A curious thing happened yesterday.
Pete Carroll was put on the spot during a press conference.
It started with the Athletic’s Michael-Shawn Dugar probing on the reasoning behind the continued offensive struggles on third down.
Then, the big moment.
Hugh Millen, unexpectedly, attended the press conference. He asked Carroll about the busted coverage that led to a 76-yard touchdown for Deebo Samuel.
It followed up a hunch he’d voiced earlier on 950 KJR about who was responsible for giving up the play.
Allow me to provide some background. Millen has been an outspoken critic of the Jamal Adams trade. He criticised Adams’ performance in 2020 and questioned not only the resource spent on Adams in terms of draft picks but also the sense in paying him a record-breaking contract.
He detailed specifically why manufactured production enabled Adams to break a sack record last year for defensive backs. He noted the regularity with which Bobby Wagner lined up in the A-gap to set the table and shift protection, creating an unblocked rush off the edge.
He highlighted Adams’ struggles in coverage and backed up his views through tape study with great detail.
It was welcome analysis. Not because it confirmed a lot of what we’ve written about on this website, although I’m sure that’ll be the accusation. It was welcome because here was someone in the media willing to actually look beyond assumptions.
Over the last 14 months I’ve lost count how often Adams has been referred to as a ‘weapon’, ‘stud’ or ‘playmaker’. His sack tally was used to prop up concerns about his overall performance. Time and time again people in the media and fans alike referenced the need to pay and retain Adams because the Seahawks ‘couldn’t afford to live without him’.
I’ve never seen any evidence to justify this, personally. And when you look at his PFF grade last year (64.2) it backs up the impression that he was pretty average overall and struggled to make an impact beyond the blitz-created sacks (a coverage grade of 53.1 being a particular concern).
This was pretty much shrugged off due to an injury-hit season and the fact it was his first year in Seattle. With extra time in the system, things would be different in 2021.
Only yesterday someone I like a lot sent me a tweet saying the Seahawks, “gave up a ton to get a stud. I wasn’t thrilled with it. But they did get a stud and needed one desperately.”
That’s part of the issue I have when analysing this trade. There’s an assumed quality with Adams that the evidence just doesn’t point to. It’s as if the size of the investment and name recognition is creating a reputation vs results type scenario.
I don’t think Adams is a bad player at all. Neither, I suspect, does Hugh Millen or anyone else who is heavily critical of this trade. But I do think it’s unarguable that it was a bad trade. That the investment of picks plus salary was far too much for what you’re getting in return and that there’s increasing evidence that this coaching staff still doesn’t know how to get the best out of him.
For example, a cursory glance on Twitter revealed how PFF has graded Adams for every game this season so far:
Indianapolis — 70.7
Tennessee — 63.6
Minnesota — 63.6
San Francisco — 49.4
His overall grade for the season is 62.8. Currently, that makes him the 42nd highest graded safety in the NFL — despite being the highest paid by some distance.
When I point this out, or discuss Adams in this way, I generally get two reactions.
One is the accusation that I ‘hate’ Adams. The same person who tweeted to me about Seattle ‘needing a stud’ also accused me of holding disdain for the player. I don’t. I just think the evidence shows this has been a horrible trade and I think it’s important to discuss why.
The other accusation is that I talk about this too much. I find that one somewhat similar to a ‘defending the sacred cow’ argument. At the end of the day, this is the biggest trade in franchise history in terms of spent cost. It’s the most significant move Pete Carroll and John Schneider have made. The value of this deal should be talked about a lot.
Let’s put it this way — imagine a scenario where the Seahawks, instead of drafting Russell Wilson, spent two first round picks and a third round pick on a quarterback before the 2012 draft. Then they gave that quarterback a massive contract. If that player was performing at the level Adams is, we’d never stop talking about it.
I don’t think there’s any reason not to discuss this as much simply because we’re talking about a safety instead of a quarterback. If anything, taking a punt on a quarterback at least can be justified if you’re trying to find an answer at the most important position in football. Investing what they have in a safety — that to me warrants even more analysis because it’s not considered a premium position.
And no amount of calling him a ‘stud’, ‘weapon’ or ‘playmaker’ should overcome an average performance. Which is what we’re seeing currently.
He has zero sacks, zero hurries, zero QB hits, zero pressures and zero interceptions. He’s missed 8.6% of his tackles and he’s giving up 17.7 yards per completion. He’s ranked 54th in terms of coverage grade per PFF.
No amount of ‘soundness within the scheme’ covers for that. Especially when the overall defense has given up 1778 total yards (most in the NFL), 608 rushing yards (most in the NFL) and has a sack percentage of just 5.4%.
For what they’ve spent, you should expect more. And whether people like it or not — this trade will be analysed with a critical eye throughout his time in Seattle.
Your most high-profile, expensive players will always receive a lot of attention. Look at how much people discuss Russell Wilson’s performances. He hasn’t been flawless this season by any stretch. Yet he still leads the NFL in yards per attempt (9.6) and passer rating (129.9), he hasn’t thrown an interception and his PFF grade is 83.0. It’s to his credit that it feels like there’s a lot more to come from Wilson and yet he’s still achieving these numbers.
If Adams’ play rapidly improves and they work out a way to make him far more impactful, I’ll be the first to write that up. But let’s not pretend that we shouldn’t be talking about his performance all the time, given what they’ve spent on him. It’s too convenient to avoid the arguments and wash this away as ‘hatred’ or ‘obsession’.
Back to Millen and his exchange with Carroll. On the busted 76-yard touchdown, it was implied after the game that it was the fault of Sidney Jones.
On the broadcast, Mark Schlereth had suggested Adams should’ve carried the wheel route. Immediately after the play, I posted on Twitter (in an admittedly hyperbolic fashion) ‘worst trade ever’. My mentions blew up shortly after with countless people telling me I didn’t know anything about football. Because of course, Seahawks Twitter is home to some of the great football minds of our time.
Millen wasn’t buying the explanation and said on 950 KJR on Monday that he was 99% sure it was Adams’ fault.
To his credit, rather than pontificate from the sidelines, he attended the press conference to get some answers.
If you missed the exchange, fast forward to 13:57 in the video below (you’ll need to open it in YouTube, the Seahawks have blocked their videos from being embedded):
Carroll’s answer is unconvincing and terse. He clearly didn’t enjoy being challenged and perhaps knew about the angle Millen was going with.
The big takeaway for me, though, is that however much people think they know about the X’s and O’s of that play, none of us really know. There’s a grey area where some think Jones was at fault, some think Adams. Others thought Marquise Blair. And Carroll admitted within their scheme there are different ways of working that coverage. So really, it could’ve been the fault of different players even if it actually was Jones on this occasion.
It was also a reminder of what these press conferences should be about. They are an opportunity to quiz Carroll. Too often it’s an exercise in ‘give us a thought on player X who had a good game’, ‘how good is player Y?’ or ‘let’s have an injury update on these five different players’.
When you give up a 76-yard touchdown on a busted play, digging around to find out what went wrong is justified. As is the persistent questioning of the third down struggles. And there are many other questions that could and should be asked of a Head Coach whose team has performed the way it has after four games.
Yes — that includes a stronger line of questioning on Adams’ performance and why this team has so far struggled to get the kind of impact the cost of this trade and contract warrants.
It’s not about being difficult or awkward for the sake of it. Coaches should expect to be pushed on certain topics. Sometimes, questions are challenging and hard. That’s par for the course when you coach at the highest level.
So well done Hugh Millen for stepping up to the plate. Hopefully this wasn’t a one-off cameo appearance in the Monday press conference.
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