2020 was weird. For a start, I don’t like how the numbers matched. Twenty-Twenty. Imagine that in a British accent. Ewwww. Oh, yes, we also experienced the start of a global pandemic that halted worldwide convention. The distracter-in-chief from the horrible reality - sports - was also impacted and the surreal year of 2020 extended to the Seahawks. The first half of the season was riddled with defensive struggles, while the offense deafened silent stadiums. Then it flipped.
Travel back to the darkest of times. The embarrassing Seahawks suffered an embarrassing defensive performance versus the Bills. In Week 9 of 2020, Seattle allowed 44 points to Buffalo. They looked even worse than the point total suggests. This was not what a blockbuster trade for Jamal Adams was supposed to achieve.
I wrote after the horrid Seattle display that the defense was outcoached by Buffalo’s offensive staff. One area I highlighted was a lack of clear defensive identify, with play-caller Ken Norton Jr trying to solve various issues by throwing new calls at the issue. The result was the opposite of improvement: disaster.
At this darkest of Carroll defensive periods, Matt Bowen - seven-year NFL veteran and ESPN analyst - tweeted out charting numbers that confirmed the Seahawks lacked a defensive identity. Carroll’s Seattle defense didn’t place in the top five highest 2020 percentage for Cover 1, Cover 2, Cover 3, Cover 4, 2 Man, Cover 0, or highest blitz rate (5 or more rushers). This was a stark contrast to the peak years of "Legion of Boom" defense, where Carroll was league-renowned for Cover 3 and a change-up of Cover 1. The past, the glorious identity, had vanished.
In the face of job-threatening adversity, Seattle’s defense managed to recover to an excellent level of play. Asked, following the NFC West-clinching win over the LA Rams, about the reasons for the remarkable transformation on 710 ESPN Seattle, Pete Carroll responded, “We’re playing the stuff that we know how to play.”
“We put our heads together and did some really important things. We were so uncharacteristic and so off and all that. That was like the final straw. We had to make sure that we adjusted and figured it out and tweaked it and all of that.”
Evidently, a firm discussion took place amongst the defensive coaches regarding Seattle’s schematic approach down the stretch. It therefore makes sense that the unit improved, given they reduced the number of play calls and instead focused on emphasizing the fundamentals of core defensive families.
Yes, Seattle based out of bear fronts - a revolution evolution for 2020. However, the Seahawks kept the coverage recipe to a 3-course tasting menu and only delved into the Petits Fours on clear passing downs. Amuse Bouche was off the menu. Buzz off you fancy Michelin toff.
So, while the Seahawks defense experienced Carroll salvation, what happened to Seattle’s offense? The opposite is true. “Let Russ Cook,” Zach Whitman’s famous Twitter campaign, started with multiple Michelin stars. It ended with a Wilson trademark, a kitchen up in flames, and a rack of Spitzenklasse knives stabbed through the heart of every Seattle fan. A lot of "doing the dishes" is now required.
Jim Nagy summarized the challenge of fixing the Seahawks offense last month. Nagy, current Senior Bowl Executive Director, served for five years as Seattle’s Southeast area scout under John Schneider. On January 23, he raised and highlighted the issue of identity as a way of fixing the Seahawks’ offense - the same concern that impacted the Seahawks’ defense in the first half of 2020.
Asked by Rob Staton of Seahawks Draft Blog what the issue was with the Seahawks offense, Nagy responded:
“I think that they need to figure out their identity. I think they lost that identity a little bit this year. They came out, you know, gangbusters on offense - when I say their identity, really on offense. They came out chucking it around, ‘Let Russ Cook’ was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and then, over the course of the year, they just spluttered. And they’ve got to figure out: do they want to be that physical run team still? You know, having Chris Carson banged up and things of that nature hurt them. But what do they want to be? You know? And can they find that balance? Can they find that balance between having the power run game and really wearing teams down and dictating things that way and then taking shots down the field? What do they want to be? And I think that that’s what they’re trying to answer right now with this offensive coordinator hire, that I know they’re in the middle of right now.”
When Nagy spoke to Staton, his comments came before Seattle hired Shane Waldron as its new offensive coordinator. Andy Dickerson was also added as run game coordinator following Brennan Carroll’s departure to the Arizona Wildcats as offensive coordinator.
Brian Schottenheimer’s third year as Seahawks offensive coordinator looked to be ending in a glorious coronation. There was diverse schematic evolution in both the run and pass game. Sadly, this all ended with misery and Carroll fired him. The PR department referenced “philosophical differences.”
Remember how happy Carroll was after Seattle’s Week 15, 40-3 victory over the New York Jets? Our own Colby Patnode questioned if the Seahawks had been able to “rediscover their true identity.” Carroll was delighted at the high scoring, the dominant defense, the efficient passing, and the volume running.
Nagy talked "balance between having the power run game and really wearing teams down and dictating things that way and then taking shots down the field." The Jets game is what felt like Pete-ball, even if it was against a bad opponent. Perhaps these game plans are the one thing the 5-foot-10 Wilson can consistently execute - especially behind patchy offensive lines.
Seattle’s head coach believes the Seahawks’ 2020 offensive philosophy was not correct under Schottenheimer - in other words, the identity. In his opening press conference, Waldron emphasized the importance of “balance.” This is a clear Carroll absolute when it comes to the 2021 Seattle offense. It may also be something that, particularly after recent comments in the media, wrangles with Wilson.
Finding a matching Seattle offensive identity is the key to 2021. Even before Wilson's newfound-level of public expression, this was obvious. With Wilson now open in the media yet his true motive still murky, it's absolutely vital for the Seahawks to get this right. Maybe they can learn from their 2020 defensive remedies? Can they get the offensive identity done right?