Seahawks' second-half offensive swoon, philosophical differences led to coordinator change

SEATTLE -- Down 23-13 midway through the fourth quarter of their wild-card loss last weekend, the Seattle Seahawks faced a fourth-and-1 at their own 34-yard line and decided to go for it. They didn't get the snap off in time despite an injury stoppage that gave them more than two minutes and 20 seconds of real time between plays.

The delay was a result of Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer disagreeing on what to call. Carroll overruled Schottenheimer, but his preferred play took so long to get relayed to Russell Wilson that the offense had to rush to the line. A false start pushed them back five yards and forced a punt.

In retrospect, that moment looks like evidence of the disconnect between head coach and coordinator that led to Schottenheimer's firing Tuesday in what the team called a parting of ways over philosophical differences.

Especially when you consider this: Schottenheimer wanted to put the ball in Wilson's hands on that fourth-down play, which instead was going to be a handoff to Chris Carson at Carroll's behest.

The run game has been a theme of Carroll's end-of-season explanation as to why the Seahawks could never get over the wall that Wilson and their offense hit midway through the season.

"We need to run more with focus and direction and count on it a little bit differently than we did," Carroll said Monday. "It ain't going to be 50 runs a game. We're not going to do that. I don't want to do that. I want to explode with the throwing game, but we need to dictate the way we're being played better and see if we can do that."

By that, Carroll means forcing defenses to honor their run game enough to drop a safety into the box, leaving one fewer defender in coverage.

"Frankly," Carroll said, "I'd like to not play against two-deep looks all season long next year."

According to ESPN charting using Next Gen Stats, defenses had two high safeties on 19.4% of Wilson's dropbacks over the Seahawks' first eight games. During that stretch, he led the NFL in touchdown passes while Seattle led the league in scoring.

The percentage increased 28% over their final nine games, including playoffs. The three highest rates of two-high looks in that stretch were in Week 10 against the Rams (48%), Week 13 against the New York Giants (50%) and the wild-card rematch with Los Angeles (47.2%). Those were Seattle's three losses in that span. They were also Wilson's three worst games of the season in terms of Total QBR.

"The Giants game was a hard game for us and we didn't adapt well in that game and we thought we were going to be able to do things that really we weren't capable of in that game for whatever reason," Carroll said. "That's kind of where the style of play went in that direction. Teams were playing two-deep looks is really what it amounts to, and we didn't chase them out of it.

"You can chase them out of it by beating them in their two-deep looks or you can chase them out by running the football and drawing them up. We didn't get that accomplished and that's what's frustrating to me."

Carroll has cited his own dialing back of the offense's aggressiveness as part of the reason for the decline in production. They dropped back to pass more than any team over the first 10 weeks, then recommitted to their run game as Carroll wanted a more buttoned-up, ball-control approach against the tough defenses Seattle faced down the stretch.

It worked well enough for the Seahawks to win their final four regular-season games and finish atop the NFC West before being overwhelmed by the Rams' defense, which sacked Wilson five times and pressured him on half his dropbacks.

When asked before that game about the Seahawks' offensive decline, Schottenheimer's response didn't give the impression that he and Carroll were at odds.

"You look at the hot start that we had, then you take some of the turnover issues that we started having, and you're like, 'How do we fix this? How do we do that?'" Schottenheimer said. "Then we get our backs back healthy and people are playing us a little different, so the explosives, the bombs that everybody is used to seeing, those aren't there. But when you look at Russ and you look at our offense and you look at what we've been able to do against some really good defensive opponents the last couple weeks -- finishing games, fourth-quarter efficiency, making things happen, making the adjustment -- that's what I'm proud of.

"You look back to the middle of the season and we didn't maybe adjust and adapt as quickly as we're doing now as a group -- all of us: coaches, players alike, the communication. And I think you see us having the ability to win games in different fashion."

But Carroll has since said they remained too determined to force the ball down the field instead of taking what opponents started giving them. Carroll also lamented how Wilson didn't get the ball out quicker in their loss to the Rams, saying that was a function of both the quarterback's decisions and playcalls that didn't put him in position to make quick decisions.

Carroll concluded that he needed to "force the issue more so" with his coaches.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Carroll and Schottenheimer met later in the evening and decided it was in their best interest to part ways.

The question now is what Carroll will look for in his third offensive coordinator in five seasons.

Will he be willing, unlike last time, to start over with a brand-new scheme? Carroll didn't want to do that in 2018, which meant Schottenheimer had to keep much of what the Seahawks were already running. That's conducive to a seamless transition, but it could eliminate high-profile candidates who insist on bringing in their own offense.

Will Carroll want someone to work as hands-on with Wilson as Schottenheimer did while serving as his de facto position coach? That could narrow his search to candidates with a quarterback background. Offensive passing game coordinator Dave Canales -- the highest-ranking offensive assistant on Seattle's staff – has previously worked with quarterbacks but has not called plays at the NFL level.

Whomever Carroll hires, expect it to be someone who is well-versed in running the ball and as willing to do so as the coach wants.

Because we've seen what happens if not.