Pete Carroll finished the season 2-1 coaching "championship football" in his first year as Head Coach of the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks 35-24 loss at Chicago in the Divisional Round was disappointing to a program on the rise, but expected by most outsiders who saw a young, inconsistent team in its first year under new leadership.
They started strong, a 4-2 record through six games, and finished with a division title and playoff win; losers in seven of nine games bridge the gap between the two.
The Marshawn Lynch Beastquake run; the Seahawks.com video of Lawyer Milloy chanting "we all we got," the team giving back a resounding "we all we need." Before the loss in a slippery Soldier field, this program was coming together; no matter the result in Chicago, the season had turned positive.
A Mentality Solidified
Snow shocked: As soon as the snow started to fall at Soldier Field, the Seahawks looked spooked; they started the game in the typical "west coast team, 1 PM Est. game" manner. Flat.
- The uber consistent Brandon Stokley slipped off the line on the first 3rd down of the game, incomplete.
- A coverage breakdown by Safety Lawyer Milloy on 3rd and short, first defensive drive, allows for a long Greg Olsen touchdown catch down the seam.
- Safety Jordan Babineaux, "Big Play Babs," dropped a sure interception protecting the goal line down 7-0, leading to a Jay Cutler 3rd down, touchdown scramble.
- Momentum and the game, Bears.
Credit Seahawks.com Ben Malcolmson for the words of free agent to be Leon Washington, who provided the last words in the locker room this season; "The best is yet to come, believe that."
A strong finish: The loss at Soldier field solidified this unit as a team; a group of players and coaches who had bought into their roles, but furthermore, played hard for the success of the organization. "We are a football team of guys we like and guys who want to work here next year." The "mystical" team that came back against Carolina in week 13 would have lost 35-3 to Chicago.
In the last three games of the year, "championship football," the team hung together and validated their beliefs in Carroll's mentality; the struggle to "get it right," the streak of losing seven of nine, was just part of the growth process of learning to be a championship team; Carroll continually reminded his players if they kept believing, the best would come.
Why it matters: They accomplished the preseason goal of winning the division; Carroll took advantage of the opportunity and beat the "model organization" Saints at home, in the playoffs. I have chronicled the similar mentality of these organizations, using the concept of the Totem (http://howlseahawks.blogspot.com/2010/10/on-top-of-nfc-west-but-looking-up-at.html) to describe the active, structured and permeating qualities of both programs--the Seahawks in the early stages of learning to build a program competitive with the Saints. Coach Carroll believes in many aspects the organizational and football methods the Saints used in building their championship program.
Matt Hasselbeck described after the loss that any time you lose a game, especially a big opportunity like hosting the NFC Championship game, there is a really negative vibe; yet, the talk around the accomplishments of the season and the programs outlook was positive.
A little nugget of history--The Seahawks lost a playoff, snow game in Chicago just as a young New Orleans team did, 39-14, four years ago.
Will it work? At his introductory press conference a little over a year ago, Pete Carroll displayed enthusiasm and confidence in welcoming the challenge of both building and coaching the Seahawks. His recent resume: nearly a decade building a college dynasty; 2 national championships and 7 consecutive Pac 10 titles.
Remember, this isn't Carroll's first jump from college to the NFL; his first move of such nature was from college coordinator to NFL position coach in 1984. This is his third NFL Head Coaching position; in his second, he took the team to the playoffs twice in three years.
The way Carroll runs this program is by the "formula" he has been shaping for nearly three decades. He acknowledged in the Divisional week press conferences that he has grown as a coach and teacher since coaching New England; priorities have changed and he understands the aspects of his program that need extra focus. The philosophy is communicated with more clarity.
Coach Carroll may have been a "rah rah" guy, but he is a more focused, confident and experienced coach than in the 1990s.
When asked where the program stands and what the focus of the team is going into the off season, Carroll's message was clear. "We are the division champs and that is a major part of the focus we will take going forward. We intend to own the division and grow from there." The Seahawks earned the right to create higher expectations and are aimed at surpassing year one's success.
Going into year two Seahawks players and coaches were informed of one, very crucial element of the offseason program. Each person would have to earn back their job; no one was going to feel fully comfortable in their current position. Competition starts again, pushing to a higher level. Earn everything.
The fit of the individual, "buying in" to this program, has been of the utmost importance since day one; the words of General Manager John Schneider last offseason, "this is not a patching thing, it's not a rebuilding thing; it's continually building as we go."
What will these changes do to the continuity of the organization; does each change start the process over?
Carroll revealed his perspective as to how these changes affect the players and the organization: this is just progress, as there "is a philosophy in place that we believe in and it's not difficult to stay on course." Carroll acknowledged the importance of hiring coaches from the same lineage; "these new coaches will keep the flow of the mentality, use the same language."
He iterated, "I'm very experienced at this—I don't feel uncomfortable at all."
The Seahawks have made significant changes to the coaching staff since the loss to Chicago. Carroll spoke a promising dialogue when explaining; part of his role as a leader is to make sure the new coaches come into Seattle both supported in achieving their personal goals and affect the players and team in the desired manner. New hires are approached as assets to the organization, not patchwork change. This attitude has made working with this organization an attractive position and created the opportunity for quality hires.
Bye Bye Bates: Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates had hit or miss success as coordinator of the Seahawks, finding a rhythmic, explosive passing games at times, but engineered a rush offense in the bottom of the league. Carroll attributed this firing to a difference in philosophy; "this has more to do with me doing a better job of teaching the philosophy of the program than it does with Jeremy." I agree with the sentiment of many inside sources that Bates' personality and demeanor didn't fit, perhaps the main reason he was let go.
While his firing was due to general themes that existed over the course of the season, the Chicago game exacerbated some of the negative aspects of the offense this season:
- The loss of John Carlson on the second drive severely limited the Seahawks; Hasselbeck noted the play calling was reduced to a "corner" of the play card. Bates' season long inconsistencies of both calling a balanced game and adapting to personnel were magnified.
- They poorly mixed and eventually abandoned the running game with 12 carries for 34 yards in a road, snow playoff game. They continually ran into the Bears defense on 2nd and short and failed to run on any 3rd down, when Urlacher often dropped into coverage, in the first half.
- The offense predictably threw into the Bears on 2nd or 3rd and long, failing to set up play action on 1st and long or 2nd and short.
On the season, The Seahawks offense was efficient on 1st down in both the passing and running games. However, the running game on 2nd was easily identifiable by formations and often created negative plays; poor 2nd down play calling in the red zone, sans the Mike Williams misdirection play versus St. Louis, was an Achilles heel for the Seahawks offense. Furthermore, inconsistent 3rd down execution and very questionable play calls on 4th down were consistent problems this season. Bates did display a better understanding of personnel in the passing game the final three games of the year, but proved too little, too late.
An offense "back on track": The hiring of former Raiders Head Coach Tom Cable, now the Seahawks assistant Head Coach and Offensive Line Coach, and former Vikings Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell, in the same capacity with the Seahawks, forms a duo with experience and attitude; one that is exemplary of the style of coaching, and football, the Seahawks looked to establish from day one.
The key to this change is simple. The argument that breaking continuity of the offense is valid, but the factor here is that the language doesn't change; the communicators are simply more effective at communicating the message Carroll wants to send. "A lot of the change had to do with my ability to facilitate the attitude with the coaches in place." He mentioned continually during his post season presser the hiring of Cable "will permeate a certain attitude to the entire team. He is a younger version of Alex Gibbs." Yes, Cable comes with the some baggage—he reportedly punched an assistant in the mouth and had spousal abuse issues during his tenure in Oakland. However, Carroll understands the opportunity Cable brings to the table and is more than willing to support Cable in achieving both personal and professional success.
Some changes to expect under the new coaching duo:
- Think of Cable as the run game coordinator and Bevell as the pass game coordinator. They share an aggressive, tough minded mentality. Bevell is even keeled and focused, while Cable teaches tenacity.
- The offense will feature a tough, smash mouth run game and short passing game that creates yards on early downs, paired with a timing based, play action passing attack that uses a variety of short routes to create the vertical passing game; I do expect some "spread" elements to be integrated from the 2010 offense. Running backs will be heavily involved in all aspects of this offense.
- Bevell worked in Green Bay in the early 2000's as a Quarterback coach before going to Minnesota; he has worked with Hasselbeck and comes from the Holmgren coaching tree. He continually improved the Minnesota offense with a lack of Quarterback talent—Tavaris Jackson, Gus Ferotte and Kelly Holcomb led the offense before Favre's arrival. Familiarity with pocket passers and his lineage in the "West Coast" offense played a huge role in his hiring.
- Cable "was born to be an Offensive Line coach;" he will change the makeup of this offensive line. No more small Guards and the Tackles will be tenacious. Practices will focus on technique, tempo and toughness.
- This offense will focus on controlling the clock and wearing down opponents. The number one emphasis is winning the line of scrimmage, which will set up the big play. I expect these two coaches to work well together.
- Former Seahawks QB coach Jim Zorn was just released from the Baltimore Ravens and would be a savvy hire; the team has not been public in their pursuit of a new coach thus far. Zorn is a premium Quarterback coach that knows Hasselbeck and can develop depth at the position, but also creates an interesting power triangle on the offensive coaching staff.
- A second option would be to bring in a younger coach to serve under Bevell, someone with a "West Coast" offensive lineage or tie with a major member of the organization.
The change in direction on offense was executed for immediate success; I don't believe Carroll is operating on anything than more than a "four year plan," and that might be a generous assessment. The Seahawks have established a very good knowledge base to install a more traditional "West Coast" offense; justifying the decision to fire Bates by clearly upgrading the coaching staff and putting the offense in position to improve in 2011.
Part two will evaluate defensive coaching changes, take a look back at some crucial 2010 moments and focus on how this team intends to build this offseason, especially given the uncertainty of Free Agency and the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement. Part three will focus on Personnel and the composition of the 2011 roster. Check back later this week for part two!