Friday, September 14, 2012

Alternative Theories to "Darell Bevell Is An Idiot"

When it comes to football, there's usually more than one interpretation for almost everything. On Sunday against Arizona, Seahawks fans saw offensive struggles that are being popularly chalked up to poor planning. Offensive coordinator Darell Bevell is getting a lot of flak for this (and a generous sprinkling of insults), but that's pretty easy. Good game plans can look bad when executed poorly. Whether Bevell cooked up an inadequate game plan is difficult to tell, because the lurking factor is Seattle's roughshod execution in every facet of the offense except the running game.

The general belief is that Seattle didn't do enough to counteract Arizona's pass rush, that Bevell failed to utilize common pressure-neutralizing plays like screens, slants, outlets, and more emphasis on the tight end. The conclusion is that Bevell was just clueless, despite the fact that we've seen such features from him before.

The unspoken assumption that you might not have realized you're carrying: that all of Seattle's offensive players can handle those plays. That a bunch of rookies and new signings were perfectly trained, healthy, in sync, and ready to execute every facet of Seattle's playbook, just waiting on the sidelines for the call, while an oblivious Bevell merrily skipped along waving a gameplan that made the game as hard on Wilson and the interior line as possible.

Chemistry and Readiness

Well, it should be obvious why that assumption might be flawed. Throw in the fact that good offensive coordinators generally don't and shouldn't call plays that can't be confidently executed (a screen pass, for example, is just asking for a four-yard loss if it fails), and you have an alternative explanation for why Seattle's offense looked so limited on Sunday. It's Week 1, and the offense is young, raw, and gimpy.

Think of it in terms of chemistry and readiness. Chips, screens, and outlets...are our blockers fully ready for that? You need more than just a pass-catcher for this stuff. Anthony McCoy only just now became the #2 TE. Evan Moore played for one snap. Our right guard is a rookie DL convert. Robert Turbin, a likely target on screens, is a rookie despite his promising preseason. These are crucial players. It's sometimes hard to distinguish a play design without hot routes and checkdowns from one where they're simply slow to develop. This gave Wilson fewer options and left him dependent on slower-developing long routes (and, by extension, pass protection). I also didn't see a lot of receivers staying in the play once Wilson did start scrambling. This is one area where keeping Kellen Winslow wouldn't have helped...he wasn't known for to-the-whistle tenacity or in-line blocking.

Throw into this fire the fact that our two chief receivers, Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin, barely practiced during the preseason (and are still limited). They had little time to develop rapport with Wilson, nor Matt Flynn, nor even any alternate-universe version of either QB who got all the preseason snaps to himself. Golden Tate was out. Ben Obomanu and Charly Martin aren't expected to change the game. The amount of the single coverage that these guys faced against Arizona, and failed to overcome, was pretty frustrating. That leaves one healthy starting receiver at 100%. Not good.

Then we have to face the possibility that we underestimated the Cardinals defense. That front seven, containing premiere pocket-pushers like Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell and backed by a physical linebacking corps, was one of the league's most underrated pass-rushing units before they were taken over by the former DC of the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Sunday, that unit faced JR Sweezy. And you were expecting 400 passing yards?

Easing Them In

But this has all largely been covered by smarter minds than mine. There's another alternate explanation that occurred to me this week. It was triggered by Pete Carroll's earlier mention that they were "streamlining" the playbook for Wilson against the Cardinals. It's possible that Seattle really did run a simplified passing scheme vs Arizona, with a limited arsenal of plays for Wilson, and that they did so intentionally to let him wade more slowly into the game.

Consider the following:

* That "streamlining" mention was mostly interpreted as ordinary game-planning by us. Maybe. But if that were so, why would Pete specially bring it up? Ordinary game-planning happens every week without meriting a mention at pressers. It seemed to hint at a more deliberate limiting for Wilson.

* Pete Carroll has always shown an element of "growing into the playbook" in his handling of Seattle quarterbacks. He reined in Matt Hasselbeck's playbook during the first half of 2010 - Hasselbeck, a savvy veteran with little difficulty assimilating a new offense. He did the same with Tarvaris Jackson until he could demonstrate ball security. If he was conservative there, he's certainly not likely to cut a rookie loose without restrictions.

* Again, a number of offensive players (McCoy, Sweezy, Moore, Turbin, Braylon Edwards, Charly Martin) are new to their spots and still adjusting to the scheme. The full playbook would be overkill for them, too. It's not just Wilson that might call for easing in; it's the whole offense.

* There are some things this offense will simply never see a lot of. Three-step drops...Russell Wilson's height makes those tough. Running backs heavily dedicated to blocking...Pete would rather not do this unless he has to, lest he severely hamper the running game his offense is built around. He fired Jeremy Bates for not sticking to it, and isn't likely to sacrifice it himself until he's three scores down. Seattle isn't just going to reach out and start grabbing plays from other teams and stuffing them into the playbook. They're going to stick with what fits philosophically.

* Pete has a running game and defense that he trusts to win games, or at least keep them close. His core values are physicality, attitude, and playing to the whistle. It seems simplistic, but it's won us games before. He's clearly never wanted to put the game in the hands of the passing game anyway. This is why he would not view a watered-down passing scheme as "punting the game" for Wilson's sake.

Given all this, I find myself wondering if Carroll felt justified in handing the offense a limited set of plays to see how well they could execute (they didn't answer very well, including Wilson), and excised other things to save for later. Perhaps including Wilson's authority to audible - I'm not sure. This is all guesswork on my part, but it seems plausible given the circumstances.

I don't think Bevell 's game was perfect - he didn't seem prepared for the purity and consistency of the interior pressure that Arizona threw at him. It was a brilliant tactic that exploited one offensive weakness (the interior O-line) and magnified all the others in the process. Nevertheless, there are several elements at work to account for Seattle's strikingly ineffective offense other than just calling the OC a moron. And this is encouraging, because it leaves room for Seattle to grow instead of serving as a damning indictment of their potential. The tough part is that it leaves Seattle a game down in the division race and puts them in the unenviable position of playing a difficult "must-win" conference game in Week 2.

(If you're still on the "fire Bevell" bandwagon - and once again, I'll just say that bandwagons should be illegal before Week 4 and subject to $500 fines payable to myself - a good counterpoint would be Brock Huard's Chalk Talk this week covering the final fourth-down play of the game. It shows Bevell answering Arizona's pressure with a "11" package to force single coverage, then mixing up the receivers to successfully create a big mismatch in the slot. The failure was partially Russell Wilson's for a high throw, partially Braylon Edwards' for letting the pass right through his hands - in other words, back to execution. Debate the distribution of blame as you wish, and no doubt some people will have an agenda whichever side they choose, but the video might at least change your mind toward Seattle's scheming competence.)


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  2. Hi Brandon:
    You wrote a thoughtful article--pointing out what our team is capable of or not capable of. However, there is one question that needs to be addressed. You said: "Chips, screens, and outlets...are our blockers fully ready for that?" A question that needs an answer is: If they are not fully ready for that, why not? A screen pass may be a subtle throw to make, but because of its obvious critical importance, a coaching staff HAS to get its players ready for it. It's too fundamental of a piece to say, "Oh we will wait a few weeks and let them all grow into it." Limit the playbook if you like, but include the basics. Otherwise we get precisely the results we got. Pete needs to remember a basic idea: "If you do what you've always done, you will get what you've always gotten."

    1. Dennis, screen passes are designed to let the opposing defenses actually blitz you while you counter that with a screen, and that therein lies the risk of a screen: You are letting the defense into the backfield.

      It's one thing for the coaches to get the players ready for it, but it's another thing entirely if the coaches don't feel the players are capable of doing it competently due to the various reasons listed above in the article.

  3. Well, again, my stab at an answer is that the downside of a screen is too much to risk. It may also have a lot to do with Wilson; I read somewhere that he's struggled with them.

    I don't think for a moment that Bevell is just ignoring them. I just imagine the offense isn't quite there yet, and there's a fairly high degree of confidence Bevell needs before he feels good about them. Maybe we'll see them in Week 2.

    1. A screen pass over onrushing linemen is hard enough, even a 6'5" QB will change to a higher release. Might just be too much for a shorter QB. Does Brees do well in the screen game? I would expect more outside screens than inside for a shorter QB.

  4. Thank you, Brandon! I'm very sick of the "Fire Bevell" campaign that others are championing. And it's only one week into the regular season.

    I had no problem with the playcalling at all. I might have done things a little differently, which is due to my own preferences, but all in all, I saw what he was trying to do with most plays, and there was logic behind every playcall.

    1. I do wish we'd try to run the ball at the goal line.

  5. With a first NFL game, rookie QB, a clanky reciving corps and an offensive line that appears to be picking up where it left off at the beginning of last year, the Seahawks almost won the game. Reflexive blaming coordinators for the loss is the mark of mediocre minds.

    As usual well said Brandon. Thanks.

  6. I don't really blame Bevell, The QB competition ideas was flawed to begin with. It limited the reps to all of the QBs and interfered with any rapport with receivers.

    However, there is another problem, Russel Wilson. We have had thousands of discussions about the kid's height, and why it is, or is not a problem. What is forgotten in this argument is that there are questions about his other skills.

    He does not have an accurate long range arm. It is good enough for a 15-20 yard game and reasonably strong(not Farve or Cutler, but good). His passes over 20 yards are wild. During the Arizona game(which Wilson played like a deer in the headlights) ALL of his passes were erratic. Sidney Rice did some incredible catches.

    While he has the ability to be mobile he is not an elusive or fast runner. Think of him as Jake the Snake not Micheal Vick. It was obvious to me in the preseason that this was the case, the third and fourth string Defensive linemen were just missing him. I take it as axiomatic that first string players are better than fourth string players.

    Wilson show no after the snap deception abilities. I am not angry that a rookie couldn't read NFL defenses. That is a skill that takes years and work. Wilson, did nothing to sell the play action, he did not pump fake once, he never sold a route with his eyes, in fact, he did not one deceptive move during the Arizona game. This is beyond unacceptable, bordering unimaginable. I cannot fathom why this happened except pure panic. Pee wee football uses deception.

    and lastly, Wilson has not adjusted to NFL speed. This is not a small thing. I remember when I, pathetic third string nose tackle, went to college. Suddenly I was the slowest reacting player on the field. Every level of football increases the speed exponentially. Wilson has a clock in his head that is set on college time. If he cannot correct this, then he will not be a pro QB.

    Putting this simply, while his size may affect Wilson's play, it is the other skills that will define him. Wilson is not Rick Mirer. He is much less. I am an optimist. I also have a lot of respect for Seattle's coaches. So I will assume this is just a first game situation.

    I end with this thought: T-Jax would have won in Arizona by two touchdowns. All of the situations that limited him were not found in this game. There was good field position(thank you Washington), The defense created turnovers, and Rice was healthy and playing well. Seattle just gave up a game to the future, it better work.