It wasn't a surprise that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer wanted to dance with the girl who brung 'em Saturday. But it was a surprise they didn't adapt.
ARLINGTON, Texas — Sometimes, no matter how reliable the approach has been, no matter how often the plan has worked, sometimes — you just have to adjust.
The Seahawks have been the best running team in the NFL this season. They entered Saturday’s playoff game vs. the Cowboys averaging a league-high 160 rushing yards per game and watched Chris Carson rack up 357 yards over his previous three contests.
The re-establishment of the ground game marked a return to “Seahawks football,” and was the primary force in Seattle winning 10 games this season, including six of its last seven.
So it wasn’t a surprise that coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer wanted to dance with the girl who brung ’em Saturday. But it was a surprise they didn’t adapt when that girl suddenly developed a second left foot.
The Seahawks could not run the ball against the Cowboys, who won 24-22 on Saturday. They gained a mere 73 yards on 24 carries and were consistently faced with third down-and-long. Carson was particularly ineffective, ending up with just 20 yards on 13 carries.
What the Seahawks could do against Dallas was throw. Quarterback Russell Wilson compiled 233 yards and a touchdown on 18 of 27 passing, and had four completions of at least 22 yards — including a 53-yarder and a 40-yarder to Tyler Lockett. The problem?
They waited too long to change their strategy.
It’s understandable that they didn’t overhaul their offense after a couple failed possessions. Considering they chopped up the 12-4 Chiefs with their ground game two weeks earlier, you’d expect them to trust their tailbacks for a while. But when you finish the first quarter with five net yards, and watch running back after running back get swallowed up by star-helmeted defensive linemen, something has to change.
Considering how well Russell was playing, and how much you struggled with the run, do you wish you would have opened it up a little earlier? Carroll was asked after the game.
“Yeah, I would have liked to,” said Carroll, who paused for a moment before responding. “The protection was good on the passing plays, and Russell threw some strikes. Yeah. It’s easy to say that now.”
The Seahawks entered the game as 2.5-point underdogs, so the result was hardly surprising. Dallas is one of the hottest teams in the NFL, was playing in front of their home fans and might be the better squad anyway.
Still, it’s hard not to wonder what might have been had the coaches not been so tethered to their game plan. It’s hard not to speculate how Seattle would have fared if it put the ball in its quarterback’s hands and let him dictate the outcome.
Yes, the Seahawks converted on just two of their 13 third downs, a stat Carroll lamented after the game. But these weren’t third-and-ones they were falling short on. It was third-and-6, or third-and-8, or third-and-14 — and almost always because the first two plays were meager runs.
Carroll was right about the pass-protection, too. Wilson took just one sack, which appeared to be the result of a miscommunication. And the way Seattle was able to march 75 yards in 50 seconds for a touchdown on its final drive all but confirmed what it could have been doing throughout the game.
So what was going on? Wouldn’t players — particularly the receivers — liked to have seen more throws?
“Yeah, but that’s not really my problem,” said Lockett, who finished with 120 yards on four catches. “I go out there, and if they tell me to block, I block. If they tell me to catch the kickoff and run with it, I’m gonna run. I’m gonna control what I can control. It’s pointless for me to focus on anything else that’s outside of my control.”
What about Wilson? Given what he was doing out there, doesn’t he wish he had more opportunities to throw downfield?
“What I wish is that we would have won,” Wilson said.
It’s hard to know what players are really thinking after a game like that. This doesn’t seem like a group that’s going to ascribe blame or publicly criticize coaching decisions.
And like Wilson, Lockett and pretty much every Seahawk interviewed said, nobody expected them to be in that position in the first place. Why would they, considering all the personnel this team has lost since last year?
Still, Saturday’s game was one the Seahawks could have won. They had an opportunity to advance and continue this improbable season.
Unfortunately, they passed up that opportunity. Mainly because they didn’t pass.