Today's 24-0 loss to the Steelers was painful, but it may have been the healthiest thing for Seahawks fans to see. It's kind of like the cocky 16-year-old with the new drivers' license, who totals his new car while speeding down farm roads and walks away, but is shaken to learn that he's not indestructible. No lasting harm, but his eyes are opened to the reality of life and how lucky he's been so far. That kind of healthy.
Because we need to be reminded of what Pete Carroll's legacy actually is in Seattle. We saw it today: getting shellacked and completely dominated in every phase of the game by healthy contenders. His legacy is not last year's San Diego win, which people think was won by grit and tenacity. It's not the Bears win, which some hailed as the breaking of some vaguely defined "road curse". It's not the Rams win, which fans attribute to Carroll's savvy choice of Charlie Whitehurst. And it's not the playoff win against the Saints, which belongs to Matt Hasselbeck having an improbably good day against an injury-depleted Saints secondary.
So far, Carroll's only real accomplishment in Seattle - when all lucky bounces, useless stats, and misinterpreted contexts are swept aside - is winning a historically weak division by the margin of a pair of lucky Leon Washington kick returns against an awful San Diego special-teams unit and a series of easy dropped passes by Rams receivers who would be #4's on most teams. His legacy is the nine blowout losses that occurred between those tough wins and exposed them as unsustainable exceptions, fatal in any normal division.
That's his legacy so far. Why he's getting so much unquestioning goodwill from this fan base is beyond me.
I emphasize the "so far". Carroll still has lots and lots of time. He's only had a year and a half, and he's admitted mistakes on some things. Anyone who's calling for his head this early is pretty far out of line, myself included.
But this is about proper perspective. It's not healthy to think that this team is something it's not. That was the prevailing wisdom until today. Today's Seahawks, the ones that faceplanted against Pittsburgh in humiliating fashion, remain the reality. It's not as if this level of performance is new, or I would be overreacting. We've seen this before. It happened all year last year against teams worse than the Steelers. Complete impotence on offense, the inability to stop long scoring drives on defense, special-teams whiffs. None of this should be taking us by surprise.
Some people blamed injury (rightly). Other people (even more rightly) pointed to Matt Hasselbeck's late-season collapse. Still others monologued about the wretched roster that Carroll inherited from Tim Ruskell (because, you know, Brandon Browner has been a huge improvement over Josh Wilson).
And except for injury, some of these caveats still apply. This is a rebuild, and those take time. If Carroll does restore Seattle's fortunes, it was never going to be right after an ugly lockout that reduced the team's QB alternatives to table scraps. (With one massive exception that I am trying very hard - with success that surprises even me - to restrain myself from obsessing over.)
But still, the loss to Pittsburgh had the unsettling effect of removing a lot of silver linings that we've been comforting ourselves with. The vaunted Red Bryant run defense finally got its first real test against a quality opponent, and promptly folded like a house of cards (in fairness, I'm not sure how many snaps Red played). Brandon Browner, after only two games, is well on his way to proving himself the penalty machine that his CFL reputation hinted at. The pass rush is again insufficient, getting spurious sacks and no consistent pressure up the middle. Earl Thomas is on an island and the linebackers are pretty irrelevant.
And that's just the defense - the same fast, stingy, tough-in-the-red-zone defense that succeeded only against a run-first San Francisco team with no QB and yet was somehow assumed to be good. Funny how better competition exposes things.
On offense...well shoot, we knew things would be bad under Tarvaris Jackson, but this bad? There's no semblance of organization, identity, passion, or even growth to this offense. Part of this is due to the QB situation, part of it is due to the lockout-truncated offseason, but this bad? OC Darell Bevell, hired to replace a Jeremy Bates who at least understood the importance of the pass, calls plays disturbingly like Greg Knapp. All the money thrown into weapons like Sidney Rice (now said to have a torn labrum), Robert Gallery, and Zach Miller is going for almost naught. Tom Cable isn't working his prophesied miracles yet. What happened to Leon Washington's expanded role in the offense? Oh, right - it evaporated like the rest of the running game when neither Jackson nor the defense could keep the game in hand.
Carroll has voiced an opinion that good offensive weapons, proper scheming, and a running game can help a QB. After two games, Jackson is showing this as folly.
And Carroll's beloved special teams, after laying a pair of veiny, glowing eggs against Ted Ginn last week, are still looking pretty iffy.
So...where are we? It looks an awful lot like square one.
Which isn't surprising. Whether you blame the luck of the draft, some of Carroll's philosophical underpinnings, or even just the youth of his administration, crucial areas of this team have been neglected. Quarterback. The interior pass rush. #1 cornerback. These are the cornerstones. So is left tackle, and give this regime credit for addressing that right off the bat, but fans are now regarding even Russell Okung with a worried eye (and why is it that he's immune from the "injury bust" label, but Sidney Rice is not? Draft loyalty?). Until all the cornerstones are laid and established, no amount of roster-shuffling or free-agent splurging will make a significant difference. The cornerstones are the bottlenecks of the team, the conduits through which it succeeds.
This shines a new light on that well-worn word, "transition". I've heard it said that Carroll has the team "moving in the right direction", but none of the cornerstones have been laid yet. So far, everything this team has worked on - offensive line, secondary, receiving corps - has been side work. These areas are peripheral to the power structure on a football team, raucous winds surrounding the empty eye of a hurricane of suck. Nothing relevant has been filled in yet. And once these franchise players are found, they will take time to develop. No stud QB or defensive tackle should be expected to elevate this team in its first season.
Which means by addressing those spots with placeholders, Carroll is still behind the curve. Brian Nemhauser over at Hawk Blogger has insisted that we view this year as a pure "development year", partially to maintain our sanity, and I agree with him. But what's being developed right now? The cart, not the horse. Because the horses will need time to get broken in, it's not an unsafe guess that the Seahawks are still at least two years away from contention.
The more correct picture for this team is that Carroll has the team facing in the right direction, but standing stock-still.
This is not a call for Carroll's resignation. It's a call for us fans to tear ourselves away from our DVR's of the Beastmode Run for two seconds and acknowledge where this team really is. We're still a bad football team, which means we should still be talking about how to cure a bad football team.
An even better idea is to talk about how Carroll plans to accomplish that cure, because he's the one with the scalpel. And let's be clear - Carroll is responsible for this team's performance so far. Not his coaches, not his players, because Carroll found all those people. This is on him. I hope he acknowledges this, unlike his predecessor. Some of his experiments have simply not worked. He's shown some flexibility and willingness to learn in some areas, and should be given time. But some of his other plans don't look promising.
I'll be looking at this in a couple posts this week, and in the interests of fairness I'll start with what he is good at. Because a blowout loss to the AFC conference champ, this early in a post-lockout season, is hardly the time to pick up a pitchfork.