Seattle Seahawks

How Pete Carroll defends Brian Schottenheimer’s play calling in Seahawks’ playoff loss

Pete Carroll, for all of you blaming Brian Schottenheimer for Seahawks’ season ending in first round of playoffs:

Coach Pete Carroll, for all of you blaming Brian Schottenheimer for Seahawks’ season ending in first round of playoffs:
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Coach Pete Carroll, for all of you blaming Brian Schottenheimer for Seahawks’ season ending in first round of playoffs:

Pete Carroll has an answer for those of you blaming Brian Schottenheimer for the Seahawks’ season ending.

And if you are in that group believing the offensive coordinator’s play calling failed the team by staying with running plays that weren’t working too long and not letting Russell Wilson throw the ball down the field earlier in Saturday’s 24-22 loss at Dallas in the wild-card playoffs, you aren’t going to like this.

“First off, for somebody to look at this game and say that somebody didn’t do this or do that, and try to hold that against them or whatever is really unfair,” Carroll said Monday in his season-ending press conference at team headquarters. “Hold it against me. I mean, I’m the guy that’s in charge of this thing. There is no way to look at any individual guy here; it’s a team thing. But I’m on top of it. I’m the one to be pointed at.

“We couldn’t have been more committed to being an aggressive football team than we were. That meant we’re playing great defense, we’re working on our (special) teams, running the football and playing off of that. That’s us. That’s how we do it. That’s not anybody but starting with me.

“So, the fact that Schotty was working the game plan and trying to hammer the football is what we did every week and that’s how we figured to win. When it doesn’t work you have to get moving and find the ways that you got to get there to get the game won, and that’s what we were attempting to do.”

The Seahawks’ No. 1-ranked rushing offense (160 yards per game) gained just 73 against the Cowboys, on 24 carries. That was Seattle’s second-lowest rushing total this season; they ran for 64 yards while mostly throwing it in the opening-game loss at Denver.

Carson and fellow running backs Rashaad Penny and Mike Davis had only 59 yards on 21 carries (2.8 yards per carry). Wilson gained the other 14 on scrambles and three read-option keepers around the ends. One was for touchdown that put the Seahawks ahead 14-10 with two minutes left in the third quarter.

At times, Dallas sold out to stop Carson’s inside runs, shooting gaps and scraping linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith hard into the line. Vander Esch and Smith had 17 tackles between them.

That devotion to the line of scrimmage to stop Seattle’s run left four and sometimes three Cowboys to cover the back two-thirds of the defense’s field. But instead of exploiting that space on early downs, Schottenheimer’s calls stayed true to how the Seahawks won 10 of its final 14 regular-season games to return to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. He ran it. Ran it on first downs and on second downs, not only to gain yards but to establish the run in the minds of Dallas’ defenders and thus slow their rush on Wilson.

This wasn’t a shock.

When they played Sept. 23 in Seattle, Dallas held the Seahawks to 113 yards on 39 carries, an average of 2.9 yards per carry that was almost identical to Saturday. No one howled about the Seahawks running too much that day, because Carson got his first of six 100-yard rushing days this season (albeit on 32 runs) and Seattle got its first win of the season.

That was after the Seahawks lost the first two games at Denver and at Chicago having Wilson throw it 73 percent of the time and the offensive line caving with Wilson’s league-high 12 sacks through two games.

“We found our identity,” wide receiver Tyler Lockett said last week of that run-first win over Dallas.

The Seahawks lived by that identity to return to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. And when Dallas flooded those Seahawks running lanes they died by it Saturday night.

Carroll pointed out Monday that playing run, run, pass, punt—Seattle had six three-and-out drives in the playoff game against the Cowboys—still had the Seahawks ahead 14-10 with two minutes gone in the fourth quarter.

Then the defense allowed 121 yards and the game’s decisive 14 points, unanswered. The Cowboys’ clinching score came when Seattle gifted them an 11-play drive. The defense gave Dallas two first downs with pass-interference penalties on K.J. Wright and Justin Coleman on third downs, then allowed Dak Prescott to run 16 yards to the 1 on third and 14 thanks to missed tackles by their two best players this season, Bobby Wagner and Bradley McDougald.

“Put it back on us,” McDougald said after the game.

“I feel like we didn’t do our job,” defensive end Frank Clark said.

If the defense had done its job late, Seattle would be preparing for a divisional-playoff game at the Los Angeles Rams right now. No matter how many runs Schottenheimer and Carroll called Saturday in Dallas.

“You forget maybe that the (Seahawks’) go-ahead touchdown drive in this game was a nine-play drive, eight plays were runs,” Carroll said of Seattle’s 44-yard drive to score with two minutes left in the third quarter to take that 14-10 lead at Dallas.

“We got the ball at midfield off great field position after a great kick, exactly like we like to do it. Defense held them, here we go and we knock it on down there, we fight our way through a fourth-down conversion (Wilson’s 22-yard pass to toe-tapping Doug Baldwin on the sideline) and make it 14-10. OK, let’s go from there.

“So, to try and blame Schotty with the play-calling or something, I understand that reaction, but it isn’t warranted. We had a hell of a season. We did a bunch of good stuff and we’re just getting started. That’s what it feels like.”

Wilson had thrown a team-record 35 touchdown passes this season. Saturday he hit on three deep throws, two to Lockett and one to Ed Dickson, to set up Seattle’s only scoring chances until two minutes remained in third quarter.

During locker clean-out day at team headquarters on Sunday, Wilson was asked if there was any part of him that wishes he got to throw it more at Dallas.

“When you reflect back on it, we were throwing it pretty well in the game. I think we could have been doing that, some more,” Wilson said. “But also, you want to stay true to running the ball, too. ... this game was kind of similar to the Carolina game, I felt like a little bit. They did a pretty good job of stopping us on the run and in that game we had to throw the ball and make some plays.

“I think this game was kind of similar in that sense... But we could have been better. We could have been better on some of the runs and some of the things we were doing. That’s part of the game.”

Quarterback Russell Wilson talks about the Seahawks’ 2018 playoff season—and believing they could have thrown more and earlier in loss at Dallas

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.