Sunday, August 26, 2012

Wilson shines! That was not the plan. Now what?

Seattle Seahawks vs. Kansas City Chiefs - Recap - August 24, 2012 - ESPN

Russell Wilson in his stunning performance against the KC Chiefs, one of the top defenses in 2011, has become a blessing and potentially a curse.  He has exceeded expectations as a developmental QB who had the most to learn about playing in a pro-style offense.  He is your classic, athletic college QB talent.  Offenses revolved around his strengths and minimized exposing flaws for the defense to exploit.  The team probably expected him to be Seneca Wallace 2.0, a career back-up who can play WR or run the Wildcat.  Surprisingly, Wilson made the adjustment this time around and now may be the "diamond in the rough" of the 2012 draft class, especially given a Seahawks team with an All-Pro quality RB and fairly stout defense that can minimize the potential and pressure of playing from behind.  All indications is that the situation could not be any better for this rookie.

But with all pleasant surprises come tough decisions that invite the temptation to break from the best laid plans.  In other words, do the Seahawks start Wilson or the major off-season investment of $26 million in Matt Flynn?  When the franchise decided to go in a new direction after Hasselback's departure, John Schneider, Seahawks GM, and his team of experts along with Pete Carroll conducted a thorough analysis of available QBs in free agency and likely available candidates in the draft.  The result was Matt Flynn, back-up QB extraordinaire from Green Bay, who broke the single-game passing TD team record of 5 in 2011 and consistently played smart, efficient football, especially knowing when to drive the ball deep and accurately.  He was at a minimum Hasselback 2.0.  He sat the bench and held a clipboard learning from a QB superstar.  In the most optimistic of perspectives, Flynn would evolve into the second coming of Aaron Rodgers and carry this franchise to storied heights.

So far, Flynn has looked more like Kevin Kolb of the Arizona Cardinals: unimpressive, inaccurate, and uninspiring.  Flynn has not adapted to this new offense but that's little excuse considering a rookie has learned the playbook better than he has.  In a common sense world, Wilson would be the no-brainer starter because he has EARNED it, but in the pros, ROI calculations, economics have a way to distract from football decisions.  $26 million with $10 million guaranteed is an expensive price tag for someone to hold a clipboard.

This is where the curse comes in.  Ambiguity and doubt enters the decision-making process.  So, let's say Wilson starts and has a pedestrian performance in his first few games, maybe even has more INTs than TDs but the Seahawks keep winning.  Does John Schneider put pressure on Pete Carroll to put Flynn in because of "lucky" wins?  Does he also feel a need to justify his investment in Flynn, if not his reputation?  And then the quicksand starts to take hold.  The coach isn't sure who should start on Sunday.  The offensive coordinator doesn't know which QB to really game plan with.  Offensive starters can't get a rhythm because they don't know who will show up in the huddle.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, this is not the saga of the 49ers during the Montana-Young rivalry.  In that case, management made firm and clear decisions.  Four Super Bowl wins speak for themselves.  The Wilson - Flynn (and even throw in Jackson for fun) will potentially mirror the Troy Aikman - Steve Walsh rivalry in Dallas in 1989.  Aikman was the golden boy #1 draft pick.  Scouts compared him to John Elway and Dan Marino.  He was a "can't miss."  New coach, Jimmy Johnson, formerly of the University of Miami, was in his "rookie" season of the NFL, replacing the coaching icon Tom Landry.  The pressure was on to win now and fast; otherwise, the natives would get restless.  So, (un)stunningly, Johnson drafted another QB in the supplemental draft.  This QB was not unfamiliar to Johnson.  It was Steve Walsh from Johnson's Miami Hurricane team.  In that first season, the Cowboys went 1-15.  The one win was led by Walsh.  Newspapers and pundits stirred the pot every week.  Factions arose.  Obviously, history tells us that Johnson finally learned to commit.  Aikman earned the job and won three Super Bowls.  Walsh was traded away having an obscure NFL career.

Now the lesson for the Seahawks is that ambiguity equals losing.  No single player will make them 15-1 or 1-15.  The team and coaching staff will decide that with their play and calls.  The critical decision is not so much who will start but what the Seahawks will do with the other guy.  The sheer presence of the "backup" will only dampen the "starter's" ability to coalescence team support and confidence and take ownership of the team.  Need I remind you of the Tebow and Orton saga and then Tebow's immediate trade after signing Manning?  Somehow, I'm pretty confident that Manning demanded that as one of his terms.

So as far as Wilson vs. Flynn goes, let the best man win but pray that Carroll and Schneider be the better men that press forward and not constantly look backwards for pillars of salt.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Seahawk QB Dilemma

QB Shuffle - Left to Right: Flynn, Jackson, Wilson
In only three seasons, Pete Carroll has managed to take a team that had lost its passion for the game into a rudderless direction.  First, he fires his OC that he recruited out of USC just after one season even though they did make the playoffs and beat the defending Super Bowl champions, New Orleans Saints.  (Jeremy thanks you for the 16-game adjustment to the NFL.  It usually takes 2 years to adapt to the speed of the game.  Pete, you should know that considering you did get fired from two head coaching jobs in the NFL.)

He then on camera tells the press after the Saints' game that his number priority is resigning Matt Hasselback.  By the end of the summer, Matt departs via free agency because Carroll didn't even give Hasselback, a Seahawk icon, the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting to basically tell him that he's fired.

Then in the next season, he acquires Tarvaris Jackson (T-Jack) from Minneapolis, where he couldn't make a dent.  He's here just because your new OC, Darrelle Bevelle, knows T-Jack and he gets his system.  Well, knowing and playing well are too different things.  T-Jack led the Seahawks to a subpar performance with a QB rating of 79.2.  I do give him credit for playing with a pectoral muscle tear.  He showed grit and perhaps another chance to lead the team for 2012.

But here we go again.  Carroll signs Matt Flynn, Green Bay back-up sensation.  (Sound familiar.)  He then drafts Russell Wilson, the live arm and athletic QB from Wisconsin.  Oh, yeah, don't forget Charlie Whitehurst who did win the playoff clinching game in Pete's first year.  So, in the course of his third season, Carroll has managed to make the most important position in the game and turn into a try-out week after week.  Somehow, I don't believe that's a working system for successful teams in the NFL.  Typically, you establish pecking orders early on; so the team can rally around the starting QB.  Pete, Oregon State might be calling you.  Seahawk nation, prepare for QB bingo this season.