The Elephant in the Locker Room: Why Pete Carroll’s Defensive Vision Matters

Hawks-150Expectations are high, and everyone’s paying attention… But every week it seems like there’s some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our World Champions.

By Greg Wright

On Christmas Eve, my brother Bob and I talked football. It was fun, because Bob and I played together for one year in high school. (Actually, we practiced together. He was a senior on the varsity team for Mike Huard’s Foster High School Bulldogs, while I wouldn’t crack the starting varsity lineup until midway through my own senior year under Huard, thanks to Bob Pesicka’s broken arm.) And it was fun because we were talking about the Seahawks.

We were talking about the remarkable run of defensive performances to finish the season when Bob asked, “Is this by design? What is it that Pete Carroll does differently than other coaches?”

Well, the Seahawks D has been a tremendous topic of conversation in the press this week. Let’s review what key journalists have to say about some truly remarkable numbers and connections.

Clare Farnsworth,

The defense did not allow a point in the fourth quarter of the last six games, and yielded only 13 in the second halves during the six-game winning streak. And that included the Cardinals, who outscored their other opponents 102-64 in the fourth quarter this season.

John McGrath at the Tacoma News Tribune:

The athleticism [Jordan] Hill showed [on his interception] didn’t surprise Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.

“Everybody in the program has to have good hands,” he said, “and it showed up right there why that’s so important.”

Developing and maintaining dexterity, Carroll explained, “is something we always preach. We throw the ball every day. Everybody has to catch the ball every day in practice.”

Carroll’s belief in a good-hands policy would seem to be another example of his cutting edge coaching principles, but he was taught that 30 years ago as a defensive backs coach on Bud Grant’s Minnesota Vikings staff.

“I give that one totally to Bud Grant,” Carroll said of his close friend and professional mentor. “That was Coach Grant’s deal, and I just swiped it.”

The Seahawks’ defense has led the NFL in average points allowed the past three seasons. The last team to do that was the Vikings in 1969-71, when they were led by those “Purple People Eaters” – ends Carl Eller and Jim Marshall and tackles Alan Page and Gary Larsen, who was later replaced by Doug Sutherland.

And there’s another connection, because Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was the Vikings’ defensive backs coach from 1985-89. The “Purple People Eaters” were long gone, but their coach – Bud Grant – was still around, in his second go-around with the team.

“That was a great time for them and the defense that they played. I know Bud had great regard for those guys that played for all those years,” Carroll said Monday during his weekly day-after session with the media. “There was a point, he would say, that they started the same 11 guys for seven straight years – if you can imagine that in this day and age. That’s why they got their nickname, because they played together so long and were so good at it.”

As for the Seahawks, they allowed an average of 15.9 points this season – and 6.5 during the six-game winning streak to close the season; 14.4 points in 2013; and 15.3 points in 2012.

“It’s a real point of pride,” Carroll said.  “That kind of consistency, it’s rare. When you matchup with a team that’s got a nickname like that, that’s pretty good stuff.”

Steve Rudman at Sports Press NW:

Go back to the beginning of the Super Bowl era (1966). Only seven teams allowed fewer than 50 points in their final six regular-season games:

Year Team Coach PA Opponents, Points
1976 Steelers Chuck Noll 22 KC 0, Mia 3, Hou 16, Cin 3, TB 0, Hou 0
1975 Rams Chuck Knox 32 Atl 7, Chi 10, Det 0, NO 7, GB 5, Pitt 3
2014 Seahawks Pete Carroll 39 Ariz 3, SF 3, Phil 14, SF 7, Ariz 6, StL 6
2000 Titans Jeff Fisher 42 Cle 10, Jax 16, Phil 13, Cin 3, Cle 0, Dal 0
1968 Colts Don Shula 46 Det 10, StL 0, Minn 9, Atl 0, GB 3, Rams 24
2009 Jets Rex Ryan 47 Car 6, Buff 13, TB 3, Atl 10, Ind 15, Cin 0
1972 Steelers Chuck Noll 48 KC 7, Cle 26, Minn 10, Cle 0, Hou 3, SD 2

More from Farnsworth:

Nine teams scored at least 400 points [in 2014] – the Green Bay Packers (486), Broncos (482), Philadelphia Eagles (474), New England Patriots (468), Dallas Cowboys (467), Colts (458), Steelers (436), Baltimore Ravens (409) and Saints (401). And that ties for the second-most in league history.

The league-wide completion percentage (.626), passer rating (88.9) and touchdown passes (807) also surpassed the previous marks that were set last season – .612, 86.0 and 804.

Those numbers against the Seahawks’ No. 1-ranked passing defense were .617, 80.4 and 17. During the six-game winning streak to close the regular season, those numbers were .540, 54.6 and 2 (with seven interceptions).

Brady Henderson, 710 ESPN Seattle:

“When you gain the notoriety and the respect, it’s demonstrated by the fact the ball doesn’t go your way,” Carroll said. “[Earl Thomas] doesn’t see much but that’s a big, big plus for us. That means that post routes and seam routes don’t happen. That’s huge because that’s how people score the most in the league with the throwing game. So he’s been a huge factor.”

Not just in the Seahawks’ pass defense, which finished first in the NFL. They also had the league’s third-ranked run defense, and a big reason why Seattle finished in the top five in both categories was its ability to limit explosive plays, which are defined as runs of 12 yards or more and passes gaining at least 16 yards. According to the team’s website, Seattle allowed the fewest such plays in the league at 76, which was 10 fewer than the next best team.

So, yes — what the Seahawks are up to at the close of this season — and, really, in the entirety of the Legion of Boom era — may be unprecedented when you consider how rules changes have affected the game in recent years. And by any standards, the Hawks’ D ranks with the best in history.

And yes, it’s by design. Pete Carroll developed as a coach under defensive geniuses, and has (as a head coach in the NFL) also valued time of possession, a league-leading rushing game, turnover margin, speed, strength, intelligence, and having fun.

And, as I noted earlier this year, keeping games close in the fourth quarter. What Carroll calls “finishing.”

Let’s take a closer look at this single facet of the Seahawks’ game, since no one else has bothered to.

The following table lists the maximum points the Hawks have trailed by in every game under Pete Carroll.


Playing from Behind — Maximum Lead Held By Opponent
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
3 16 10 4 4
24 24 0 0 13
0 7 5 0 0
17 17 9 17 0
7 3 4 6 7
0 3 13 3 18
30 22 7 0 6
41 17 4 3 0
7 0 7 21 7
18 7 0 0 7
18 7 3 0 0
14 0 7 0 0
33 0 0 6 7
24 7 0 0 4
24 6 0 7 3
0 10 4 0 6
10 14 0
28 20 10
Reg. Seas. Avg. 16.3 9.1 4.6 4.2 5.1
Postseas. Avg. 19 17 3.3
Cum. Avg. 16.6 9.1 5.9 4.1 5.1

Notice how the cumulative average of the opponents’ leads has dropped since 2010 — and how stunning that figure was during the post-season last year. In the Legion of Boom era, the Seahawks simply have not played from behind by large margins.

In fact, as many outlets have noted in recent weeks, since Russell Wilson has arrived on the scene, there has not been a single game, playoffs included, in which the Seahawks have not held the lead at some point.

Think about that.

After you have, you may look at the above table and think, “Well, gee. Maybe I should be worried, then. Seattle’s Average Maximum Point Deficit is almost a whole point higher this year when compared to last, and it’s even worse than in 2012. Maybe this means they’re slipping. Maybe I should be worried heading into the playoffs.”

I thought about that, too. But two factors skew the averages in favor of 2013 — the slow start this year, and the number of games in which Seattle never trailed. If you remove the latter from the analysis, you get the following adjusted averages:


Reg. Seas. Adj. 20.0 11.2 6.6 8.4 7.5

From that standpoint, you can see that the Seahawks have actually improved over last season. And they’re peaking at the right time.

Finally, compare Seattle’s 5.1 cumulative / 7.5 adjusted to the figures for the New England Patriots, the team most likely to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year: 6.7 cumulative / 9.7 adjusted. And that includes a game in which the Patriots trailed by a whopping 34 points. The last time Seattle trailed by that much was in 2010.

So here is where Carroll’s design should give us all warm fuzzies in the bye week:

  • Seattle is almost certain not to trail by more than 10 in any post-season game this year… and that figure will likely be 7 or less;
  • every game will at the very least be closely contested;
  • the Hawks will likely hold a lead at some point in each…
  • and the Seahawks know how to finish.


One Response to “The Elephant in the Locker Room: Why Pete Carroll’s Defensive Vision Matters”
  1. lorraine drake says:

    love pete carroll he is like a father to his team- and I well remember when the seahawks did poorly-pete works with his team like he is there father. he also plays a lot of pranks on them with his great sence of humor – the team wants to please him and that is so important- notice all the hugs one at a time that pete gives the team win or lose. it seems every game they do start slow and then warm up – I am so excited to find out who they play on the 12th

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