Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Mallett Ultimatum, Part 3: Scheme Fit?

I don't have any idea what kind of offense Pete Carroll will be running in 2011.

You don't have any idea what kind of offense Pete Carroll will be running in 2011.

The media doesn't have any idea what kind of offense Pete Carroll will be running in 2011.

Truth be told, I don't even think Pete Carroll has any idea what kind of offense Pete Carroll will be running in 2011.

Why? Because Pete Carroll doesn't know who his quarterback will be yet. This is a quarterback-driven league whose successful offenses are built around the QB, not the other way around. Draft a good QB, construct the offense around his skill set, and you can start your rebuild any time. Wait for a QB who perfectly fits your abstract playbook, and you're at the mercy of the whims of the draft. You might be waiting years, and GM's don't have years to turn teams around.

It would be foolish for Seattle to rigidly adhere to an offensive philosophy instead of a quarterback. I personally don't see any proof that Carroll is even going to be that rigid. We know what he has said to the cameras, which means nothing. We know whom he has pursued in free agency, which means more. We know what he's done on the field, which is also valuable. And we know what works in the NFL, which might be the most important consideration of all.

Let's use that stuff when it comes to guessing Seattle's draft next week. Yes, this has to do with Ryan Mallett, because arguing in favor of flexibility allows us to envision Mallett as a Seahawk next week. Bias? Maybe, but I don't think it's a deadly one. Judge for yourselves.

A question to ponder: if Carroll is so excited about arm strength and mobility, then why did he trade away Seneca Wallace?

Much has been made of the quarterback profile that Pete Carroll says he wants: strong-armed, mobile, good at play action. That profile immediately killed Mallett's prospects as a Seahawk in many people's minds. Carroll wouldn't draft a QB that doesn't fit his vision, would he?

Well, here's an important question: where do the qualities of mobility and arm strength actually lie on Carroll's list of priorities? Are they at the top? Somewhere in the middle? Or are they just luxuries that Carroll is willing to live without if he must?

A related question: how flexible is Carroll? Seattle went into 2010 with two separate playbooks for two quarterbacks. One was a mishmash, an awkward attempt to fuse Carroll's offensive scheme with the skill set of Matt Hasselbeck (the very antithesis of Carroll's profile). The other was purer Carroll/Bates, intended for Charlie Whitehurst (and thus rarely seen). Last season didn't leave Carroll looking rigid. He made the most of what he had. The result could be a commentary on him, or on the abilities of Hasselbeck.

The Charlie Whitehurst trade was an attempt to fit player to scheme. Whitehurst can scramble and heave the ball. What he can't do as well is throw accurately, read defenses, or deceive them with his eyes. The result is still unknown, because Whitehurst only played two and a half games. Many are willing to hold onto Whitehurst because he appears "safe" and carries the label of "well at least he didn't suck". And he didn't.

But that may not mean anything. Carroll and Jeremy Bates held the QB reins pretty tightly last year. Hasselbeck was on a short leash the entire first half of the season, told to take what the defense gave him and avoid risks. The result was safe, but it wasn't playoff-caliber either. Once Hasselbeck was loosened up a little, he won a couple games (Arizona and New Orleans) and then promptly self-destructed in December.

Whitehurst may yet follow the same path. The playbook handed to him by Carroll looked rather simple, and the play-calling didn't give Whitehurst a whole lot of latitude to run things on his own. Disturbing tendencies remained, like locking onto receivers, throwing too high, and a couple of just plain bone-headed decisions. Those things become turnovers when the training wheels come off. When it comes to QB traits, mobility and arm strength may or may not be enough.

History and Carroll's Actions

Returning to my opening question: why did Carroll trade away Seneca Wallace, who could both run and throw the ball deep like Carroll wanted?

Why did he pursue Trent Edwards in free agency, who is known neither for his arm or his 40 time?

Why did he pursue Kevin Kolb, who has the mobility but only a modest deep ball? (Whitehurst was the third QB Carroll chased in free agency, after Kolb and Edwards).

What about Nate Davis?

The answers are obvious: Carroll may value those two traits without strictly tethering himself to them. He may well understand that there are much more important elements to QB play, such as height, the ability to read defenses, and most importantly, accuracy. Arm strength is certainly up there on the list, but mobility? For all the post-Super Bowl love for Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger and their ability to scramble and run bootlegs, it's still their arms that they're winning with.

Regardless of your playbook, the majority of passing in the NFL still happens from the pocket and always will. Ergo, a QB has to have pocket poise and accuracy. Relying on athleticism and elusiveness to escape pressure works only in college football. NFL linebackers are notorious for clamping down on the careers of "running QB's"; only the most freakishly gifted Vick-types succeed, and even Vick's success has asterisks on it.

Now Carroll could spend another five years looking for a perfect fit for his offense, but how often do mobile QB's with strong passing abilities come along? How long do they typically last in the draft? How many other teams would pass such a QB up? There are so many factors that stand between Carroll and his dream signal-caller. It could come down to a question of, not what Carroll wants, but what he is willing to live without.

How deep is Carroll's commitment to a mobile QB? The dots just don't quite connect for me. Carroll has a history of coaching - and winning with - immobile QB's like Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and Drew Bledsoe. Prior to Whitehurst, he pursued QB's for Seahawks who didn't fit the stated profile. He was willing to work with Matt Hasselbeck, whose trade would have been unpopular but far easier to justify ("He's old."). Judging by what works in the NFL, he might be wiser to live without minor traits like mobility, and regardless of Carroll's words, his actions seem to suggest that he can make that compromise.

Cynicism and the Draft Presser

So why would the front office so insistently hold to a QB profile? Allow me to get cynical.

It's perfectly possible that Carroll's publicly announced QB profile might have been nothing more than an attempt to justify the Whitehurst trade to a disappointed fan base. Schneider clearly overpaid for the guy. The trade needed to be reconciled. If Whitehurst had what Carroll believed in, then no price was too high and the trade made sense. Such lip service would also make a convenient draft smokescreen, the purpose of which is more to keep people guessing than to point them in any one direction.

Does this possibility make Carroll and Schneider dishonest? Yes, but by necessity. Welcome to the NFL. You should be used to this "coachspeak" by now, if that's what it was. No team is going to be painfully forthright with its draft plans. Carroll's recent insistence on a mobile QB in draft interviews might be nothing more than a red herring.

They might also be fully honest. We've certainly seen Carroll stick to his guns when it comes to scheme at other positions. Rob Sims and Josh Wilson were both jettisoned ostensibly because of poor scheme fit. In retrospect, the team was so devoid of talent that keeping them might have been a wiser decision, scheme fit or otherwise. The QB position is a different animal, but is also just as devoid of proven talent.

Too Many of My Conclusions are Empty Shrugs

Truth is, we have no idea how religiously Carroll is going to pursue mobility or arm strength in his QB. He might pass up a QB in the draft entirely and look for a free-agent fix. He might go for Jake Locker or Colin Kaepernick. If you're the cynical kind who reads a GM's sound bites and assumes he'll do the exact opposite of everything he says, then Carroll and Schneider's recent comments on the draft practically scream Ryan Mallett. Such an interpretation probably isn't the wisest, of course, but my point remains: we're still in a pretty big vacuum of information. Anything is still possible.

Whatever the case, Carroll and Schneider will be somewhat flexible in order to move the rebuild along. The question is how much. I read a blog post once that says building around your strengths is a much more powerful and effective strategy than compensating for your weaknesses (if you must do only one). Sounds like corporate dribble, but there's something to be said for it.


  1. Yep, I agree. It's all a ruse. Carroll wants Mallet in Seahawks' blue n' green, you can count on it. If he's still there at #25 is the bigger problem.

  2. Brandon, just what will be your reaction if the Seahawks pass on Mallett? Violence or resignation?

  3. At #25? Forehead-shaped dents in the wall.

    Won't be bothered if he goes before #25, though. Trading up for Mallett would be like trading up for Suh last year - potentially worth it, but maybe not the #1 proposition.

  4. I would love to get Mallett and then a weapon for him at #57 like Greg Little, Jon Baldwin, Titus Young, or a guard prospect to protect him. Grab Mallett and start building around him! Also a back like Jaquizz Rodgers in the 4th would be a good option but obviously we would be neglecting defense a little too much.

  5. "While he has just pedestrian speed, and there are concerns over off-field rumors, Ryan Mallett of Arkansas times the fastest in taking the snap under center and getting rid of the ball."- Len Pasquarelli, The Sports Xchange

  6. As much as I like Mallett, I'm totally over the team scratching him off their big board. The fact is, if Seattle decides to draft Mallett, they would have to pretty much completely re-design the offense to essentially its polar opposite, and Pete Carroll just doesn't want to do that. The day he took the job here, he pretty much went on record saying that since this would be his last chance in the NFL, he wanted to do things his way no matter what. He wants a quarterback who can take off and pick up 8 yards on 3rd and 6, and he wants a quarterback who can execute bootlegs and be comfy out of the pocket. Mallett, as good as he is, just isn't capable of ever being that guy.

    As far as Williams, Kolb, Whitehurst, and Davis, its important to realize that just because they had different attributes doesn't mean Carroll is flexible in his preferences, because each one of those quarterbacks was probably intended to have a different purpose.

    Edwards was pursued because he'd be cheap, he'd be a solid-ish stopgap QB for 2010 and perhaps 2011-2012 if need be, and could be a decent backup once a better quarterback takes over. If all you want is a bridge QB and you aren't expecting much, then he doesn't need to check every quality on your list.

    Kolb basically fits every criteria Carroll wants. Carroll never said he needed a cannon arm, just an average arm that can make the throws is enough. Anything beyond that is gravy.

    Whitehurst was seen, in my view, as a bit of a hail mary, and that's why he was the 3rd option. High risk with good upside.

    Davis was just brought in for a look and was given the opportunity because he fits most of the criteria.

    But any of those guys could run Pete Carroll's offense without having to change it. I don't think Mallett could- he's about as uncomfortable out of the pocket as Locker is in the pocket.

  7. Not to sound like I know better, but plenty of coaches have busted out of the pros because "their way" didn't work. No matter how many bootlegs you run, the NFL offense runs mostly through the pocket and your QB needs to be able to handle the pocket.

    Passing on a franchise QB in favor of a guard or cornerback just because you like your system - that's the kind of mistake I think Carroll and Schneider will regret.