The Seahawks’ coaching staff has no fear of the unorthodox.
That’s why James Carpenter was crouched and ready for the first snap of Sunday’s NFC title game a week after being inactive. It’s also why he was on the bench in the first place.
The Seahawks sat down their first-round pick from 2011 for the divisional-round playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. In his place, rookie Michael Bowie played left guard. It was Bowie’s first start at the position and the third different spot on the line he has started at this year.
That left Carpenter watching from the sideline.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Bowie started at left guard against New Orleans because he won the competition for the spot during the two weeks of practice going into the game. Bowie had previously started at right tackle (seven games for the injured Breno Giacomini) and right guard (one game for the injured J.R. Sweezy).
Carpenter, who had moved from the starter at left guard, to shared duty at the spot with Paul McQuistan, said he was disappointed, as anyone would be.
“It was very difficult; any player doesn’t want to be inactive,” Carpenter said. “I just came to work and all week just tried to help the team.”
Bowie received positive reviews from Carroll for his work. Which made replacing him with the Carpenter/McQuistan combo Sunday – each played 50 percent of the offensive snaps – as surprising as Carpenter being inactive the week before.
“As we prepared for this week we had intended ... to keep the competition open,” Carroll said. “As we looked at just the way things were coming together, we made a coaches’ decision that it might be better in this instance to go with the guys that have been playing a little bit more and experienced, and keep the rotation with Paul and Carp playing. It worked out fine for us, you know.”
Carroll pointed out that doesn’t mean Bowie is out of the mix. On the contrary, he’ll be competing these next two weeks for playing time in the Super Bowl.
“It’s one of the deals where it’s so close; the competition is so keen that it could go either way,” Carroll said.
Carpenter is also viewed as a capable run blocker – crucial against San Francisco – and less so as a pass blocker. The Seahawks will always have a run-first emphasis and face a Denver defense during Super Bowl XLVIII which was eighth against the rush and 27th against the pass in the regular season. How the Seahawks interpret that in relation to the line is up in the air.
The shifting of Carpenter and Bowie was not the only offensive line surprise the Seahawks presented during the first two games of the playoffs.
Bowie’s fellow rookie, Alvin Bailey, played 16 snaps as the extra tight end against San Francisco. He did not play offense against New Orleans. The Seahawks went to a version of a “jumbo” formation to counter the 49ers’ skilled outside linebackers.
During the Week 14 loss at San Francisco, Bailey played just one offensive snap.
“Those guys are huge and long and effective, and we thought what might give us a little bit of an edge (is) they’re not used to playing guys that are 320 pounds coming at them,” Carroll said. “We thought we might get a little factor, and on the big play that we broke it (Marshawn Lynch’s 40-yard touchdown run), it didn’t work out that way in the blocking scheme, but Alvin still came through and sealed a nice block for us. That was the thought.”
At this point it’s clear what the Seahawks did one week on the offensive line is not a predictor of next week. Even in the playoffs.