Pro football seasons are fragile, or delicate in a sense, and the wheels can come off quickly for teams that struggle to adapt to unique forms of adversity.
In the NFL, "adversity" has multiple meanings, from the head coach’s office to the locker room, where necessary change must happen to get the focus back on execution, technique and a specific style of football that is proven to win.
That’s Pete Carroll and the defending champion Seattle Seahawks as this season creeps up on the midway point. On a two-game skid with a .500 record, the champs have looked vulnerable at times throughout the 2014 season despite talent and coaching that I see as first class.
This past Friday, the Seahawks shocked the majority of football fans in America when they traded away wide receiver Percy Harvin. That’s right, the same guy who was expected to play a unique role in Darrell Bevell’s offense as a matchup weapon was shipped east to the 1-6 Jets for a conditional draft pick.
Speaking on his weekly radio show on 710 ESPN Seattle (h/t The Seattle Times' Bob Condotta), Carroll said of the Harvin trade, "It was about the team moving forward and about us and the group and how we do our work and how we carry ourselves."
That’s a necessary change to maintain the proper focus as a football team. I get it. And we all should given the talk surrounding Harvin during his time in Seattle despite his skill set, talent and ability to cause headaches for opposing defensive coordinators.
The Seahawks tried to make it work, but for whatever reason that truly existed in the locker room and on the field, it was a move that needed to go down to help this football team. And Carroll wasn’t afraid to cut bait and move on.
We have to understand that playing for a defending Super Bowl champion is a challenge before the season even starts. Every team in the NFL studies the champs on tape during the offseason as they look for ways to attack, to challenge and to beat the guys with the new rings.
And once the season starts, the champs get the best from everyone. The game plan, the speed on the field and the aggressive play-calling. It’s all there—every game—against a team that hasn't changed its roster much since the previous season.
Guys leave for money, or for more opportunities, and replacements come in. But the culture, or the chemistry, is, well, different than the team that held up the Lombardi Trophy the previous year with confetti dropping and high-fives all over the field. The next season, the team takes on a new identity with new faces and new types of adversity.
I played for a defending champ as a rookie with the Rams during the 2000 season on a team that was absolutely loaded with Hall of Fame talent on the offensive side of the ball under Mike Martz.
Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Orlando Pace…
That’s ridiculous talent.
But we couldn’t stop anyone on defense. Opposing teams moved the ball on us up front, took as many shots as they wanted over the top and forced us to adjust (weekly) to shifts and movements versus our combo coverages.
We dealt with injuries during the season and found a backdoor into the playoffs on Christmas Eve with a win over the Saints (and a last-second Bears field goal to get us into the dance). But on our return trip to New Orleans just six days later for the Wild Card Game, Aaron Brooks lit our defense up, and we were done for the season despite an incredible comeback attempt from Warner.
Just like that, it was over, finished. Time to turn in the gear and make offseason vacation plans.
All of those shifts and pre-snap movements from opposing offenses in 2000? Those were installed during offseason minicamps and OTAs from our divisional opponents in the old-school NFC West (Panthers, 49ers, Saints, Falcons, Rams), and we failed to adjust. That prompted Martz to bring in Bud Carson during the season as a "consultant" before ultimately making the move the following year to hire Lovie Smith as our new defensive coordinator.
At 3-3, the Seahawks aren’t in the same situation as defending champs, but teams have found ways to run the football against their defensive front during this two-game skid while using personnel and alignment to attack their single-high safety coverages versus a pass rush that isn't getting home.
On offense, the running game with Marshawn Lynch isn’t as productive, as this unit relies more and more on quarterback Russell Wilson to make plays outside of the pocket. This past Sunday, Jeff Fisher and the Rams used gadget plays on special teams and a conservative ball-control offense to pull out a win at home.
"Some unbelievable cool things that they were able to do on special teams, and it made a big difference in this game," Carroll said after the Week 7 loss.
Those high-risk gadget plays are part of the deal when opposing teams dig deep into the playbook as they line up versus the defending champs.
Going back to the Week 6 loss versus Dallas, I have no problem saying the Cowboys were the more physical team, and they also played with more team speed (or aggressiveness) on defense.
Panic? Desperation under Carroll at this point in the season? Nah. I don’t see that.
Plus, with a four-game stretch that is very manageable for the Seahawks (at Carolina, vs. Oakland, vs. New York Giants, at Kansas City), this team is in a position to put a midseason run together before the big boys show up on the schedule. Remember, good teams, playoff teams, handle the adversity and make the necessary changes to win.
This Seahawks team isn't perfect, but it has the players and coaches to work through the chaos of an NFL season to manage the daily narrative that follows a defending champ.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.