If the Seattle Seahawks were going to can head coach Pete Carroll over how their 2021 season turned out it would have happened by now. Carroll and general manager John Schneider have reportedly concluded their annual end-of-season meeting with team owner Jody Allen and nobody was dismissed as far as we are aware.
That means for better or worse the Carroll era will continue into its second decade. That’s probably smart – he is one of the best coaches in the NFL and very few have found more success in this era. He also has one of the best defensive minds in the business. That said, Carroll and his team would benefit if he made some adjustments to his approach.
Here are four things we’d like to see Carroll and his staff try to change in the 2022 season to help the Seahawks.
Embrace ‘the analytics’ on offense
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Yes, we’re on the side of the nerds in this war. Unfortunately, the term itself has been poisoned by the discourse on social media – every time a team fails on fourth down it’s celebrated as a great victory for people who prefer an older, dumber version of the game.
What this really boils down to is using basic math to make more informed decisions. In this case, the Seahawks should be using “the analytics” to take advantage of their personnel.
Especially considering the sheer amount of passing/receiving talent on this roster, this offense should be more aggressive in three key areas.
1. Throwing more on first down
Maintaning a healthy pass/run balance is important for any NFL team – especially this one – but offensive coordinator Shane Waldron should be passing more on first down, which we know produces more value and expected wins than running. Yet, Seattle only passed on 54.97% of its first down attempts this season. That’s just No. 21 in the league.
All of the teams below them and most of the ones above don’t have a quarterback of Russell Wilson’s caliber, so there’s no excuse not to set him loose more often on first down. Given their personnel and their staff, the Seahawks should be right up among the league leaders like Bruce Arians’ Bucs (67.57%)and Sean McVay’s Rams (65.63%) in this department.
2. Fourth-down decision making, playcalling
Perhaps the most frustrating element of the offense during the Carroll/Wilson era is how rarely they go for it on fourth down. This despite usually having powerful running backs like Marshawn Lynch or Thomas Rawls as well as brilliant possession receivers like Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett.
The 2021 season was no exception – in fact the team’s issues in this area have never been worse. The Seahawks finished dead last in fourth down attempts (11) and conversion rate (36.4%). The hard truth here is that Carroll’s staff is falling further behind in this every single year as the rest of the league is trending in the other direction.
Of course it’s not enough just to go for it. Too often, Waldron’s playcalls on fourth down were predictable and therefore far more likely to fail. Mixing in more misdirection and bolder calls on fourth down should in theory help boost that awful success rate.
3. More two-point attempts
While it’s not nearly as bad, Carroll’s team is also lagging behind in the two-point attempts arms race. Brandon Staley’s Chargers are leading the way here, having successfully converted seven two-point attempts. Meanwhile, Seattle is near the bottom of the pile, averaging just 0.2 attempts per game.
Another often overlooked part of this is that extra point attempts are not the guaranteed easy money they used to be, especially for this team. Jason Myers missed three in 2021 and is only 90.2% for his career on those kicks.
It should be an obvious move to trust Seattle’s top skill player combo of Wilson/Metcalf/Lockett/Penny over an inconsistent placekicker in these situations.
Make pass protection a greater priority
(AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Another way Carroll can help his team is by correcting a long-standing imbalance at the line of scrimmage. In general, the offensive line units under Carroll have been much better in run blocking than pass blocking and that’s continued to be the case even long after Tom Cable’s exit. While it’s improved, the same issues have persisted the last four seasons with Mike Solari coaching the unit.
Two good recent examples of this are right tackle Jake Curhan and center Ethan Pocic, both of whom had very low grades from Pro Football Focus for their pass blocking (37.2 and 43.8 respectively) compared to their run blocking. To a lesser extent, this dynamic also rings true for starting guards Gabe Jackson and Damien Lewis as well as most of their backups.
That leaves left tackle Duane Brown as their only truly reliable pass protector from down to down. In the end, PFF ranked Seattle’s offensive line No. 26 in this area.
To be fair, Russell Wilson does bear some of the fault for his obscene sack numbers over the course of his career (no QB has taken more since he was drafted by a huge margin) but the nature of his game should make quality pass protection more important, not less.
These days, the standard for an OL should be consistently maintaining blocks for at least 2.5 seconds. This current group doesn’t even come close and that’s been the case for Wilson’s entire tenure.
Wilson was pressured on 37% of his attempts this season – which is entirely too high. In total, he was sacked 33 times, costing the team 266 yards, the third most in the league.
It’s long past time for the Seahawks to make protection a greater priority. Turning this ship around may require a fundamental shift in how the organization evaluates linemen and which attributes they look for, particularly those prospects in the coming 2022 NFL draft class.
Boost the pass rush
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The Seahawks’ defense is in pretty good shape as far as things Pete Carroll and his coaches can do to improve it.
This group had a bad start in 2021 but rallied and finished ranked a respectable No. 11 in scoring defense. Much of the credit goes to the secondary, where they got quality performances almost across the board. Seattle’s front-seven also did a magnificent job of stopping the run most of the year after Derrick Henry did them in Week 2. By the end of the regular season, only the Saints had allowed fewer yards per rush.
The one area where this unit can really improve – as Carroll admitted in his end-of-season press conference– is the pass rush. The numbers weren’t pretty. For the year, the team ranked No. 23 in sacks with just 34. Their ESPN pass rush win rate was 39%, (No. 20) and their Pro Football Focus pass rush grade was 63.5, which ranks No. 30.
Ultimately, producing more sacks is about killing drives and getting off the field – something this defense struggled immensely to do.
On the one hand, there are a number of creative things Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. can do schematically to get more manufactured pressure, such as using Jamal Adams as a blitzer more often like they did in 2020 as opposed to 2021.
However, we feel this issue is more of a personnel one. Seattle’s pass rush has never come close to recovering from the loss of Michael Bennett. Trading Frank Clark and letting Jadeveon Clowney walk didn’t help, either.
There are promising pieces here, for sure. There’s the trio of Rasheem Green, Darrell Taylor and the streaky Carlos Dunlap – who combined for 21.5 sacks between them. If you squint hard enough you can see Alton Robinson joining them some day. For now there’s no other player with more than two sacks and no true heavy hitter on the roster.
Seattle’s defense can improve most by adding a 10-sack threat and more pass rushing firepower in general. To begin with, there are a number of very enticing edge rushers who are about to become free agents.
Ease the load on the linebackers
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One staple of Carroll’s defenses over the years has been the incredible load carried by the linebackers as most of the action is funneled to them. Most of the time they’ve been up to the challenge – it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a future Hall of Famer as the centerpiece.
The most difficult thing for Carroll to manage defensively over the next few years will be the inevitable decline of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, which may already be underway. Wagner is still a well above-average defender at his position – he was just named second team All-Pro. However, he’s not close to the world-beating eraser he once was. It’s possible Wagner was playing hurt, but he looked positively gassed late in the season, especially against the Rams and Bears. It’s probably not an accident that his knee injury came on the first defensive snap against the Lions, either.
Before the injury, Wagner racked up a 170 tackles in 16 games, bringing his career total to 1,383 in 151 games – not counting the playoffs. That’s a major toll for any athlete and we have to expect slowness to show up on film more and more often as time goes on.
Meanwhile, second-year linebacker Jordyn Brooks also carried a heavy burden – leading the league in solo tackles (110) for the season. While Brooks improved a great deal in 2021 and has many more miles to go, he also looked wiped by the end of the year – his uncharacteristic missed tackle on the Arizona touchdown in Week 18 is evidence of that.
Together, Brooks and Wagner combined for 354 of the team’s 1,440 tackles and 10 of their 80 pass deflections. Around the league, the Buccaneers may be the only team that’s more demanding of their linebackers – and they have the two best in the NFL.
We wouldn’t presume to suggest a significant change in how Carroll and Norton operate their defense, but if Wagner is going to continue being the most-important piece and captain of this group, they’ll need to tweak things to lighten his workload going forward.
Whether it’s mixing in backups like the promising Cody Barton for more snaps or using their playmakers at other positions to get stops, Seattle can extend Wagner’s career a bit by not asking quite so much of him.