When looking at the second half of the season, and in particular at the Seahawks' season ending loss to the Rams, it's impossible not to wonder what happened to Seattle's offense.
Through eight games, the Seahawks were leading the NFL in scoring and doing so in large part due to an explosive passing game that saw Russell Wilson putting up the best numbers of his career. Part of the issue late in the season is that the Seahawks were just playing better defenses than they were early in the year, but another big factor was how those defenses were playing the Seahawks, and just as importantly, how the Seahawks adapted, or as Pete Carroll said Monday, didn't adapt well enough.
Late in the season, particularly from the Week 13 loss against the Giants and on, defenses played a lot of two-deep safety looks to take away one of Seattle's biggest strengths—the deep passing game. The Seahawks tried to adjust to that in various ways, including focusing on more short and intermediate passes, but that didn't always work, as was evident on Saturday afternoon, and Carroll said what the Seahawks need to do when teams play them that way is run the ball more to get defenses out of that look.
"It's really a football thing, it's a scheme thing," Carroll said in his year-end press conference. "I want to see if we can run the ball more effectively to focus the play of the opponents and see if we can force them to do things like we'd like them to do more, like we have been able to do that in the past. That doesn't mean we're going to run the ball 50 times a game, it means we need to run the ball with direction and focus and style that allows us to dictate the game. Frankly, I'd like to not play against two-deep looks all season long next year, so we have to be able to get that done. It's not just the running game. It is the style of passes that will help us some, but we have to get after it a little bit differently. As it unfolded in the end of the season, it became really obvious. In the last four or five games, it became really obvious."
The way Seattle's defense played down the stretch, the Seahawks were still able to win four straight and six of their last seven to close out the regular season, and Carroll is OK winning that style of game, but as was very evident on Saturday, that formula doesn't work when Seattle loses the turnover battle, particularly when the opposing team scores on a pick-six.
"Remember, I don't mind, winning 20-9, I don't mind winning 17-14," Carroll said. "I want to win controlling the game. That means we don't give them the football. We gave them the football a couple times in this game. It was the difference. It was the difference again. If we don't throw the interception for the touchdown play, the great play that he made, and we don't give them the ball on the 40-yard line or something on the punt thing, we would have been slugging it out right to the end just like you'd have loved it. And unfortunately, we couldn't quite get control of the variables."
But even if Carroll is OK with winning 20-9, he'd prefer an offense that's more explosive and high scoring, and he wants next year's team to be able to accomplish that regardless of what defenses are throwing at them. With as well as the Seahawks started the season, particularly in the passing game, Carroll said, "I felt like we lingered in the glow of the first half of the season," leading to the offense not adapting well enough.
Carroll has long been a proponent of a balanced offense, which doesn't mean a particular run-pass ratio every week, but that allows the offense to do whatever is needed against any particular opponent or style of defense to be effective, and Carroll didn't see enough of that balance late in the season.
"We need to run more with focus and direction and count on it a little bit differently that we did," he said. "It isn't going to be 50 runs a game, we're not doing 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… We have to make sure we don't get stuck. You can get stuck on running the football too much, you can get stuck on throwing the football, you can get stuck on how you're throwing the football. We just have to be more flexible. It's why balance is so important, so you have what you need when it's time to go to it."
A more balanced offense will also help the Seahawks reach another goal Carroll laid out for his team heading into 2021, which is to improve on third down. The Seahawks ranked 20th in the NFL this season, converting on 40.2 percent of their third downs, and were just 2 for 14 in Saturday's loss to the Rams.
"Third down has got to be better," Carroll said… "We need to be better than that. Russ is good enough to be better than that, our scheme is good enough, Tyler (Lockett), DK (Metcalf), we need to mix the throwing game on third down, we need to mix the run game, so that we don't have to leave the field and you stay out there, leave us out there, we're dangerous."
Following their 30-20 season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, the Seahawks cleaned out their lockers at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.