The Seattle Seahawks are in need of an overhaul. A missed kick on a routine field-goal attempt Sunday deprived them of finishing 10-6, which typically translates into a playoff berth, but Pete Carroll’s 2017 team no more belongs in the playoffs than Milli Vanilli belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Between Nov. 5 and Dec. 31, the Seahawks played five games at CenturyLink Field. They lost four of the five. Nothing screams “overhaul” as loud as a 1-4 home record over the second half of the season.
Paring the roster of injury-prone veterans, creating some salary-cap room for reinforcements under the age of 30, is an obvious task but a difficult one, fraught with lockerroom leadership issues. It’s a challenge that will define the legacy of John Schneider’s career in Seattle, presuming he wants to remain in Seattle.
There’s an opening for a general manager position at Green Bay, where Schneider grew up. Although Schneider’s contract tethers him to the Seahawks through 2020, and does not include an out clause that would allow him to return home, contracts are written on paper, and paper can be torn. If Schneider isn’t all in here, 100 percent committed, he might as well be out.
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Should Schneider stay, his first priority must be reorganizing a coaching staff that has gotten stale under Carroll. Thinking here of Tom Cable, the assistant head coach who oversees the offensive line and, by extension, the running game.
Cable’s achievements are detailed in the Seahawks 2017 media guide, which points out that he, in collaboration with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, “spearheaded Seattle’s rushing attack to become the best since the 2011 season. Behind the lines, the Seahawks running game ranks first in the NFL with 13,144 rush yards since 2011, and had a franchise record 25-game streak of 100-plus rushing yards from 2014-2015.”
This just in: 2015 was three years ago.
The Hawks running game was a barnyard mess in 2016 – Christine Michael led the team with 469 rushing yards, which so impressed the Seahawks he was released in mid-November – and further deteriorated this season. Quarterback Russell Wilson accounted for 586 yards, mostly on scrambles. Among a group that included castaways, undrafted free agents and the bust that was Eddie Lacy, the top ground gainer was Mike Davis, who finished with 240 yards.
It’s not Cable’s fault that promising rookie Chris Carson got only 49 carries before suffering a leg injury, or that the perpetually inactive C.J. Prosise contributed nothing. And I’ll give Cable the benefit of the doubt about Thomas Rawls, who in 2015 appeared poised to replace Marshawn Lynch as go-to guy in the backfield. Rawls gained 157 yards. His version of a season was what Walter Payton thought of as a Sunday afternoon.
While the Seahawks were waiting for somebody in their hobo-stew collection of running backs to assert himself, Alex Collins, selected by Seattle in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, rushed for 973 yards and six touchdowns with the Baltimore Ravens. Collins never meshed with Cable’s zone-blocking scheme, and was rendered expendable for the likes of Lacy, who never meshed with Cable’s zone-blocking scheme.
Connecting any dots?
When players have difficulty adjusting to a coach’s scheme, maybe it’s time to change the scheme, or the coach, or both.
What won’t change is Carroll’s belief – and it’s inarguable – that an effective running game is the prime component of a championship team. Running opens up play-action passing downfield, gives the defense an opportunity to catch its breath on the sideline, and is reliable in those inclement-weather games that dominate the schedule after Halloween.
“We have a real formula of how we win,” Carroll said Tuesday. “We have been unable the last two years to incorporate a major aspect of that and it’s running the football the way we want to run it.”
Carroll and Cable are on the same page philosophically. They love comeback stories, miracle-of-the-loaves-and-fishes stories. Converting former college basketball players into offensive linemen, and former college defensive tackles into offensive linemen –making do with what little you’ve got – suggest a kind of football genius behind the scenes.
Carroll won’t cut ties with Cable, so it’s up to Schneider to reboot the operation. Some awkward discussions might ensue, followed by an official-team statement lauding Cable’s accomplishments over the seven years he spent as chief architect of what used to be a superior running attack.
Used to be, those are the critically important words.
The scheme is not working anymore. The system of budget-basement roster construction on the offensive line is not working anymore. All that’s working is when Wilson, smothered by an apparent ambush, turns a broken play into a 15-yard gain.
Wilson’s magic produced nine victories, and kept the Seahawks in contention for a wild card spot until the final minutes of their 16th game. But it’s not a real formula for how to win.
The real formula is steeped in the possibility an off-tackle burst can pick up 2 yards on third-and-1. Between an overpowered offensive line and running backs who can’t push the pile on their own, third-and-1 plays this season might as well have been third-and-13.
It’s time for an overhaul, and the overhaul begins with the firing of Tom Cable.