It’s been almost 36 months since Darrell Bevell drew up the illogically conceived play that cost the Seahawks a second consecutive world championship and crumbled a dynasty. When Bevell got fired as the team’s offensive coordinator late Tuesday night, it was not because he called for a reserve receiver to catch a high-risk pass a few feet from the goal line in Super Bowl 49.
Bevell got fired because the Seahawks model for success – wearing down opponents by combining a grind-it-out ground game with a dominant defense – is severely broken. Beyond repair? They finished 9-7 this season and came within a couple of missed field goals of going 11-5. Overreaction is unwise.
But changes are necessary, and some new voices, with an edge to them, must be heard. Over the seven years he spent as primary architect of the Hawks offense, Bevell’s voice was as serene as an algebra tutor. When former running back Marshawn Lynch used an impolite form of sign language to convey displeasure with Bevell’s strategy in a game at Arizona a few years ago, the coordinator shrugged it off.
Bevell’s consistent civility made him well-liked on one side of the locker room. As the players gathered at Seahawks headquarters to pack up for the winter on Jan. 1, a day after the offense’s abysmal first-half performance in the season finale, wide receiver Doug Baldwin took reporters to task for suggesting the playbook has turned stale.
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“It’s not the play calling,” Baldwin said. “We go into a game knowing what the defense is going to give us, the situations we’re going to be in. We don’t execute as a team and that’s on us as players. You guys can blame ‘Bev’ all you want, but the truth of the matter is Bev is not the problem.”
The truth of the matter is that Carroll decided Bevell was the problem, and held him accountable for an offense that took longer to tune up than a symphony orchestra. Early plays are scripted by the offensive coordinator. Seattle scored all of four first-quarter touchdowns in 2017.
Carroll saw enough. He also saw enough of a ragged possessions that typically included two plays for minimal gains, requiring quarterback Russell Wilson to improvise something on third-and-long. Wilson may believe miracle water can accelerate concussion recovery, but he’s not a miracle worker.
What he is, though, is a dual-threat dynamo halfway into a Hall of Fame career that brought the Lombardi Trophy to Seattle four years ago. The quest for another Lombardi Trophy has found the Seahawks in a gradual regression: From 13-3 in 2013, the Super Bowl season, to 12-4 and the infamous Super Bowl defeat in 2014, to a pair of 10-victory advancements through the wild card round in 2015 and 2016, to the blah, running-on-empty disappointment of 2017.
A shakeup was inevitable and began with the ouster of the offensive coordinator. It didn’t end with the ouster of the offensive coordinator. Offensive line coach Tom Cable, who also oversaw the Hawks running “attack,” followed Bevell out the door, refuting rumors that Carroll would double-down on his conviction in Major Tom’s ability to establish ground control.
Cable’s reputation is steeped in creativity – he’d rather groom a raw project who may or may not be familiar with basic blocking techniques than waste his energy on a first-round blue-chipper who knows how, and where, to line up – but evaluating potential talent has not been his strength in Seattle.
Allowing Cable complete authority of the offense would haven been like giving 10 blank sheets of paper to a typing-class student and expecting literature. Carroll contemplating a changing of the guard (and, ahem, the tackles) and will infuse some fresh blood into a coaching staff that settled into something of a comfort zone.
While the 2017 Seahawks will be recalled for their ineptitude on offense, the defense that once prided itself on leading the league in fewest points surrendered gave up 332 of them, most allowed since 2010, Carroll’s first season with the Hawks. The defense’s slide was exposed by one play at Jacksonville on Dec. 10, when the Jaguars were clinging to a 30-24 lead with 1:55 remaining.
It was third-and-11 at the Seattle 44-yard line. The Hawks not only knew what the other guys were going to do, they knew who was going to do it: Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette. Absent any threat of deception, the game came down to stopping Fournette.
He picked up 13 yards and a first down.
Although defensive coordinator Kris Richard wasn’t in position to stop Fournette, it was his job to put his players in a place, with a plan, where they could. Richard has superior communication skills – his smile can light up a dingiest of workplace cafeterias – but the NFL is a results-based industry, and some of results down the December stretch looked like this: 30 points given up to the Jaguars, 42 points given up to the Rams, and 26 points given up to a beaten-down Cardinals team, behind a beaten-down backup quarterback, that had nothing at stake.
Carroll’s history with his defensive coordinator dates back to their years together at USC, where Richard was a mainstay in Carroll’s defensive secondary. Relieving Richard of his duties won’t be easy but it might be necessary.
Relieving Bevell and Cable of their duties couldn’t have been easy, either, but it was time.
The dynasty we envisioned after the Seahawks’ 43-8 obliteration of the Broncos in the Super Bowl never was fulfilled. A roster peppered with youth and energy got old and injured and burdened with contracts that stressed the salary cap.
All of this would have happened had Darrell Bevell called for a reliably violent running back to burst off tackle for the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, three years ago, but Bevell went into a snakes-in-the-brain mode that cemented his legend.
He was the first member of Carroll’s primary braintrust to get fired. Because Carroll trusted his brains, he wasn’t the last.