Remember Russell Wilson’s MVP-worthy first half of the 2020 NFL season? It might be a distant memory after the Seahawks’ star quarterback and the rest of their offense struggled in Saturday’s 2021 NFL playoff-opening flop against the Rams.
Other than one big play and one mostly meaningless late drive, Seattle failed to move the ball well enough against Los Angeles, losing 30-20 as a wild-card host. The Rams’ daunting defense was a significant factor, but the Seahawks also did little to help themselves or Wilson.
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Because of Wilson, the Seahawks have had a high floor, posting a winning record with him in every season and missing the playoffs only once. But after falling well short of getting to the Super Bowl again, it’s clear it’s time for more change, for the sake of not continuing to waste a prime Wilson when it counts most.
Coach Pete Carroll wasn’t afraid to move on from Darrell Bevell as offensive coordinator three years ago, after six years of working with Wilson. Now he needs to realize that Bevell’s replacement, Brian Schottenheimer, isn’t the right guy to push them toward the ceiling.
Although it’s in Carroll’s defensive-minded nature to prefer winning battles of attrition against tougher opponents — thus the Seahawks’ propensity to play a lot of close games — he can’t ignore the rut the offense fell into against the Rams, when Schottenheimer got thoroughly outcoached by defensive coordinator Brandon Staley.
Schottenheimer and Staley have both been mentioned as candidates for the league’s current head-coaching openings. For any hiring team watching the game, it might think twice about attaching Schottenheimer to a top QB.
Schottenheimer likes to predicate his offense on power running to set up deep passing for Wilson. Unfortunately, the third matchup of the season with the Rams didn’t call for that to have much success. The Rams had a big advantage in the defensive line-vs.-offensive line matchup. With Jalen Ramsey and rest of their defensive backs, little is available downfield.
Wilson, because of his hot start, threw for a career-high 40 TDs passes in 2020. But he didn’t have a single 300-yard game in the second half of the season and on Saturday was held to below 200 yards passing for the third time in four games.
Wilson (11-of-27 passing, 174 yards, two TDs, one INT, 5.4 yards per attempt, 87.6 passer rating) didn’t perform well enough to win the game. When the outcome was still doubt in the first half, he was fortunate to throw a beautiful off-script 51-yard TD pass to wide receiver D.K. Metcalf. Before that, he was pick-sixed by cornerback Darious Williams — on, of all plays, an attempted wide receiver screen.
The Rams scheme well with Staley and their talent, but they also were helped by the Seahawks’ predictability. Williams jumped that route like it had jumped out to him on film. The Seahawks continued to force establishing the run on first down, even though it led to near-certain whiffs on third down (2 of 14). When they got into some manageable passing third downs, they often called for Wilson to take low-percentage shots. When they weren’t throwing well beyond the sticks, they were calling passes short of them.
The Seahawks didn’t have a intermediate game plan working at all. When it wasn’t a Chris Carson run or a pass attempt to Metcalf, there wasn’t much there. The Rams’ weakest defensive level is linebacker, but there was no consideration to using tight ends or backs better in the passing game. With Metcalf, save for one play, and slot ace Tyler Lockett bottled up in coverage, the Seahawks didn’t try to design much for a third wide receiver until rookie Freddie Swain made a big catch during their last-gasp TD drive.
When looking back at Wilson’s hot first half, he was incredible, as he often is, with his downfield accuracy. But even for great quarterbacks, executing at a high level with a high degree of difficulty isn’t sustainable, especially without any adjustments or creativity to overcome defenses knowing what to expect from them.
The Seahawks’ offensive line battled a lot of injuries during the season. Left tackle Duane Brown remains a rock, but other than at right guard with Damien Lewis, they got shakier elsewhere up front. Brown is 37 going into the final year of his contract. The Seahawks need to truly invest in pass protection for Wilson. They also need to find more dynamic answers for the skill positions beyond Carson, Metcalf and Lockett.
Wilson is 32 and has plenty of elite-level passing (and running) years ahead of him. A little after Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers got their first Super Bowl wins, their teams were working to refit their offenses with tweaked schemes and upgraded personnel to keep them on track for true championship contention.
The Seahawks have done some of that for Wilson by trading for Brown, finding Carson to be their new power lead and drafting Metcalf to complement Lockett. That has been a good start, and there has been a bit of a spike from Wilson. The next level is improving the play-calling and personnel to lift Wilson, rather than putting pressure on him to lift them through the toughest matchups.
It’s easy to get complacent, knowing Wilson will still save the day more times than not. But if the Seahawks want to save their best shots for the NFC playoffs, then they can’t do it with Schottenheimer.