Do you remember the first half of the 2020 NFL season worthy of being Russell Wilson’s MVP? It could be a distant memory after the Seahawks’ star quarterback and the rest of their offense struggled in Saturday’s 2021 NFL playoff opening failure against the Rams.
Aside from a big play and a near pointless late drive, Seattle couldn’t move the ball well enough against Los Angeles, losing 30-20 as the wild card host. The Rams’ disappointing defense was a significant factor, but the Seahawks also did little to help themselves or Wilson.
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Thanks to Wilson, the Seahawks have been on a high floor, posting a winning record with him every season and missing the playoffs just once. But after falling a long way from reaching the Super Bowl again, it’s clear it’s time for more changes, for the sake of not continuing to waste a top-notch Wilson when it counts most.
Coach Pete Carroll was not afraid to leave 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 is not the right guy to push them to the ceiling.
While it’s in Carroll’s defensive nature to prefer to win attrition battles against tougher opponents, hence the Seahawks’ propensity to play a lot of close games, he can’t ignore the grind the offense fell into against the Rams, when Schottenheimer got thoroughly. Outbid by defensive coordinator Brandon Staley.
Schottenheimer and Staley have been named as candidates for the league’s current head coaching vacancies. For any recruiting team watching the game, they might think twice about assigning Schottenheimer to a top quarterback.
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Schottenheimer likes to base his offense on the power run to set up deep passes for Wilson. Unfortunately, the third meeting of the season with the Rams did not demand much success. The Rams had a big advantage in the confrontation between the defensive line and the offensive line. With Jalen Ramsey and the rest of his defensive backs, there is little available downfield.
Wilson, due to his good start, threw 40 career-high touchdown passes in 2020. But he didn’t have a single 300-yard game in the second half of the season and stayed under 200 yards on Saturday. for the third time in four games.
Wilson (11 of 27 passes, 174 yards, two TDs, one INT, 5.4 yards per attempt, 87.6 passer rating) did not perform well enough to win the game. When the outcome was still in doubt in the first half, he was lucky enough to throw a beautiful 51-yard TD pass off the dash to wide receiver DK Metcalf. Before that, he was selected by cornerback Darious Williams – in, of all plays, a wide-screen receiver attempt.
The Rams plan well with Staley and his talent, but were also helped by the predictability of the Seahawks. Williams skipped that route as if it had occurred to him in a movie. The Seahawks continued to force the establishment of the run on the first try, even though it almost certainly led to aromas on the third try (2 of 14). When they came in on manageable third down passes, they often asked Wilson to take low-percentage shots. When they didn’t throw much past the sticks, they called short passes.
The Seahawks didn’t have an intermediate game plan that worked at all. When it wasn’t a Chris Carson run or a Metcalf pass attempt, there wasn’t much there. The Rams’ weakest defensive level is linebacker, but making better use of tight ends or running backs in passing game was not considered. With Metcalf save for one play, and slot ace Tyler Lockett in cover, the Seahawks didn’t try to design much for a third wide receiver until rookie Freddie Swain made a big catch during his last TD series.
Looking back at Wilson’s hot first half, he was amazing, as he often is, with his precision downfield. But even for great quarterbacks, executing at a high level with a high degree of difficulty is not sustainable, especially without any adjustment or creativity to overcome defenses knowing what to expect from them.
The Seahawks offensive line struggled with many injuries during the season. Left tackle Duane Brown is still a rock, but aside from as a right guard with Damien Lewis, they became more unstable elsewhere up front. Brown is 37 years old entering the final year of his contract. The Seahawks need to really invest in pass protection for Wilson. They also need to find more dynamic responses for skill positions beyond Carson, Metcalf and Lockett.
Wilson is 32 and has many years of elite passing (and running) ahead of him. Shortly after Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers had their first Super Bowl victories, their teams were working to overhaul their offenses with modified schemes and updated personnel to keep them on track to a true championship contest.
The Seahawks have done some of that for Wilson by trading Brown, finding Carson as their new power leader and selecting Metcalf to complement Lockett. It’s been a good start, and Wilson has made a little jump. The next level is improving plays and staffing to lift Wilson up, rather than pressuring him to help him get through the toughest matchups.
It’s easy to get complacent, knowing that Wilson will still save the day most of the time. But if the Seahawks want to save their best shots for the NFC playoffs, then they can’t with Schottenheimer.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.