Pete Carroll’s third try at an NFL coaching career was on the verge of embarrassing failure.
His first season in Seattle (2010) finished 7-9, with a Marshawn Lynch-fueled playoff win, but a 2-6 start in 2011 had dropped his Seahawks record to an unacceptable 9-15.
At that pace, a 4-12 finish in 2011 surely would test owner Paul Allen’s patience (see: Mora, Jim). They’d only once in Carroll’s time in Seattle won two games in a row, and before heading to Dallas midway through the season, they were ranked 31st in the league in rushing.
Carroll didn’t admit it at the time, but at the end of that season conceded that a painful epiphany had been attained at midseason. In short, his revelation was this: If we’re going to go down, at least we’re going to go down doing it the way I want us to play.
They had traveled to Dallas and lost, largely because of three interceptions and 10 penalties, but Carroll had committed to handing the ball to Lynch and turning loose their young defense.
By doubling Lynch’s carries and their rushing totals, the entire Hawks team became more physical and focused, and rallied to a 5-3 finish. It was the start of a near-dynastic run, characterized by those fundamental changes.
The somewhat encouraging loss at Dallas on Thursday triggered memories of that turning point Carroll reached 12 years ago, a numerical coincidence modern “12s” will appreciate.
The decisive and purposeful Carroll who saved that season – and his NFL career – is the Carroll the Seahawks need to finish this season on an upward trend.
As it stands, his team has lost three straight with a pair of games against NFC powerhouses San Francisco and Philadelphia next up.
At 6-6, the Seahawks may seem exactly what their record implies. Middling. But that might suggest they’ve had a ho-hum, predictable season. Not at all. This team plays out at the competitive poles, with some exciting and promising games (beating Detroit on the road) mixed in with inexplicable dreck (losing 37-3 at Baltimore).
Besides, being 6-6 is moving in the wrong direction. Many of us thought last season’s 9-8 finish and playoff berth ranked as one of Carroll’s best coaching efforts, given the team’s turnover and youth.
This season, though, might vie for one of his least effective coaching jobs – roughly 70% into it.
This was the season they aimed at closing the divisional gap on San Francisco. Instead, they’ve been swept by the division’s third-place team, the L.A. Rams. That’s obviously falling rather than climbing.
The obstacles to another late rally? Obviously, they don’t have Lynch to hand the ball to.
But the offense, looking speedy in their throwback royal blue jerseys, was not a problem on Thursday, as they scored 35 against Dallas, which hadn’t given up more than 20 in a home game all season.
Quarterback Geno Smith had earned a good portion of blame this season, but was much better Thursday, getting rid of the ball quicker and more effectively involving receivers D.K. Metcalf (three TDs) and Jaxon Smith-Njigba (seven catches).
Having been banged up recently, Smith stepped up with one of his best games, but, on the whole, has been a lesser quarterback this season. If backup Drew Lock were the answer, he probably would have been tried by now.
Even with five games remaining, divining a long-term solution at quarterback will be Job One this offseason.
The key problems against Dallas were on the defensive side, giving up 41 points.
Painful to say, as he’s been among the most admirable Seahawks, but Bobby Wagner has become a liability in coverage and less a force against the run.
Playing on heart and instincts, Wagner still makes tackles (14 vs. Dallas), but his scrape-and-fill tackles for no gain are now often chase-and-grab efforts somewhere down the field.
By resume and salary, safeties Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs should be the best tandem in the league. These are tough men and team leaders, but their play has been inconsistent and below expectations.
Some of these issues can’t be corrected in the five remaining games, but they might be minimized by adapting schemes and adjusting attitudes.
Let’s go back to 2011 again. After the Hawks dipped to 2-6, they came out and out-toughed a 6-2 Baltimore Ravens team featuring the likes of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. After that 22-17 upset, fullback Mike Robison explained: “You gotta hit a bully in the mouth, that’s the only way you’re gonna get ’em off of you.”
As the Hawks stare down the barrel of games against San Francisco and Philadelphia, in which a renewed and upgraded level of aggressive play will be crucial, Robinson’s advice seems timely.
Oh, and one more thing: Go back to the royal blue jerseys full time. Even if they don’t affect game outcomes, the viewing process is better for all concerned.