Some thoughts on Cliff Avril's thoughts that the Seahawks didn't buy in as much to what coach Pete Carroll was saying following the 2014 season.
Time for another Seahawks Q-and-A. And as always, you can e-mail questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via twitter at @bcondotta. Today’s question, which came via e-mail, is weighty enough that it’s going to stand by itself.
Q: What’s your take on the Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin comments about the team and Pete Carroll relationship after the loss to New England in the Super Bowl? Was this all a factor in the ”house cleaning” of the Defense this year including the D-Coordinator?
A: The question is in reference to comments Avril made last Thursday on an NFL.com podcast in which he said the team began questioning Carroll more after the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.
Specifically, Avril said: “I do think the team would have bought in more to what Coach Carroll was saying instead of going the opposite way of, ‘Hey, this is what we thought the foundation of the team was.’ That’s not what happened in that particular play. So I think guys started questioning him more, more so than actually following his lead if we would have won that Super Bowl.”
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Irvin retweeted a story recapping Avril’s comments stating “Big facts!’’
One thought I always have when I hear things like this about any team is what does it mean from a tangible standpoint — does this mean certain players on the team began to not try as hard? They didn’t pay attention in meetings as much? Which players are we talking about (for most players on any NFL roster, NFL life is such a day-to-day existence all they really can afford to do is whatever is asked of them on any given day?) How can we tell by anything that happens on the field?
As we all know, the Seahawks have seen a gradual erosion in their play the last three years, so no doubt, if you want to just point to that and say it’s all because of that play in the Super Bowl, then there’s your evidence.
But a lot of other things also happened heading into the 2015 season separate from the ill-fated Malcolm Butler interception — Kam Chancellor held out and missed the first two games, which I’d argue had more to do with the 0-2 start than did anything else. Maybe Chancellor doesn’t hold out if the Seahawks win the Super Bowl? Given that Chancellor has never really offered an in-depth stated answer to why he held out, it’s hard to know.
The Seahawks also continued what became a total overhaul of the offensive line within three years of the Super Bowl, trading Max Unger for Jimmy Graham following the 2014 season and also letting James Carpenter go in free agency. Marshawn Lynch also got hurt three games into the 2015 season and then when Thomas Rawls began to look like a future star as his replacement, he also got hurt.
The perception is that the defensive players questioned Carroll the loudest. But most of the vocal guys — Avril, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett — played at the same high level in 2015 and beyond (Avril had the best season of his career in 2016, any dropoff in Bennett’s play would seem more likely attributable to the knee and foot injuries he has dealt with the past two seasons. Sherman likewise has been generally judged by Pro Football Focus and others to have remained among the best cornerbacks in the NFL until his injury last season).
The 2015 season was the year when the Seahawks reconfigured their offense in the second half and went on a memorable run to win eight of the final 10, while holding the last five teams they faced to a combined 49 points to lead the NFL in fewest points allowed for the fourth straight season.
That was capped by a 36-6 win at NFC West champ Arizona in the regular season finale when neither team had anything much to play for, compelling all kinds of national stories like this one from Rolling Stone that featured the subhead: “Russell Wilson and Co. go to Arizona, stomp the Cardinals and serve notice that they’re still the team to beat – no matter where they play.’’
My probably too-long-winded point here is that if you’re looking for real tangible proof the team began to quit on Carroll immediately following the Super Bowl loss, it’s not as easy to find as you might think (unless you think Chancellor’s holdout was related to that, though following the money is probably the best guess).
Sure, Seattle lost at Carolina two weeks later in the divisional round of the playoffs. But a Carolina team that went 15-1 in the regular season was just better that year than Seattle. And it’s not as if continuing to make Super Bowls every year is historically easy — only two teams have ever played in three straight Super Bowls (the 71-73 Dolphins and the 90-93 Bills).
Were there internal dynamics different following the two Super Bowls? Sure. Did the personnel itself also begin to change a lot? That, too. By the end of the 2016 season, Seattle had just 16 players left who were part of the Super Bowl win over Denver, and just 23 who had been on the roster for the Super Bowl loss against New England.
If players believe that beginning to question Carroll is what led to the team’s drop in performance, I’m not going to discount it.
But I’d also argue nothing is ever quite that simple. And I’ve also found that players often like to point to such intangible reasons for defeat because it’s easier than admitting the other team was just better. Same as saying a team was “flat” coming out of the locker room.
I’d argue that bigger factors in what has happened since 2014 were all the more mundane tangible things — roster turnover (and a subsequent lack of acquiring the same kind of impact players through the drafts from 2013 on as Seattle did from 2010-12, a really high bar to match, to be sure), some players getting old, a few others hurt.
Did any of this lead to the veteran purge of the 2018 offseason? That can also be debated. Certainly, the Seahawks will have a different locker room presence in 2018 than the last few seasons and Carroll has indicated some excitement at that prospect. And he has said changing defensive coordinators from Kris Richard to Ken Norton came in large part to give a different voice to the defense (though one thought is that the voice Carroll wants is one that will be more in-line with his).
But the Seahawks also kept the core group mostly intact for three years following the Super Bowl loss and in fact re-signed Bennett and Chancellor to extensions either late in the 2016 season or following it with the idea of keeping it together as long as possible (Bennett didn’t seem eager to get out of Seattle then, saying at the time he hoped to finish his career with the Seahawks).
Maybe if they’d had one or two injuries fewer or one or two more made field goals by Blair Walsh, none of this is even a topic right now.
Instead, the injuries and the fall to a 9-7 record made it a convenient time to shake things up a bit. Who knows for sure, but if the Seahawks hadn’t known that Avril and Chancellor would likely never play again maybe they keep the core together for another year anyway.
How well the shakeup will work is its own story that will unfold throughout the 2018 season and beyond.