It’s evident Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson were a match made in football heaven.
Do you mind? Trying to make a point here.
Between midseason 2012 and the NFCCG victory over Green Bay (which Wisconsin kids are free to cry about for the rest of their lives, just like locals will do about XLIX; the important thing is that children everywhere are sad), the Wilson-Carroll Seahawks went 38-9.
38-9. My god. Six playoff victories mixed in, too. The Seahawks had won only seven total times in the postseason prior to Carroll’s arrival. Again, match, heaven, made.
I mean, you couldn’t write a better gridiron love story than the youngest old man in the world paired with the dorkiest superstar in the game. And the love lives on to this day, if somewhat less frequently punctuated with torrid sportgasms. Since their pseudodynastic 47-game stretch, the Seahawks are a presentable, even sometimes enjoyable, 53-34-1. They’ve gone the equivalent of 10-6 five times, with a bucket of playoff appearances but a less-than-overflowing bucket of playoff wins.
Consider: the 2013 Seahawks posted a point differential of +186… while the 2016-17-18-19 Seahawks are +184, combined for all four years. So, they’re not the same dominant team they once were. Is it possible — it is even conceivable — that the Seahawks, Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll are no longer a perfect menage a trois? Is it possible both men might be better off apart, free to build successful stories of their own in separate franchises, free of the malaise that afflicts those who have to settle for stubborn above-average results after a glorious run of excellence?
“Yes. it is possible. I may speak now, right?”
Yes. Sure. It’s okay to say it out loud. It is possible. What does Wilson look like on a Seattle team no longer run by Carroll?
“I know this one. I’m in Seahawks Twitter. I am Seahawks Twitter. HE FINALLY GETS TO COOK!”
Few coaches run the ball as much as Carroll, value run blocking over pass pro as much as Carroll, and wax about establishing an identity as much as Carroll, while making no public effort, or discernible game-day effort for that matter, to embrace analytics. To call him old-school between the lines is the fairest thing ever, even as the coach embodies new-school attitudes Monday through Saturday.
Give Russ a new, more up-to-date coach, with a new, more up-to-date offense, the thinking goes (“I do think this every day! I tweet this every day!”) and watch the Seahawks score a Chiefly or Ravenous amount of touchdowns. Sometimes enough to win by two scores, even.
“What’s that like?”
We do not know. We cannot know. The exercise is theoretical.
The corollary (Carrollary?) is that RW sans PC becomes a volume passing god, even more of a fantasy football darling, and cements his Hall of Fame case with a few gaudy seasons and at least one more SB appearance. By 2028, as retirement peeks its balding head around the corner, he is spoken of in the same breath as all the greats.
What does Carroll gain by forfeiting a top 3 quarterback?
“Oh this one’s tougher. I’ll let you take it.”
Gracious of you. Pete gets to build the team he concocted the first time in Seattle. Accumulates defensive playmakers, relies on a punishing ground game, deploys special teams that actually are special in the positive sense of the word, all of it facilitated by a quarterback who doesn’t fuck it up.
You can’t make that entire checklist happen that on a $35 million QB contract. You just can’t. Something has to give in roster construction, assuming your drafts are of average quality. Right now the Seahawks don’t have any elite defensive line talent outside of Poona Ford, and the only good nickel corner they found since the Super Bowl years priced himself off the team. In a Carroll-led universe where the quarterback is only getting paid a few million a year instead of all the millions all of the years, there are three fewer holes on the team. The defense is suddenly top 5 again.
“Good call on Poona.”
Russell Wilson makes Pete Carroll win games. But you can win a championship with the 24th best QB in the league. Let’s not act like Joe Flacco, Zombie Peyton Manning and Nick Foles won Super Bowls this decade on their own lasting merits. They were below-average performers in the right place at the right time.
“Narrator: Jared Goff nods.”
Nice. You know — YOU KNOW — Pete Carroll daydreams about how it could be. At least subconsciously.
The twist is, despite the attractiveness of separation for each man individually, the risk-reward of a breakup is all out of whack.
You ask me if I feel like Russell Wilson would be better off without Pete and I lean yes. You ask me if Pete Carroll would be better off without Russell and I lean yes again, if only because the coach doesn’t have a frame of reference for how to use a HoF quarterback to the maximum extent, whereas he gets how the rest of the roster functions. Better than almost anyone alive.
But you ask me —
“I’m literally doing that this second. Hand is raised and everything.”
— if they should leave each other, and I lean strongly toward no. How’s that possible? What devilish, faux-galaxy-brain paradox is this?
You answer comes in the form of three cliches, that have become cliches for a reason — they’re reliable truths.
- The whole is greater than the sum of the parts
- One step forward, two steps back
- If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
One. Pete is good for Russ in ways that are hard to quantify with analytics. The coach protects his quarterback from his own worst impulses, keeps him upright by specifically not calling 50 pass plays a game, and mentors him. Russ is good for Pete because of how the quarterback prevents the team from suffering through 5-11 seasons, and how he gets on the same page with his coach philosophically, helping to implement the culture desired.
None of that has to do with run-pass splits. It hard to measure the effect of intangibles and what-ifs related to injury. But to deny their collective value altogether is headsandburying of the highest ostrichian order.
Those 10-6 years where it felt like something was missing in the RW-PC partnership? At least two of those were rebuilding years since the LOB stupidly self-extinguished in 2017. And last year the Seahawks, beset by key injury after key injury, still came within a yard of winning the NFCW. They’re better this year. If 10-6 is the floor, then the ultimate ceiling, another Lombardi, is still realistically in play, and you don’t just throw that away because of five old-fashioned playcalls per game.
Two. Leaving carries with it the chance that all gains are offset by poor hiring, poor choices, and poor fortune. It’s not hard to imagine Russell Wilson being better in one way under a new coach but worse in others. It’s not hard to imagine Pete Carroll doing everything right, only to be stuck starting Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst again. The only way to avoid taking two steps back is to not take the original risk to begin with.
Three. How many times at work has your boss — who can be competent but often chooses the opposite route — proposed a change a work that you know is superfluous, and will complicate your job needlesssly, but you’re still stuck implementing it?
“Lots. All the time. Like, once a month. If I’m lucky.”
You know what the revolutionary, revelationary solution to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is? DON’T TRY AND FIX IT. Instead, tweak it. Take a swing at Jamal Adams. Overpay a kicker so you don’t get stuck counting on a bad one in all the close games you’ll inevitably play. Buy low. Fleece Bill O’Brien once. Twice if feasible. Hunt relentlessly for another Michael Bennett to stabilize the DL, allowing you to play with alignments and wreck poor little overmatched and overpaid NFCW quarterbacks*. But the Carroll-Wilson partnership ain’t broke. Fix something else.
*not Kyler Murray, who is the truth
And spend less time worrying about what greener pastures beckon elsewhere, when all the ingredients for another 38-9 run are still in the crockpot. You just have to cook them… together.