The First Tale
Almost 30 years ago to the day, perhaps the most successful novel of noted hack-sci-fi writer, Michael Crichton, was published, and given the august name of Jurassic Park. Crichton’s shtick was that he would take some novel scientific concept, research that subject ad nauseum, and then craft an entertaining plot structured around that concept. In JP, the concept he selected was chaos theory, and in pretty much every way, the novel was eclipsed by the film that followed three years later. This is in large part because the film was an impressive adaptation in retaining the importance of the plot’s conceptual structure, achieving its pinnacle when Ian Malcolm, played by the now-weird Jeff Goldblum, explains chaos theory. It’s a delightfully misogynistic scene in which the brilliant Dr. Ellie Sattler prettily admits to being confused both by the term chaos itself (okay), as well as the subsequent idea, The Butterfly Effect. (It’s as if she never even listened to the pode!) To demonstrate the simplicity of this idea – that complex systems are intrinsically unpredictable – he spills two drops of water on the top of her flattened hand, showing how the first drop moves in one direction, while the second moves in another! Shocking! The physical isn’t simply an endless repetition of recurrence! Who would’ve guessed?
This guy, obviously. (Insert picture of Pete Carroll here.)
“Tiny variations …”, pausing here to note that the geniuses behind this production have Dr. Sattler complain about “imperfections in her skin” being deployed as an example of such variations, “[that] never repeat and [thus] vastly affect the outcome.”
This is chaos, and this is the way Pete Carroll likes it. If you expect something different, you are deluding yourself.
When we bow to the altar of our heavenly father DVOA, we acknowledge that it takes around four games to actually know what a team is. Here, though, we shall sin, and speculate prematurely. The New England Patriots, a team so hateful that they’re not even from anywhere, came into 2020 returning most of what was arguably the best pass defense of 2019, a pass defense that was even better than the 2013 Seahawks by DVOA. After the Seahawks Week 1 victory over the Falcons, many fans (including myself) wondered if their passing attack was good, or just opportunistic (a reprieve of that funnest of preseason jests, denied to us this year thanks to a global pandemic [chaos theory in practice!], of wondering, while watching training camp, which was truer: that one half of the team was good, or that the other half was bad). Well, as it turns out, they’re good. And it’s not just Russell Wilson, although he’s obviously the touchstone of the whole enterprise. DK Metcalf is showing tremendous growth in his ability to turn direction while running extremely fast, to run extremely fast better than defenders, and to physically manhandle those poor souls that whatever cosmic kismet to which you subscribe has placed in his path. Tyler Lockett remains an inexplicably dangerous target, able to find holes in zone coverages with the ruthlessness of a gatling gun against massed infantry. The offensive line remains competent, even when the anchoring Duane Brown had to exit for a few plays. They’re using their brace of tailbacks in the passing game, well, without overusing them. They can seemingly play almost anyone in the roles of WR3 and WR4 and those guys will score touchdowns. We also must acknowledge that Schotty is a skilled playcaller, to a degree that wasn’t as appreciable last year or its predecessor, for what may be some or any of numerous reasons: he is scheming open receivers in a way that Wilson may not have seen before, and his fondness for presnap shifting to help Wilson identify coverages is a true thing of beauty, at once both an alchemist of recipes and a maker of knives and utensils the likes of which our endearingly, infuriatingly robotic quarterback has never seen, Wilson’s own personal meal delivery kit. The team as a whole has collectively begun to learn that the best third down is the one that is prevented from existing. Wilson has thrown 11 incomplete passes and 9 touchdowns. He is on pace to throw 88 incomplete passes but 72 touchdowns; analysts of the game will need to conceive a new statistic, Incompletion to Touchdown Ratio, for the sake of his talent.
The Second Tale
Just after the founding of the Kingdom of Gondor, after the tragic downfall of Numenor, sometime during the 33rd century of the Second Age of Middle-Earth, the Men of the White Mountain swore an oath to Isildur that they would fight alongside Edain, the Elf-Friends of that kingdom. However, before that time, during the so-called Accursed Years, they had worshipped Sauron; and so, when Isildur called for their aid in the War of the Last Alliance, they refused, still fearful of Sauron, doubtful that the Alliance could emerge victorious. Before the long march to war, Isildur cursed them: “[upon] thee and thy folk, to rest never until your oath is fulfilled”.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I’m beginning to think that maybe Michael Bennett cursed Pete Carroll.
Honestly, reader – you don’t need me to write this bit; you could write it yourself just as well. After the 2017 season, in which Bennett earned his third Pro Bowl appearance, the Seahawks front office decided in their infinite cowardice to trade the hybrid DL playmaker for a fifth round pick to the Eagles, an act of stupidity now immortalized by the sneering face of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The subject of why the Seahawks made that trade – and folks, let me tell you that googling Why did the Seahawks trade Michael Bennett doesn’t help – could be its own writing, its own religion, a cyclical tornado of polemics and furies; avoiding that sinkhole, it’s also worth pointing out that this move followed a career-ending neck injury to Cliff Avril. Coincidental with or subsequent to these developments, the Seahawks, more or less chronologically:
- Drafted Malik McDowell in 2017, who presumably they saw as Bennett’s successor – the tragedy of McDowell, who never played a single snap of professional football, is purely and simply a tragedy, and nothing more should be said about it;
- Traded a 2018 second rounder for Sheldon Richardson, when it became clear McDowell wouldn’t play for some time, likely the entire 2018 season, possibly ever – who they let walk for a team-friendly 1-year, $8M contract;
- Attempted to revive the career of Dion Jordan, unsuccessfully;
- Drafted Rasheem Green in 2018 after being forced to trade back more than they would like because of the loss of the second rounder in the Richardson trade – who, despite showing promise and leading the team in sacks last year, remains a backup;
- Traded their best LEO, Frank Clark, to the Chiefs, in a move that made plenty of sense and removed a controversial player, but deprived them of their most established pass rusher;
- In a historically deep DL class, came away LJ Collier, who spent most of his rookie season injured, a season in which the Seahawks were counting on defensive end play from an untested and unathletic rookie and Ziggy Ansah;
- Traded their best LEO, 2018 6th round draft pick Jacob Martin, for the second time in a row, though this time for Jadeveon Clowney, a trade into which they landed with nothing more than luck, and the charisma of Duane Brown;
- Fabricated an injury to the gifted Naz Jones, whose unspeakable sin was both so horrifying and mysterious that he was cut, without explanation (yes, I am a Naz Jones truther); and
- Allowed both of their best pass rushers of 2019 to walk in free agency – QJeff for an even more team-friendly 2-year, approximately $7M APY contract (with $2M guaranteed), and Clowney seemingly as an act of spite.
In short, in the three years since the Seahawks lost both Bennett and Avril, they have seemed to stumble from one poor defensive line-centric rostering decision to the next, and the next, and the next next, and so on. Of course, some of these decisions were reactions to events that were impossible to predict, leaving them with little recourse – the injury to McDowell stands out as the most salient, the injury to 2020 second-round pick Darrell Taylor the most recent. Yet some of them seemed predicated on an expectation of the miraculous. And while yes, of course, it’s too early to tell whether Benson Mayowa or Damontre Moore will revive the Seahawks’ inability to generate pressure solely with a four-man pass rush right now, it’s also hard to imagine that either of these players will be their LEO of the future. When you combine these facts with the heartbreaking news of Bruce Irvin’s season-ending injury on Sunday night, the picture moves from grim to lamentable. (Who didn’t wail at that news? Not me.) And they still have no replacement for Bennett, despite (1) to (4) and (6) to (7).
The study that demonstrated the greater importance of pass coverage than pass rush is more than a year old now; while it isn’t easy to get Pete Carroll to talk about analytical studies and trends, it’s easier, and more fun, to speculate. I take as my premise the belief that Pete Carroll, like many creative and smart people, is probably at least a little bit obsessive. Obsession obfuscates the workings of the mind in curious ways, but in no way more insidious than how it convinces a person that a good outcome that emerges from a poor methodology is, in fact, bad. The obsession that produces some mental methodology is good; the chaos that results from it meaningless. If Pete Carroll, obsessive, thus looks at a football game and judges it based on the method rather than the outcome – a lover of chaos, he doesn’t care about the outcome so much – then it would make sense that he would be drawn to the inherently less stable pass coverage, perhaps even to the expense of the more stable but less predictive pass rush.
Of course, this may all be wrong. Like Pete Carroll, I’m not here to answer any questions (though unlike him it’s because I don’t have the answers). Whether Pete Carroll – and, in this pursuit at least, acting as his subordinate, John Schneider – is (are) constructing a dominant secondary at the expense of pass rush because of a keen analytical mind, or because of some mental imbalance, is unknowable. Maybe it’s unintentional. But Pete knows, just as much as we know, that, last season, the absence of a good pass rush made a bad defense even worse; through two games this season, it certainly appears that the pass rush may be just as bad, if not worse, and that it may be so bad as to interfere with, or even negate, the dominance of the secondary. As concerning as this is, imagine how Pete must look at these last two games, won pretty much entirely on the broad back of a vicious passing attack; despite how happy we may be to watch the Seahawks win games with Wilson, unleashed, on pace to throw more touchdowns than the number of winters Peter Carroll has lived, it’s unlikely that Pete Carroll feels the same way, and this may be even more concerning.