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What Has Caused the Seahawks to Struggle Recently?

As each season passes, NFL teams are faced with the task of changing personnel, coaching, and front office positions to give them the best shot at winning a championship. In doing so, teams often find their successes to be inconsistent and their Super Bowl windows are often limited to two or three seasons. However, one of the more consistent teams in the league over the past decade has been the Seattle Seahawks. 

The Seahawks, led by franchise quarterback Russell Wilson and borderline hall of fame coach Pete Carroll, have made the playoffs in eight of the previous ten seasons. Although, they’ve failed to truly advance to the next level, having only two Super Bowl appearances to show for an otherwise extremely strong and consistent performance year in and year out. Despite having ample time to fix problems that arise year after year, the Seahawks consistently fail to recognize prolonging issues that are holding them back from being serious contenders this year and for the foreseeable future. 

Pete Carroll’s inability to adjust in-game 

Following a stellar start to his coaching tenure with the Seahawks, in the past three seasons Carroll has slowly become more susceptible to being predictable and easily defeated. Struggling to move from his “Legion of Boom” 4-3 base defensive scheme, Carroll often finds himself getting out-coached by teams that exploit consistent holes within their coverage. This is best explained by Brandon Marshall, a former all pro wide receiver who played 13 seasons in the NFL. In a segment on Fox Sports 1, Marshall discussed issues regarding the Seahawks defensive scheme. “They have done the same thing over and over again for almost ten years. Everyone knows the blueprint. Everyone has the blueprint. Everyone knows their linebackers’ job in the entire NFL. So I know if I go three by one, and it’s third and short, I know exactly what everyone on that defense is doing.” 

Gregory Payan / AP

Specifically, the issues that Marshall describes are exposed heavily against their NFC West rival Los Angeles Rams. Sean Mcvay, coach of the Rams, has led the Rams to a 4-2 record in his career against Pete Carroll. Mcvay’s offense runs a heavy play action scheme with lots of bootlegs that put linebackers such as KJ Wright and Bobby Wagner in tough positions to succeed. Despite playing them twice a year, Carroll seems incompetent of adjusting his defense as the issues are clear each meeting. 

Another instance of Carroll’s inability to adjust can be seen in their most recent playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. Packers star receiver Davante Adams had a whopping 160 yards and two touchdowns. Rather than playing their all-pro cornerback Shaquill Griffin on Adams, Carroll insisted on having Tre Flowers cover him for three and a half quarters in which he got exposed repeatedly. While Carroll eventually made the adjustment to play Griffin on Adams, the switch came too late and arguably cost them a game in which Wilson played lights out in the second half to rally his team back.

Russell Wilson’s struggle against blueprint defenses (MOFO) 

Russell Wilson, despite having a consistent career and amazing start to the 2020 season, is beginning to display problems that have haunted him consistently in the past. As good as Wilson is at operating an offense and improvising plays, Wilson struggles to conquer a cover two man “Middle of Field Open” (MOFO) approach. In a typical MOFO defense, both safeties play in a two-high look which generally provides a light box for the offense to run through. Usually, offenses will do just that, operating between the hashes and running inside zone schemes to punish the light box. 

However, the Seahawks, particularly in the past five weeks, have been unable to do so and it doesn’t help that their #1 running back Chris Carson missed 4 games with a sprained foot.

NFL Next Gen

On the flip side, Wilson has had a tough time trying to dissect soft spots within the MOFO approach. As shown through NFL Next Gen advanced stats, Wilson has performed reasonably above league average in almost every portion of the field except one: the middle. When forced to target receivers between safeties and linebackers, Wilson’s otherwise great passer rating diminishes to a rate well below the league average. Defenses have slowly begun to recognize this fact and have started tailoring their defense to play to Wilson’s weaknesses. In games against the Vikings, Rams, and Giants, Wilson’s issues are particularly evident.

In these three games, Wilson was provided ample time from his offensive line yet struggled heavily and suffered 15 sacks total. Why? All three of these defenses played a variation of the blueprint MOFO defense which took away any threats outside the hashes. Despite having an above average time to throw, Wilson was unable to locate and target receivers in the middle of the field. 

Inability to draft and develop players 

Coupled with poor in game coaching and a predictable scheme, the front office and scouting staff have done a poor job drafting and developing young players for a better part of the last decade. At the start of the Schneider-Carroll era in Seattle, the front office was lights out, drafting Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas all within three drafts. 

However in more recent drafts, the Seahawks have consistently failed particularly in early rounds. In each of the last four drafts, the Seahawks have unnecessarily reached for players

who they most likely could have taken in a later round. Notable picks include Darrell Taylor, Rashaad Penny, Germain Ifedi, Malik Mcdowell, and LJ Collier. Of the players listed, there has been very little progression and all have been plagued with injuries. Malik Mcdowell, due to a freak ATV accident, never saw the field with the Seahawks as he was released due to off-field issues. LJ Collier was limited to a reduced snap count in eight of his ten games played and recorded 0 sacks and only 3 tackles the whole season. 

Darrell Taylor, the second round pick in the most recent draft is following a trend similar to Mcdowell and Collier as he is yet to suit up in practice and will likely be shut down for the rest of the 2020 season. This consistent problem has plagued the Seahawks in the past as their newly drafted talent fails to meet expectations each season. To make things worse, Carroll is reluctant to let young players see the field when it matters the most. A prime example of this was rookie safety Marquise Blair in the 2019 season. Despite having a weak secondary at the start of 2019, Carroll remained set on his approach to play Lano Hill and a deficient Tedric Thompson over Blair. When Blair did see the field in 2019, he provided flashes of speed and burst and it’s puzzling as to why Carroll did not increase his workload given the struggles of the secondary. Allowing a young player to play more snaps increases the rate of their development and it is a key facet that is missing within the Seahawks player development and operations. 

While the Seahawks have consistently been one of the top five teams in the league for the last decade, it still feels like somethings missing. Every year, fans are left with playoff disappointment after a divisional round exit that clearly exposes their issues, yet they’re still unable to solve them. And while most of the issues revolve around personnel, talent, and performance, the team must recognize that these problems are meant to be solved by a coaching staff who pinpoint strengths and weaknesses of their team. While I do believe that these issues can be solved, I do not think it is likely with Pete Carroll as head coach. Carroll has a nagging tendency to stay conservative in his approach and limits taking risks that could very well pay off. In my opinion, the Seahawks are better off hiring a young head coach or promoting offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer as these options represent a new ideology and shift for the overall direction of the franchise. These past few years seem eerily similar to the end of Mike McCarthy’s coaching job with the Green Bay Packers and it’s important that the Seahawks don’t make the same mistakes with Wilson that Green Bay did with Aaron Rodgers that effectively wasted a significant portion of his career with a stagnant franchise.

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