Honestly, I had absolutely no appetite to spend another year looking at college quarterbacks. Since I started this blog in 2008, it’s been one long slog – trying to identify who might be a guy capable of leading this team into a new era. Preferably, an era of winning football games. Initially it was about finding a successor to Matt Hasselbeck, then it was about finding someone who could be the answer sooner rather than later. When the Seahawks named Russell Wilson as the starter for 2012 I sincerely hoped the long search was over. Had the Seahawks finally found their starting quarterback for the present and future?
Today I’m preparing to go through three USC games, two West Virginia games and an Arkansas game. Why? Quarterbacks. Again.
This isn’t about a lack of faith in Wilson. I actually think he’s done about as well as can be expected in four starts. I don’t blame him for putting up mediocre numbers in this scheme and with this play calling. The teams offensive coordinator said in a press conference recently that he’d run on every play if he could. Hey, most coaches would probably say the same. The only difference is, Darrell Bevell actually meant it. At a time when the virtually the entire NFL is trying to find ways to open up the passing game, at a time when quarterbacks named Manning, Brady, Rodgers and Brees are winning every Super Bowl, the Seahawks are making their passing game a complimentary piece to their offense.
That’s not to say you can’t win playing mainly tough defense and running the football, or that you have to conform to be successful. Even so, I do have issues the offense. Pete Carroll preaches ball security, control and winning the turnover battle. If the Seahawks can get ahead in games – like they did against Dallas – they’ll have a good chance to get wins. When they have to chase things, it’s difficult to suddenly break out a quick strike to change momentum. This was clearly evident against the Rams when the game started to drift away from the Seahawks. Suddenly Carroll is trying an onside kick to regain momentum. When the big-time passing teams get behind they don’t have to adjust too much to launch a comeback. Quick strike, potent offenses will do that for you because they’re capable of scoring cheap and quick points. When the Seahawks get behind, it almost leads to a sea-change in attitude and scheme. They try to do things that aren’t natural to this team.
The fact Seattle has lost so many games trying to drive for victory is evidence of this. How many times have the Seahawks had possession in the fourth quarter, needing a touchdown or field goal to win? And what is the record like in those games since 2010? It’s pretty poor. The problem extends to the red zone offense – the Seahawks can drive with the running game and some play action, but when they get close it’s like suddenly they don’t know what to do. A misdirection or power run play might be called on the half-way line, yet we’re treated to quarterback draws from in close on third and short. I just don’t see an offense that is very flexible or adaptable, instead it appears built to consume time and protect the ball rather than do the purely fundamental thing of scoring points.
It’s hard to blame the coaches too much for going in this direction upon arrival in Seattle. Pete Carroll inherited a team with virtually no assets. He had to build from scratch with one of the worst rosters in the NFL. He had to do it without the top 1-5 pick the roster probably warranted for 2-3 years. Not forcing the issue on a bad quarterback and an ill-advised passing game plan was absolutely the right way to go and the Seahawks have put together a very good running game and defense instead. They are a much better team since Carroll took over. Nobody can deny that.
Yet because the team has improved so much, it would be a shame to waste such a good defense on an impotent offense. This team isn’t scoring enough touchdowns. The passing game isn’t pulling its weight. And if this continues, Carroll cannot remain too loyal to a system that hasn’t worked so far.
There’s still time for things to come good, but let’s assume the passing game follows the same path we’ve seen for two and a bit seasons now. In that situation, I think you have to consider a re-think and search for more balance. The Seahawks recreated their defense and running game with great effect, why can’t they do the same with the passing game? If you’re going to start changing things, you better make sure the right people are at the core of the rebuild – coaches and players. It might mean a new offensive coordinator, it might mean new receivers and it might even mean a new quarterback.
Again, this isn’t about giving up on Wilson. As I said, he’s doing pretty much all he can out there in the circumstances. At the same time he is leaving the pocket too early, too often. Perhaps the height thing is an issue after all, if he can’t just sit in the pocket and make reads? It’s difficult to judge without seeing the all-22 tape. If he cannot show progression, the front office might end up second guessing whether they can afford to invest their entire faith in him for the long haul. Especially if a potentially better option emerges.
What if a guy like Matt Barkley is within reach? A player with obvious ties to Pete Carroll and the city of Seattle? I don’t want to make this a Barkley thread – I appreciate opinion is mixed on his pro-potential. But let’s consider the situation where Barkley is sitting right there for the Seahawks next April. Had things started well with the passing game, we could probably write that off and concentrate on other needs. But now? I’m not so sure.
Here’s my wild, uneducated guess on what this team has been planning. I think they liked Wilson a ton and when they were able to draft him, they wanted to give him every chance to win this job (maybe even to the point where he had an edge over Matt Flynn all along). As long as he didn’t implode in pre-season, they could justify giving him the gig over Flynn. That way, they can see what they have in a third round rookie quarterback with a lot of upside but also some legitimate issues (such as height). If it works out, everyone’s a winner. If it doesn’t, well it’s disappointing but who’s really going to hammer the team for trying this out for the sake of a third rounder and spending a lot to learn nothing about Matt Flynn? (Who, by the way, is still Matt Flynn. Let’s never forget that, however much he’s earning.)
If Wilson cannot convince the team he’s starter material, the worst case scenario is they’re left with a competent backup at the cost of a third rounder. They know what they have there, no doubts left on the table. And if necessary, they can relaunch the offense by making the kind of move they’ve so far resisted – drafting a quarterback in round one. And like I said, one of Carroll’s best guys will be part of the draft. Pete has resisted the temptation to go big on USC prospects in the draft so far, but I wouldn’t expect that would be the case for Matt Barkley.
And for anyone who is complaining about not knowing what the team has with Flynn in this scenario, well really it’s no different than not knowing what you’d have in Wilson if it was the other way round. There’s nothing stopping the Seahawks making a switch down the line. I would argue, however, you’d need to see a full season from either to truly have a good idea as to whether you need to make ‘the splash’. Seattle made it’s bed with Wilson and should stick by him for the time being to give him a chance to improve and earn the kind of trust that eliminates any need to discuss this subject after January.
I appreciate that even if the Seahawks did end up drafting a quarterback in round one next April, he’ll still have the same (or similar) options at receiver. I get that. But I’m struggling to find a receiver worthy of a top-20 grade in next years draft. Are you going to reach on a receiver in round one? Over a quarterback who is higher on your board? Not for me.
Who knows, maybe next off-season was always likely to be the one where they were most likely to ‘go big’ at the quarterback position? Wilson perhaps made them second-guess whether they had the answer already – and he could still prove to be the long term answer. Nobody should be giving up on the guy. Not yet. He’s getting his shot and now it’s up to him to prove he’s as good as many believed going into the year. If he can’t do that, then it’s time to do what this team hasn’t done for 20 years – draft a quarterback in round one. While that remains a possibility, it’s time to keep scouting the position. So here’s three games of Matt Barkley tape courtesy of JMPasq…