Thiel: Credit Seahawks for switching gears

Thiel: Credit Seahawks for switching gears

Credit: AP

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll talks to players on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)

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by Art Thiel

SportsPressNorthwest

Posted on December 15, 2011 at 9:05 AM

Updated Saturday, Dec 17 at 6:01 PM

Remember how excited the Seahawks were earlier in the season about their up-tempo, no-huddle offense?

Now? Never mind. Fugeddaboutit. Out-dated as, "You've got mail."

In light of subsequent success of the Marshawn Lynch-led throwback to the crush-rush, the easiest thing is to mock the Seahawks for their foolishness. A harder thing to do is credit them for having the guts to bail out mid-season and try something else.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is not a dogma guy. Especially when his team is on the verge of being dog meat. After quarterback Tarvaris Jackson injured a chest muscle Oct. 9 in a win over the New York Giants, the Seahawks in their next three games scored 3, 12 and 13 points. They were 2-6 and on the bus to Oblivion, catching up to  the Mariners.

“I was just personally disappointed that we weren’t making progress," Carroll said Wednesday of the no-huddle tactics that worked until they didn't. "I felt like we stuck ourselves in the ground a little bit. It was really when Tarvaris  got hurt and we tried to stick with it and we put it on Charlie Whitehurst. Tarvaris was a little more adept at being in that situation because of his experience, and it just didn’t feel like we’d gone anywhere.

"It didn’t take off like we thought. I brought it to (his coaches) and I said, ‘Let’s stop what we’re doing here. Let’s think about going back to what we wanted to do, regardless of what the results are.’ "

That took some guts. Sure, desperation is often disguised as courage. But a coach has to know when to change. If the change works, he is open to criticism that he should have done it earlier. But that heat is a trifle compared to the solar flare that erupts from not changing at all.

Apparently, the switch won immediate approval, particularly with assistant head coach Tom Cable, the guy who is genetically predisposed to be an engineer for a locomotive.

"Tom was totally on board," he said. "That’s why he’s here with us. He understands what we wanted to do. We agreed to do the other things too, but when we took the turn, we were excited about it. Fortunately, it’s turned us."

The give-up on the no-huddle began with the Dallas game Nov. 6. Even though the outcome was a 23-13 loss, it was the first of six games of 100 or more rushing yards, the longest team streak since 2002-03. Over those six games, Seattle's 850 yards rushing is second in the NFL to the 1,150 yards of Denver and its mythological quarterback, Tim Tebow.

Absolutely without coincidence, the Seahawks have won four of the five games since Dallas, and head to Chicago Sunday for a game with the fading Bears, losers of their last three in a row. The Bears, however, rank 10th in the NFL on defense and will be the gnarliest outfit to test the revamped plan.

The Seattle counterpunch is a more effective passing game because defenses don't dare blitz Jackson as much. Part of the reason the Seahawks went up-tempo was to help Jackson, who has trouble reading complex defenses that come with substitutions provided by a conventionally paced offense. But the commitment to the run forces defenses to stack up to stop it.

That means  Jackson can find tight ends and slot receivers more readily, as evidenced by the team-high seven receptions by rookie wideout Doug Baldwin in the 30-13 win Monday night triumph over the St. Louis Rams. Besides Baldwin's 29-yard catch for a touchdown, the Seahawks did not have a completion longer than 23 yards. They had only one turnover, a fumble caused by a messed-up handoff between Jackson and Lynch.

Backed by good defense and special teams, the Seahawks offense can now play a clock-controlling, low-risk offense that permits Jackson to manage the game, and not have to win it with a heavy emphasis on passing.

"We had the philosophy from day one -- running the football -- we just kind of took awhile to get back to it," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "It's good to know we can, at any time, go back to throwing the ball, then get the explosive plays off the play-action.

"We just re-assessed things and felt like we kind of strayed from where we wanted to be."

Most men never admit to being lost.  But once they do, finding a way back becomes easier.  Football is a macho game, but it is won most often by players and coaches who are smart enough to know when they are foolish.

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