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5 Questions with Field Gulls: Is the Pete Carroll era winding down in Seattle?

New Orleans Saints v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars travel west this weekend to take on the Seattle Seahawks for a 4:05 p.m. Eastern Time kickoff on Halloween at Lumen Field.

Coming off of a bye week, and the team’s first victory of the 2021 season the week prior, the Jaguars should be relatively fresh and more confident, but even without Russell Wilson at quarterback, the Seahawks will pose a tough challenge for a Jacksonville team that is still expected to struggle for much of the rest of the season.

To give us a little more insight into Seattle, we chatted with Mookie Alexander, managing editor at Field Gulls — SB Nation’s great website for all things Seahawks.

What does Geno Smith bring to the Seahawks’ offense? Is the Pete Carroll era coming to end in Seattle? What has caused the defensive struggles? Mookie goes into great detail about these questions and more.

1. Russell Wilson will miss this weekend’s game as he continues to recover from his finger injury. With Wilson out, the Seahawks have struggled offensively, but what does Geno Smith bring to the table and do you expect Seattle to move the ball against the Jaguars, as Jacksonville has struggled defensively for most of the season thus far?

Mookie: The hope I have is that the Jaguars defense is 32nd by DVOA (really? Kansas City isn’t 32nd?) and nowhere near the level of the Saints or Steelers. But Geno is who he is, which is a bad quarterback who became a backup for a reason. Seattle is a high-flying, explosive-play hunting offense with Wilson at quarterback and it has worked pretty damn well over the years. But Geno doesn’t have Wilson’s arm, his accuracy, his read progressions, really anything to operate the offense even close to Wilson even on an average day.

Against the Steelers, Smith played a clean game outside of the overtime fumble, but the average depth of target was barely over three yards per attempt. That’s incredibly conservative. Against the Saints, he had the 84-yard touchdown to DK Metcalf, but after that he was 11-for-21 for 83 yards. Subtract the yards lost on sacks and he was 11-for-21 for 45 net yards passing. Everything has been kept simple for Smith and it doesn’t help that the Seahawks have been very predictable trying to run on early downs (which they weren’t doing as much with Wilson) perhaps as a means of taking the pressure off of Smith. Certainly against the Saints, it seemed to have an opposite effect.

If only because Jacksonville’s defense isn’t very good, I expect a better offensive performance but the onus has to be on Geno and new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. More play-action, more quick passing, less predictable running between the tackles. If that doesn’t happen then this offense under Smith will struggle against any defense.

2. Pete Carroll has had great success in Seattle, but given the current struggles, how do Seahawks fans view Carroll and his staff? Is it time to move on, or does the fan base generally still trust the staff to right the ship and the early struggles are simply due to Wilson’s injury?

Mookie: I really don’t want anyone to lose sight of the fact that the Seahawks were 2-2 with a fully healthy Wilson and when he was injured against the Rams, they were trailing in a game they had largely outplayed Los Angeles in yet couldn’t capitalize on their success. Then Wilson got hurt and you know the rest of the story from there.

I’d say this is as heated as the Seahawks fan base has been towards Carroll and his coaching staff since the 2017 season in which they collapsed from 8-4 and missed the playoffs. Carroll responded by firing (current Jaguars offensive coordinator) Darrell Bevell (offensive coordinator), Kris Richard (defensive coordinator), and Tom Cable (offensive line coach). A mini-rebuild of sorts ensued and they kept themselves afloat as a 10-plus win team while simultaneously not getting past the Divisional Round. But this year feels different. This feels like fans are ready for a change and I don’t blame them. Carroll has given this team a Super Bowl and came within a yard of another one, but assuming they miss out this season, they’ll have won just one playoff game since 2017...and that was against an Eagles team that had to play Josh McCown for most of the afternoon. Jacksonville’s 2017 postseason run yielded more playoff wins than the Seahawks have had in recent years. Does that look like a team that’s pushing for another Super Bowl with a franchise quarterback?

Wilson’s injury is a major reason for the 2-5 record, but the team itself still looks fatally flawed. Russell has covered up a lot of the weaknesses on this team for several seasons now, and now that safety net is gone. A healthy Wilson does not erase how bad the defense has been, or how the offensive line (once again) is not holding up, or how terrible Jason Myers has been as a kicker this year after a stellar 2020 (Editor’s note: Jaguars fans are well aware of Myers’ kicking woes). There are just too many holes on this roster and given Carroll is also president of football operations, he has a major hand in how the roster is built. That Carroll, the coach, remains frighteningly conservative on game day with his decision making and continues to have issues with clock management only exacerbates the problem. I doubt ownership moves on from Carroll so quickly after his contract extension was signed last season, but it’s clear to me that the Carroll era at the very least is winding down. It sounds crazy to say this after one bad season given all the success he’s had, but I’d just like to see A.) Russell Wilson stay with the team and B.) For him to be coached by someone else with a different philosophy.

3. Defensively, Seattle ranks 30th against the run (134.1 yards per game), 27th against the pass (280.6 yards per game) and 31st in total defense (414.7 yards per game). What has been the cause of the Seahawks’ defensive struggles and what is the best way for Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville offense to attack the unit’s weaknesses?

Mookie: Oh man, where do I begin?

The pass rush has been underwhelming, they inadequately addressed the outside cornerback position, and the coaching of Ken Norton Jr has been subpar (again). I understand that it is a part of football to occasionally drop your defensive linemen into coverage but they do it way too much for my liking. Far too often there have been coverage busts and just missed assignments whether against the run or the pass, which has largely defined Norton’s tenure in Seattle. The Seahawks don’t do anything at an above-average level other than third down defense and preventing touchdowns in the red zone. It’s a unit that has played better over the past couple of weeks, but the grain of salt here is that the Steelers and Saints offenses are both undermanned and nothing special statistically.

Really it’s the cornerback position that has been the disaster. It took four weeks for Seattle to switch D.J. Reed back to the right side of the defense (where he’s most comfortable) and the team benched Tre Flowers before eventually waiving him. Flowers’ replacement, (forme Jaguar) Sidney Jones, has hardly been a major improvement, and while rookie Tre Brown has shown promise, he’s only played in two games due to injury. Seattle basically got rid of every cornerback it rostered entering Week 1 of preseason except Reed and Brown, which is damning of the front office’s process.

The most effective way to attack the Seahawks is on screens. Seattle’s offense doesn’t run them well and now with K.J. Wright in Las Vegas, the defense seems befuddled when they see a screen. This applies primarily to running backs (Seattle has struggled against pass-catching running backs all season), but occasionally to tight ends, too. They have also been incredibly prone to giving up chunk plays in trips formations, as evidenced against the Minnesota Vikings.

4. Are there any players who Jaguars fans may not be familiar with that can impact the game? Please give one name on offense and one on defense if possible.

Mookie: Offensively I really can’t give you anyone outside of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, and you should know who those players are by now. Alex Collins is the team’s starting running back with Chris Carson out, but he’s only been effective in one of his three starts and that was against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I guess I’d go with Gerald Everett, the team’s top tight end in receptions and yards with 13 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. Yeah, this team’s push to get its tight ends more involved as receivers proved to be a lie. Everett is a big man who’s got some wheels for his size and he can break tackles, and Smith’s biggest passing play against the Steelers came off of play-action to Everett down the field where he broke three Steelers’ tackles to get to the two-yard line.

Defensively, there’s Darrell Taylor. He’s essentially a rookie because he didn’t play last season due to surgery on his leg. He’s essentially the entirety of Seattle’s pass rush at this point with a team-leading four sacks in six games played. He’s also tied with Rasheem Green for the team lead in pressures (per Pro Football Reference). I’m impressed with Taylor’s speed off the edge and his ability to get hustle sacks in addition to just beating his blocker one-on-one and then head right for the quarterback. Seattle’s defensive line as a whole just doesn’t generate a lot of pressure with its front four, but Taylor is already looking like a potential star. Taylor didn’t play last week against the Saints after that scary looking neck/shoulder injury against the Steelers, but he’s expected back for Sunday and could test the Jaguars offensive line and Trevor Lawrence.

5. What were your expectations for the Seahawks entering the 2021 season, and now — with Wilson’s injury and the 2-5 start — how have those expectations changed? Do you see any possible path for Seattle being able to turn this season around?

Mookie: I expected a playoff appearance through the Wild Card (I picked the Rams to win the NFC West), and then an exit by the Divisional Round. There were enough reservations I had about this team (especially on the defensive side) that gave me pause about any Super Bowl run for Seattle. At 2-5 and with Wilson injured, I now expect no playoffs. The Seahwks are well out of the divisional race already and don’t have tiebreakers on Minnesota or New Orleans, two teams that figure to be in the Wild Card mix. The Bears are probably the only other team Seattle plays the rest of the season in the NFC that might be in the playoff hunt, so that’s the last tiebreaker available to them. The Seahawks absolutely needed to win that New Orleans game to have a chance and they didn’t, so even if Wilson returns after the bye and they have a late-season rally it’s probably too late already.

Bonus: Score prediction?

Mookie: Seahawks 20 Jaguars 17. It’s going to be a miserable game to watch but for as much as I don’t think highly of Urban Meyer at all, the Jaguars nearly beat the Bengals on the road and were competitive with the Cardinals before the turnover barrage. If Wilson was starting I wouldn’t hesitate to pick Seattle, but Geno is starting and I do believe Seattle is a bottom-five team without Wilson. This game will be bottom-five quality but Seattle will at least go into the bye with a likely win.

A big thank you to Mookie for providing very thorough analysis and insights regarding Seattle. You can follow Mookie on Twitter, and to keep up with news and notes about the Seahawks, be sure to follow Field Gulls as well.