When he spoke to the media for the final time this season on Monday, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll made two things clear about the controversy over the team’s offensive playcalling in Saturday’s loss to Dallas — 1, any criticism should be aimed at him; 2, and he thinks it’s way overblown.
Much ire has been directed at offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer for Seattle’s seeming insistence on sticking with a running game that struggled as much as it had at any point since the first two weeks of the season, with many wondering why the Seahawks didn’t pass more in an eventual 24-22 Wild Card loss to the Cowboys.
Carroll noted that the overall philosophy of the team and the offense is his, and in that regard any criticism should start with him, and that the Seahawks were following a script that had worked well all season as Seattle led the NFL in rushing at 160 yards per game en route to finishing 10-6.
“For somebody to look at this game and (say) somebody didn’t do this or didn’t do that, and try to hold that against them or whatever, is really unfair,” Carroll said. “Hold it against me. I’m the guy that’s in charge of this thing. There’s nowhere to look at an individual guy, it’s a team thing. But I’m on top of it and I’m the one to be pointed at. We couldn’t have been more committed to being an aggressive football team than we were this year. That meant we’re playing great defense, we’re working on our (special) teams, running the football and playing off of that. That’s us, that’s how we do it. That’s not anybody but starting with me. So, the fact that Schotty was working the game plan and trying to hammer the football is what we did every week and that’s how we figured to win.”
Still, couldn’t Seattle have deviated earlier from that plan once it was apparent that a Dallas team that came into the game ranked fifth in the NFL against the run had shown it was able to contain the Seahawks’ running game pretty well?
Carroll has allowed that in reflection after a loss a team might always do things differently — he said “yeah, we would have liked to” thrown more deep passes. But Monday he also pointed out that Seattle ran the ball on eight of nine plays on a drive that resulted in a touchdown late in the third quarter that gave the Seahawks a 14-10 lead, his point being that the Seahawks had been successful enough with their usual formula to have a lead on the road in a playoff game entering the fourth quarter.
The Seahawks ran the ball only one more time the rest of the game as Dallas drove for two touchdowns to take leads of 17-14 and then 24-14 (Seattle went three and out in between, with a run for a loss of one on first down on the drive in between and then two pass plays, then threw it on every play the rest of the game).
“When it doesn’t work you have to get moving and find the ways that you got to get there to get the game won, and that’s what we were attempting to do,” Carroll said. “You forget maybe that the go-ahead touchdown drive in this game was a nine-play drive, eight plays were runs. We got the ball at midfield (officially, the Dallas 44) off great field position after a great kick, exactly like we like to do it. Defense held them, here we go and we knock it on down there, we fight our way through a fourth-down conversion and make it 14-10. OK, let’s go from there. So, to try and blame Schotty with the play-calling or something, I understand that reaction but it isn’t warranted. We had a hell of a season. We did a bunch of good stuff and we’re just getting started. That’s what it feels like.”
Carroll also took the blame for what he felt might have been a determining factor in Seattle’s running game struggles — the Seahawks were held to 73 yards on 24 plays, their second-lowest total of the season -- and which also contributed to the way the coaches called the game.
Specifically, he said the team may have counted too heavily on a return to form by guards J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker, who were each coming off injuries that meant neither had practiced in the last two weeks. Fluker had played in just one game since Dec. 2 while battling a hamstring injury while Sweezy played despite breaking a bone in his foot in a game against the Chiefs on Dec. 23.
Those two had been a key to the running game’s effectiveness this season but Carroll said it was obvious neither was close to 100 percent against Dallas.
“I think that we expected a lot and I made an expectation on Fluke coming back and Sweez getting back out there without practice time,” Carroll said. “Hard to expect those guys to play top-flight football. Dallas guys were coming off the rock, did a nice job up front and we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be. That’s really what it felt like watching the film and getting back through it.”
The team planned all week for Fluker to play.
Sweezy was officially listed as questionable and considered a gametime decision, though Carroll had also said all week they expected him to play. Sweezy conducted a workout on the field ahead of time that Carroll said convinced the team he was healthy enough to go.
But Carroll said it was obvious early that the cohesion of the offensive line wasn’t what it had been earlier in the season — the Dallas game was the first in which each of the usual five starters all started at their regular spots since Dec. 2.
“I thought our timing was a little bit off early — in the beginning — and you could see it improve during the course of the game,” Carroll said of a Seahawks team that was held to just 22 yards rushing on 10 carries in the first half.
Carroll said one reason for sticking with the run was the expectation that the line would improve as it adjusted to what Dallas was doing — the Seahawks had had a few games during the season in which they started out slowly with the run and progressed as the game went on, and Carroll noted that they did run it better in the third quarter (52 yards on 13 carries, though with 28 on one run by Rashaad Penny).
“In the second half, we came out just more in control,” Carroll said. “We had to adapt to some things that they were doing, moving up front in some fashions that we just had to adjust to. I just felt like they weren’t as sure footing in their place as they would be because they needed to get back going again. They hadn’t been able to practice full speed for some time. Fluke had some plays a couple weeks ago, but no preparation for that and no preparation (last) week to speak of. They were very limited in the prep. That’s why I felt like it was a lot to ask of them but we went for it, and that’s the way we decided to do it.”
Schottenheimer completed his first season as the team’s offensive coordinator this year, replacing the fired Darrell Bevell, and Carroll praised him throughout for combining with offensive line coach Mike Solari — also in his first year after taking over for the fired Tom Cable — in reviving the offense and getting back to being a team that can lead with the run.
Seattle scored 428 points this season, second-most in team history, finished sixth in scoring in the NFL at 26.8 per game.
Carroll said he couldn’t have been more pleased with the way the new coaching staff worked this season and when asked if he anticipates any turnover said “we don’t anticipate any major changes.”