuring out how to again maximize the long-proven brilliance of Wilson, who endured a shocking regression in the second half of the season. And now it means finding a new offensive coordinator in sync with Carroll’s world view of attacking defenses – which Schottenheimer clearly wasn’t, nor are most progressive analysts.

Figuring out how their season went from “Let Russ Cook” to “Is Russ Shook?” is the essence of the Seahawks’ quandary. Just about every offshoot you can think of – fixing the pass protection (seems like we’ve heard that one before), finding another pass-catching threat, unraveling the third-down woes – double back to the Wilson issue.

And it will ultimately require Schneider and Carroll to have a reckoning – one that got off to an uninspiring start Monday, in the wake of Seattle’s crushing 30-20 first-round playoff loss to the Rams two days earlier.

The Seahawks’ 12-win, division-title season in 2020 created the illusion they are closer to their glory days. Their shattering defeat to the Rams on Saturday revealed a harsher reality – that they still can’t figure out how to take those crucial final steps.

Carroll briefly dropped into the third person Monday to reveal his conviction that he has figured out what’s going to get them there. Much to the certain dismay of a portion of their fan base, the epiphany was not to Let Russ Cook again, as he did so delectably when the Seahawks jumped to a 5-0 start.

Quite the contrary. Carroll channeled Chuck Knox – the fabled Ground Chuck – and came to the stated conclusion that the Seahawks need to run the ball more efficiently, and indeed more often. Therein, he believes, lies the deep, dark secrets that will get Wilson back in sync, reopen their deep passing game, force defenses into abandoning the pesky, two-deep-safety alignment that flummoxed their offense into submission, and straighten out their woefully insufficient third-down conversion rate.

“It’s running the football more effectively to control the scheme, and it’s third-down play, if you really want to nail it. That’s where Pete thinks he needs to go in this offseason, as well as continuing to get better on D,” Carroll said.

Carroll was astute enough to quickly note that Seahawks fans weren’t going to like to hear the running part of that formula. One can only surmise that Schottenheimer didn’t. And for good reason. At a time when wide-open offenses are proliferating around the league – and succeeding wildly – it seems something of an anachronism to cling to a ball-control, turnover-averse mindset. Carroll again proclaimed himself perfectly happy at all times to win a grind-it-out defensive struggle.

“I don’t mind winning 20-9; I don’t mind winning 17-14, you know. I want to win controlling the game,” Carroll said Monday.

That might be wishful thinking with a team that still hasn’t proven it has the defense to justify such a strategy, which worked beautifully when the Legion of Boom was in control. Their second-half defensive turnaround was certainly encouraging, but the Seahawks would be better served figuring out a way to wring more explosiveness out of their offense that isn’t centered on the running game. Particularly with the strong possibility that they won’t be able to retain Chris Carson as he hits free agency.

The “keep it close and let Russ figure out how to win in the fourth quarter” strategy has worked beautifully in the regular season, but it has flopped in the postseason year after year. The Seahawks have fallen into a rut in which they fall hopelessly behind in their playoff losses, and then mount furious but futile late comebacks (though their tepid comeback Saturday didn’t even qualify as “furious”).

Maybe Carroll’s conclusions will change once he and his coaching staff undertake a deep dive into where the 2020 season went off track on offense. Perhaps we’ll find out if Schottenheimer resisted the increasingly conservative game plans that the Seahawks forged in the wake of a midseason stretch of turnovers by Wilson. It no doubt didn’t help their working relationship that Carroll admitted he overruled Schottenheimer’s call on a crucial fourth-and-1 situation in the second half Saturday that disintegrated rapidly. The play never got off, in fact.

Carroll has a deep, unwavering belief in a system and strategy that have worked well for him, and for Seattle.

The Seahawks win in double digits and make the playoffs nearly every year. But since the devastating Super Bowl loss to New England and the subsequent dissolution of the Legion of Boom, it has not proven to be sufficient to take them where they want to go. The Seahawks have won just one playoff game since 2016 and keep falling victim to the same issues.

Carroll was asked Monday who in the Seahawks’ building is able to hold him accountable and tell him hard truths, as he does for others in the organization as the big boss of football operations. Carroll mentioned since-departed quarterback coach Carl Smith, as well as his sons on the Seahawks’ coaching staff, Brennan and Nate Carroll.

But Brennan is leaving to become offensive coordinator at the University of Arizona.

Then he mentioned Schneider.

“John is a really good. … We go nose to nose on all our stuff, and he gets recommendations from his side of the world, from the personnel side of it. And we just keep banging away at it,” Carroll said. “But I would say I always need more help. I need to be coached up like everybody else. … It really comes out as a competition issue. If you don’t want to hear the truth, if you don’t want to hear the hard stuff, then you ain’t competing. And so I’ll go wherever I got to go to get it.”

Despite rumors of an overture from the Lions about their GM opening, Schneider will be working with Carroll – signed through 2025 – for years to come. They have some profound soul-searching to do together this offseason.

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