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Adam Jude: Before hiring offensive coordinator, Seahawks' Pete Carroll must meet Russell Wilson in the middle

Adam Jude, The Seattle Times on

Published in Football

SEATTLE — It has been the most successful player-coach relationship in Seahawks history, and Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll this week described a shared vision for the direction of the team. That vision ends in another Super Bowl parade in downtown Seattle — or two or three or four more, as Wilson sees it.

Toward that end, Wilson on Thursday said he is putting his trust in Carroll to hire an offensive coordinator who can reinvigorate an offense that was stuck in the mud for much of the second half of the season.

But in the wake of that offensive collapse, it must be asked: How much does Carroll truly trust Wilson with this offense?

It is, on the surface, an odd question considering their history together and their optimistic outlook. But a closer look at Seattle's offensive nosedive — specifically, after the team hit rock bottom in a 44-34 loss at Buffalo — indicates Carroll's frustration with Wilson's turnovers was a motivating factor in the offense's deliberate downshift in the second half of the season.

To be fair, any coach would be frustrated when his QB is responsible for 10 turnovers over a four-game stretch, as Wilson was. And we know how Carroll feels about turnovers — "it's all about the ball" is his guiding principle. But it is important to remember that the Seahawks' defense in October was historically awful, and it seemed as if the offense would have to score 30-plus points every week to be competitive — and that's a lot to put on Wilson's shoulders.

Even when the offense was at its best early in the season, Carroll never seemed completely comfortable with that approach. He had to figure out how to fix his defense's issues, and his reaction was to ask his offense to take fewer risks, to slow down, to manage the game, and thus make the Seahawks' defense less vulnerable. That's Carroll idea of "complementary" football.

And, hey, it worked. Seattle's defensive turnaround has been widely celebrated, and deservedly so. But it came at the expense of Seattle's offense. Carroll's obsession with turnovers handcuffed the offense, and Wilson too often seemed to second-guess himself.

It was as if Carroll was a dad who had finally let his teenage son drive his sports car by himself; and after six weeks of safe driving, the son got a speeding ticket, and from then on the kid could only drive around the neighborhood, never more than 25 mph, and only when Dad was in the passenger's seat. Dad's car, Dad's rules.

Carroll is right about turnovers ... to a point. The Seahawks won all 12 games this season when they won or tied in turnover margin; they lost all five game in which they lost the turnover battle.

 

But the Seahawks' offense devolved to a point where holding on to the ball seem to become its main goal. "Don't Turn The Ball Over" is not a sound offensive philosophy. That's playing not to lose — it's playing timid and uncertain — and it's fair to wonder how psychologically that played into Wilson's inconsistency.

Wilson wasn't the same in the second half of the season. There are various reasons and theories. Wilson and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer failed to find answers against Cover 2 defensive schemes, yes. The run game was inconsistent. Injuries piled up on the offensive line, and its play declined because of that. The Seahawks had five games against top-five defenses in the second half of the season, including three against the top-ranked Rams defense. All were factors, and all will be challenges for the Seahawks' new offensive coordinator.

But the offense is only part of the equation. If it really is all about the ball, Seattle's defense has to do its part — it has to get the ball. If Carroll demands that his offense not put his defense in harm's way, then the defense has to force more takeaways to create easier scoring opportunities for Wilson and the offense. The 2020 defense didn't do enough of that; its 22 takeaways were 10 fewer than it had in the 2019 season, and 2020 was the first season of the Carroll era in which the Seahawks didn't score a touchdown on defense or special teams.

The Legion of Boom teams perfected the all-about-the-ball model. En route to the franchise's first Super Bowl win, the 2013 defense forced 39 turnovers. It made sense to ask a young QB — Wilson — to be a game manager, to be careful with the ball, to rely on a run-heavy attack.

Carroll and Wilson agree on what they want to achieve (winning another Super Bowl or four) and what they want the offense do well ("everything," as Wilson said Thursday). But there remains a disconnect on how they want the offense to operate.

Wilson wants to go up-tempo more, he wants faster starts in the first half, and he wants to throw 60 touchdowns in a season.

Carroll wants to run it more, and he's always been most comfortable when his offense can flip a switch in the fourth quarter for a grind-it-out, 17-14 victory.

There is plenty of middle ground for the coach and the QB to come together, and plenty of motivation for both to make it happen this offseason. Wilson says he's putting his trust in Carroll, and the coach needs to reciprocate that trust.

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