Exploring some of the factors that played into the Seahawks' decision Wednesday to fire offensive assistants Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable.
During their seven years as part of the Seahawks’ coaching staff, Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable essentially ran the offense together.
Bevell was the offensive coordinator and oversaw the passing game and Cable the offensive line coach and run game coordinator.
If you consider them, then, as basically co-offensive coordinators (which the team seemed to acknowledge by generally making each available to talk to the media, one after the other, every Wednesday) it’s not hard to make a case they did the job as well as anyone in team history.
During that seven-year span from 2011-17, the Seahawks set single-season records for total yards (6,058 in 2015), rushing yards (2,762 in 2014) and passing yards (4,422 in 2016) as well as producing three of the top five scoring seasons in team history.
Shakeup in Seattle
There was the historic stretch late in the 2012 season when Seattle averaged 50 points over three games, becoming just the third NFL team ever to score 50 points in back-to-back games. And there was the 43-8 Super Bowl win over Denver in 2013 that may be the high point in Seattle professional sports history.
So why were Bevell and Cable fired on Wednesday, the team announcing each firing in a single statement, signifying one last time what was essentially their shared responsibility in running the offense?
Here are five factors that played into Pete Carroll’s decision to fire Cable and Bevell, listed in no particular order.
1. Slow starts
Carroll, who for most of his eight years with the Seahawks has professed it doesn’t matter in which quarter points are scored as long as Seattle ends up scoring more, finally seemed fed up this year with the team’s seemingly weekly slow starts.
Seattle never scored a touchdown on an opening drive this season and hasn’t since the third game of the 2016 season, a stretch of 29 straight regular season games (the Seahawks did score on their opening drive of the divisional playoff loss last year at Atlanta).
Assessing the causes of that is tricky. But like most teams, the Seahawks generally open games with a script of plays they have practiced all week, ones they feel especially confident will work against that week’s opponent.
Few NFL observers think it’s a coincidence that each of the top eight teams in first quarter points made the playoffs this season, led by the Rams, who had 119 first-quarter points this year compared to Seattle’s 56.
Maybe defenses had just begun to figure out Seattle’s approach.
2. Reaching Russell Wilson
Most emblematic of Seattle’s frustrating slow starts and fast finishes this year was the play of quarterback Russell Wilson, who had just eight touchdown passes in the first half this season but 26 in the second, including an NFL-record 19 in the fourth quarter.
Some have wondered if maybe it sometimes took too long for coaches to get through to Wilson the things that either needed to change with the offense in any given game, or with his own play.
Carroll made a telling comment following the regular-season finale against Arizona — when Wilson was 4-8 for 36 yards in the first half but finished 18-29 for 221 yards — about a halftime talk that he had with Wilson that he felt helped get him back on track.
“It doesn’t happen very often,’’ Carroll said. “I just felt like we needed to focus on it and we had a quick, good conversation.’’
Wilson seemed more decisive and quicker with his throws in the second half following his talk with Carroll.
Maybe Carroll finally decided that Wilson needs some new — and maybe stronger — voices to keep him consistently at that level.
3. A stagnant running game
It’s too easy to say that everything about the running game fell apart once Marshawn Lynch left — as Carroll has often noted, Thomas Rawls thrived in the second half of the 2015 season when Lynch was sidelined.
But with Lynch gone for good the last two years Seattle’s rushing attack has fallen off spectacularly, from a league-leading 172.6 yards per game in 2014 to 99.4 and 101.8 the past two years.
This year’s rushing game struggles included scoring just four rushing touchdowns — tying a franchise-low — and just one by a running back.
“It’s terrible,’’ Carroll muttered last week in response to a question about the TD rushing total. “It just shows you, if you can’t run with authority, then it’s going to show up down there (in the red zone).’’
Everything about Carroll’s overall philosophy revolves around an effective running game and getting that back may be job one for the coaches hired to replace Bevell and Cable.
4, Changing blocking schemes.
What also happened following the 2015 season is that the NFL outlawed chop blocks, which are essentially when one offensive player blocks a defender below the thigh area while another offensive player has the defender engaged up high.
Chop blocks were viewed as a particularly key part of zone blocking schemes, which was the predominant Seattle scheme under Cable — Pro Football Focus judged at midseason this year that the Seahawks used it 72 percent of the time, fifth-most in the NFL.
In fact, Cable was hired in large part because of his knowledge of zone blocking schemes, having been a protégé of Alex Gibbs, who was Carroll’s original OL coach with the Seahawks in 2010 before retiring.
Cable several times said he didn’t think the rule changes mattered and zone blocking has hardly gone out of style — the Kansas City Chiefs led the NFL in yards per carry this year at 4.7 and are predominantly a zone blocking team.
But some have wondered the last two years if trying more man blocking might help and it won’t be a surprise if Carroll looks to an offensive line coach with more varied scheme experience.
Carroll was frank in his assessment about the season when he talked to reporters last week saying “it’s frustrating for us and disappointing that here we are talking about a football season and in our minds, we should still be playing. But we didn’t get the job done to get that done and so what’s important is what are we going to do now.’’
There will undoubtedly be major change to the roster this offseason.
But one source said that the team knows that veterans might raise a few stiff eyebrows if change is made only to the roster and not to the coaching staff.
In other words, Carroll can’t preach accountability without showing that it’s more than just the players who are being held accountable in the harshest way possible — with their jobs.
Cable had gotten something of a pass in 2016 due to the constant drain of the offensive line since the Super Bowl win — all five starters from the win over Denver were gone by 2016.
But the argument that the Seahawks were not devoting resources to the line was no longer valid in 2017 when Seattle was able much of the year to field a group that consisted of nothing but former first- and second-round picks, including former All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown, acquired in a mid-season trade for second- and third-round picks.
The Brown trade seemed to indicate the urgency the team feels to win now with an aging core and Wilson and Carroll each with just two years left on their Seattle contracts and the futures of both uncertain beyond the 2019 season.
Whether the firings were the right call may not be known for a few years.
But by the time they arrived Wednesday it was hard to argue that maybe they hadn’t become necessary.