6 Changes Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks Must Make
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Seattle's up-and-down season has been plagued by inconsistency. Struggles in all three phases of the game have contributed to their record; slow starts, an inability to put points on the board and general miscues have all been factors in their play.
Thus far, the season is the opposite of Seattle's 4-2 fast start in 2010, a six-game stretch that gave them the cushion to win the division. The slow start is not what Pete Carroll envisioned for his defending division champion Seahawks.
Seattle needs to make some changes to get their season back on track.
More No Huddle Offense
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Through four games it's clear Tarvaris Jackson functions best in the no-huddle offense. Though we saw the major benefits of the no huddle in Week 4, this is a trend that has been developing since Week 2.
Against the Steelers, Seattle went no huddle for the majority of the fourth quarter. They registered four of their six plays over 10 yards for the game. Jackson looked more comfortable with his receivers and even though the Steelers sacked Jackson four times in the quarter, the offense looked improved.
In Week 3 the Seahawks featured the no huddle for their only touchdown drive of the game, a 14-play, 72-yard drive that ended on a Jackson touchdown scramble. Again, Jackson looked more comfortable with the quicker tempo.
Down 20 in the third quarter versus Atlanta, the Seahawks unveiled the no huddle once again and eventually came within a 61-yard field-goal attempt of erasing that deficit. Why the Seahawks waited to go to the huddle is unclear, especially after implementing a larger no-huddle package in the offense before Week 4.
Regardless, it's obvious the Seahawks need a quicker tempo on offense and Jackson agrees.
"I guess it takes the thinking out of it. We’ve got a whole bunch of guys that are young. I know for me being a young player I tend to think a little bit too much and I’ve got so much stuff going through my head, like all the different looks defenses give us instead of just focusing in on what they’re showing and just try to execute that."
The no huddle allows for the offense to dictate the defense; less complex blitzes and coverage schemes, more base defense. The defense doesn't have time to try and confuse the offense and any breakdowns in communication are exacerbated by the offense's pace.
Furthermore, Seattle has consistently struggled in the two-minute offense this season. More no huddle should allow the unit to become more comfortable in hurry-up situations. More importantly, more no huddle should yield more success for this offense.
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This topic has been discussed ad nauseam this week, one I covered on Monday. However, the Seahawks' slow starts and resulting struggle to win is simply too big of an issue to ignore.
Seattle's been outscored 67 to 13 in the first half this season, including two scoreless first halves in the season's first two games. Pete Carroll has consistently placed an emphasis on finishing, but the lack of focus on starting strong is hurting this team.
Unfortunately this is not a new problem for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks; they struggled through a similar stretch last season. Seattle was down 10 points or more at halftime in Weeks 11-14. They won one of those four games only because of a furious second-half comeback against Carolina in Week 13.
It's paramount that Seattle changes this trend. They need to be aggressive early in games and the coaching staff needs to emphasize the importance of dictating the tempo early. The Seahawks must become proactive about controlling the game, rather than reacting to what transpires over the first half.
Make Life Tougher for the Opposing Quarterback
I have so much time!
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The Seahawks have made life too easy for opposing quarterbacks. They're not getting enough pressure in the pocket and making it too easy for opposing offenses to consistently move the football.
Seattle has five sacks, good for second worst in the league. They have failed to register sacks in two games. The inability to get the quarterback on the ground is helping opposing teams extend the play and dominate time of possession—the Seahawks are second-worst in that statistic.
The Seahawks have a solid rush on the edge with Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock, but need to generate greater interior pressure. The combination of Red Bryant, Alan Branch and Brandon Mebane—their purpose primarily being to stop the run—have been unable to mount pressure. The trio has accounted for seven QB pressures, the same amount as Raheem Brock.
Seattle's been unable to consistently create lanes for their blitzers to rush through. They need to experiment with personnel in their blitz packages, creating more opportunities for mismatches against the offensive line and opponents' pass protection.
Due to Seattle's inability to mount consistent pressure, opponents can "dink and dunk" with a fair amount of success. Seattle is second worst in completion percentage allowed, a sign that opposing offenses are consistently exploiting mismatches, beating coverage and finding ways to move the ball through the air.
Similar to the effect of the no-huddle offense, Seattle needs to mix up certain aspects of the defensive package. One widely debated topic is their refusal to move cornerbacks from side to side, rather keeping a player lined up on his side; this allows the offense to attack certain personnel, such as the Steelers with Mike Wallace against Brandon Browner in Week 2.
Seattle needs to experiment moving their corners and using other corners in coverage on primary receivers. They can do this with Walter Thurmond and perhaps even Earl Thomas—he has a larger role attacking the line of scrimmage, but has the versatility to cover in the slot. Seattle needs to begin rotating their corners and account for mismatches created by the offense.
If Seattle can't get in the head of opposing quarterbacks with their pass rush and coverage schemes, opposing offenses will continue to shred them through the air.
More Leon Washington and Anthony McCoy
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While neither player is a primary offensive weapon, both have the potential to make an impact and need to be more involved for this offense to become well rounded.
Heading into the season, the Seahawks were gushing about the flexibility that having Zach Miller and John Carlson would give them in two tight end sets. As Miller is a strong blocker, the expectation was that Carlson's receiving abilities would be accentuated. With McCoy as his replacement, we have not seen that plan come to light.
McCoy is averaging 1.25 targets and one catch per game. In the preseason, we learned he can catch and run in the flat and has the potential to be a formidable red-zone target. He is a big, physical receiver and though he's not a true weapon, he should be utilized more often as an underneath option or down the seam.
Different than McCoy, Washington is an explosive weapon. He has the skill set to play a variety of roles in the offense. Washington has only nine touches, six carries and three catches. Despite his lack of carries, he has one of the team's two runs over 20 yards.
They have yet to establish Washington on the perimeter; he had one catch split out wide in the Steelers game, otherwise used as an outlet out of the backfield. Washington needs to become more involved in the attack; either as a runner, a receiver out of the backfield or split out wide. He can stretch the field horizontally, thus opening the middle of the field. He also has the speed to attack downfield.
If the offense is to continue making progress, both players must be used more often.
Continue to Open the First-Down Playbook and Stay Ahead of the Sticks
The Seahawks manufactured yards on first down versus Atlanta better than they have all season; this is a trend that must continue.
The 52-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice was a designed go route. Regardless of whether or not Jackson makes the throw without the defensive offside pending, the option was there.
The Marshawn Lynch touchdown run was on first down; a well-designed run that pulled Zach Miller and John Moffitt from the right side across the formation, the overload of personnel on one side kept the defense honest.
Marshawn Lynch's 26-yard screen reception was on first down as well. Again, John Moffitt led the way, along with Max Unger, making crucial blocks for Lynch to gain extra yards.
The point here is to note that the Seahawks are varying their play-calling on first down, and at times are very successful. Jackson has consistently spoke of "staying ahead of the sticks" so the Seahawks don't find themselves in second and third-down situations that limit their play-calling.
A few examples of how to continue; involve the receivers in the running game, as they were successful with a Ben Obomanu end around on first down during their first touchdown drive of the season. Get Leon Washington involved with the wheel route I've continually spoken of, either on a screen or simply use him as a weapon outside. Golden Tate has yet to find a niche in this offense and the Seahawks like his ability to run after the catch. Seattle should experiment with quick developing plays on first down.
If the Seahawks can continue to make progress on first down, their offense will become more efficient and as a result, more explosive.
Tighten the Formula
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Pete Carroll's football formula relies on winning the turnover battle, playing clean football, having a disciplined defense, stopping the run, utilizing a power-running game and balanced offense, winning time of possession and minimizing opponent opportunities.
Unfortunately, the Seahawks have struggled in the majority of those areas this season.
As noted earlier, they are second to last in time of possession and in the bottom quarter of the league in turnover margin and penalties. They've struggled with discipline and tackling on special teams, and the defense has looked lost at times. The running game is in the bottom quarter of the league in yards per game and yards per attempt, last in total attempts.
The only silver lining is the run defense has been solid most of the season, but isn't enough on its own to win games.
They aren't playing the brand of football Pete Carroll expects from his program. Opponents are getting too many opportunities and capitalizing, partly because the Seahawks are breaking too easily.
Crucial penalties have hindered them—Brandon Browner's illegal contact penalty in the fourth quarter and Sidney Rice's false start inside the final minute of Week 4 are the most recent examples.
The offense must become more balanced and the running game needs to improve.
As a program that is "all about the ball," three of four games without forcing a turnover is unacceptable.
It's up to Carroll and the coaching staff to make sure the players get the message, but more importantly they must lead practices with the intensity and discipline that leads to strong performances on game day. The Seahawks are in danger of having the season slip away if they can't fix their formula in the coming weeks.