Seahawks HC Pete Carroll Preserves Status as NFL’s Secondary Godfather
Despite guiding his team to a 10-2 start, critics have remained diligent condemning coach Pete Carroll for maintaining an archaic run-first philosophy, consistently choosing the conservative route on fourth down, and questionable clock management skills.
Like all NFL coaches, Carroll doesn’t roam the sidelines without faults. The concerns about his ability to manage timeouts and use challenges effectively have teeth sometimes. And based on data, there’s no question he’s erred on the side of caution too frequently on fourth down decisions this year.
But there’s a multitude of reasons Carroll is closing in on 100 regular-season wins in Seattle and has his current team positioned to make noise in January. Among them, he still remains the godfather of cultivating NFL defensive backs.
Over the past two seasons, the Seahawks released perennial All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, hard-hitting strong safety Kam Chancellor was forced to retire, and future Hall of Fame safety Earl Thomas signed with the Ravens in free agency. Other valuable veterans departed as well, depleting a once-historically dominant "Legion of Boom" secondary.
There have been plenty of growing pains trying to replace such a star-studded group along the way, but Carroll has once again done a masterful job. Molding balls of clay into sculptures, he’s played a key role in transforming cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers from raw mid-round talents into legitimate Pro Bowl-caliber defenders.
At this point, it shouldn’t be a surprise Carroll knows what he’s doing coaching up defensive backs. He’s been doing it for decades at the highest levels of the sport and few coaches, if any, understand the technical aspects of cornerback play better, which explains why he’s been so successful working with players offering limited prior experience at the position.
As just one example from the past decade, Carroll helped Deshawn Shead transition from safety to cornerback, eventually becoming a reliable starter in 2016. Even Sherman hadn’t been playing the position very long, originally starting his college career at Stanford as a receiver before switching to defense.
Now, Carroll finds himself in the midst of arguably his greatest coaching job yet watching Griffin and Flowers blossom into terrific cornerbacks right in front of his eyes. Instrumental in Seattle’s recent defensive resurgence, both players continue to advance their games for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Coming off a disappointing second season, Griffin has proven to be one of the league’s most improved players in 2019. The 2016 third-round pick ranks among league leaders in passes defensed (13), has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 53 percent of passes against him in coverage, and has cut yards per completion by nearly three yards compared to last year.
The term “shutdown cornerback” is often used too lightly, but for much of the year, the speedy Griffin has been just that for the Seahawks in his second year manning the left side.
Interestingly, an argument can be made Flowers, who is still learning the cornerback position after playing safety at Oklahoma State, has been even better in some regards and equally as impressive. After failing to pick off a pass as a rookie, he has three interceptions this year and has limited opposing quarterbacks to a 66.7 passer rating.
The 6-foot-3, 202-pound Flowers also possesses a vastly different skillset from his counterpart, with his past safety experience serving him well as a blitzer and run defender.
“He’s really grown into his own,” Carroll said in regard to Flowers, who picked off Kirk Cousins on Monday night. “He’s such a beautiful athlete and he’s such a good competitor, and he’s a tough guy. It’s great to see him coming through and making it.”
The Seahawks have benefited from missing out on top-tier quarterbacks several times this year, including Drew Brees, who was sidelined when the Saints won at CenturyLink Field in Week 3. Ben Roethlisberger also suffered a season-ending injury against them in Week 2.
Heading towards postseason play, the road to Miami for Super Bowl LIV will likely include matchups against elite signal-callers such as Brees and Aaron Rodgers. The biggest obstacles are yet to come for Griffin, Flowers and the rest of Seattle’s secondary.
But with Carroll working his magic at the helm and a suddenly potent pass rush speeding up opposing passers, the group should maintain its upward trajectory during the closing stretch, giving the Seahawks a fighting chance to do damage in January with a new cast of characters writing their own script.