As it turns out, Pete Carroll’s Seahawks schematically aren’t going to look much different than Jim Mora’s Seahawks. And that could be a good thing or a bad thing.
Carroll and Mora run basically the same 4-3, one gap, cover-2 defense, and Carroll has decided to retain Mora’s coordinator, Gus Bradley, and D-line coach, Dan Quinn.
On offense, Carroll seems to have the same idea that Mora and Greg Knapp had last year—a run-heavy West Coast offense using a zone-blocking scheme.
If it’s going to succeed any better than Knapp’s offense, Jeremy Bates and line guru Alex Gibbs will have to be better than Knapp and former O-line coach Mike Solari were.
Of course, the Hawks also should have a couple of new linemen to add to the mix, which will certainly help.
The bonus for using essentially the same schemes is that the holdover players will have a short learning curve.
The defense will have continuity under Bradley and probably a lot more hands-on direction from the coach. Carroll plans to factor heavily in the preparation of that unit, which ranked 24th this season, largely because it couldn't pressure opposing quarterbacks.
The keys on offense will be Gibbs’ ability to get the line to function properly in the zone scheme and Bates’ relationship with Matt Hasselbeck in the passing game.
If Bates is smart, he will learn from his elder (Hasselbeck is 34, Bates 33) and use a passing scheme that more resembles the one Hasselbeck ran under Mike Holmgren.
Bates learned the West Coast offense from Jon Gruden, who learned it from Holmgren. And then Bates ran it under Mike Shanahan in Denver. So that should not be a huge stretch.
Of course, Knapp learned the offense from Steve Mariucci, who learned it from Holmgren. And we all know how that turned out this season.
The Seahawks ranked 21st on offense, which was better than they finished in 2008 when Hasselbeck missed nine games, but otherwise worse than they had performed since 2001. Most of that can be pegged on a bad offensive line that let Hasselbeck get pummeled, but Knapp didn't do anything to help.
Pro Football Weekly ranked Knapp 30th among offensive coordinators this season, with this "scout’s take": "Knapp runs a ball-control offense to the hilt. You don’t see creativity to go downfield or open it up as far as big plays go. I think a lot of that is tied into the quarterback, but historically that has always been his game.
"It probably hurt that offense this year because they did not have the personnel to have sustained drives. They needed to get the ball downfield more—and it forced the quarterback into a lot of bad situations."
Bates and Gibbs have to fix the running game (they ranked 26th at just 97.9 yards per game) and protect Hasselbeck, both of which will allow them to throw the ball better.
“We have to run the football to be successful in our division first, and then in the NFL. You have to,” Carroll told reporters. “It will affect everything that follows. It'll affect defense. It'll affect our passing game. It'll help our quarterback.”
Gibbs will be huge in that, having built effective and/or dominant running games in Denver and Atlanta. In nine years with the Broncos, Gibbs had seven top-10 offenses and seven 1,000-yard rushing performances, including Terrell Davis’ 2,008-yard season in 1998.
In Atlanta, Gibbs helped orchestrate the league’s top-ranked rushing team (with some help from running QB Mike Vick).
As for the passing game, Carroll was wise enough to recognize that Hasselbeck is still the Seahawks’ franchise QB and that he needs a better supporting cast so he can take the Seahawks back to the playoffs.
“I know we have a quarterback that has played really good football in his career," Carroll told reporters. “Matty, he’s feeling pretty good. He’s bouncing back from a sore shoulder during the season. He’s ready to go.
“That is one of the key elements of putting together a team that has a chance to win right away. You’ve got to have a quarterback. I know that we have a first-class guy in Matt, and I can’t wait to get working with him.
“The NFL is a quarterback-driven process,” Carroll said. “And so the fact that we have Matt Hasselbeck here is a big factor. He’s played the game, he has been a champion, he knows how to get the thing done. We’ve got to get his support group and his play to the level that gives us a chance to win.”
The only way Carroll will do that is if the Hawks add some talent this offseason and his coaches do a better job of implementing the same schemes Mora’s staff used.