In a bind for the first time since he seemingly sailed here from Los Angeles on the S.S. Win Forever, Pete Carroll attacked the predicament Wednesday in his classic Cap’n Sunshine fashion.
He whittled down the Seahawks’ many issues, most notably the recurrence of their annual decimating injury rash, to the phrase “a tremendous chance for us to do something special.” When reporters pressed him for more insight, he doused it with a self-benefitting humor, a kind used to deflect rather than amuse.
How will you approach being in this pickle, Uncle Pete?
“I hope I’ll approach it really well,” Carroll said, chuckling at himself.
Even when life is out of control, Carroll finds a way to control some aspect of it. But don’t let his charisma fool you. As the injuries mount, as the schedule strengthens, as the Seahawks become easier for opponents to decipher, the coach faces a challenge that will not only define his first season in Seattle, but one that threatens to destroy the solid progress the team has made thus far.
The Seahawks’ injury problems have the potential to turn their biggest weakness into a debacle and turn their biggest strength into another source of consternation.
Their biggest weakness, the offensive line, lost its second starter to a season-ending injury. Ben Hamilton joined Max Unger on the injured reserve list this week because of a major concussion. In addition, the situation at left tackle remains frightening with starter Russell Okung still recovering from an ankle injury and backup Tyler Polumbus still recovering from a knee injury. It means that guard Chester Pitts, who just saw his first action last week after recovering from microfracture knee surgery, is the left tackle if Okung or Polumbus can’t play Sunday.
Oh, and the opponent is the New York Giants, who are tied for third in the NFL with 24 sacks and have sent five of the seven starting quarterbacks they’ve faced to the locker room early. As Giants quarterback Eli Manning mentioned, their quarterback-crunching success rate is 71.4 percent.
And Matt Hasselbeck is getting over a concussion.
But just as concerning are the problems that could hinder the Seahawks’ biggest strength — the defense’s ability to stop the run. Before the Seahawks allowed 239 rushing yards to Oakland last week, they ranked No. 2 in the league in run defense. That poor performance dropped them to 10th. Now, they must try to recover without perhaps the two biggest factors in the improvement of their run D, end Red Bryant and tackle Colin Cole. Bryant is out for the season with a knee injury, and Cole’s ankle problem will keep him out several weeks. And though the Seahawks think tackle Brandon Mebane will return this week, he has missed the past three games with a calf problem.
Oh, and the Giants have the No. 4 rushing offense in the league.
Carroll is unfazed, of course. Or rather, he makes an unfazed presentation in public. His competition-based program is founded on the belief that it will spur the entire roster to play to its potential. He also hopes the fact that he finds a role for nearly every player means that his guys will be ready to “play up” when injuries create an opportunity like this.
Carroll’s message to his available players: “It’s not the guys that aren’t playing. It’s the guys that are playing.”
If Carroll were starring in an action movie, he would respond to having a gun pulled on him by lighting up a cigarette, taking a single drag, blowing smoke in the guy’s face and saying, “You sure you know how to use that thing?”
He manages to exude that kind of cool, even though he stammers and rarely speaks in complete sentences. Somehow, listening to Carroll talk for 20 minutes makes you think he does have this situation under control.
Then you look at the injury report and reconsider. Nine of the Seahawks’ 22 starters either can’t play or need to make significant progress this week just to have a chance to play.
If only it were as easy as embracing this “tremendous chance for us to do something special.”
If the Seahawks can split the next four games — against the Giants at home, at Arizona, at New Orleans and Kansas City at home — then it’ll be time to do for Carroll what he always asks of his players.
Still iffy on the coach? Well, of course. Who falls in love in seven games? You’ve seen good things. You’ve seen obvious improvement. You’ve seen inspired personnel decisions (like moving Bryant from tackle to end) and smart player acquisitions (the trade for running back Marshawn Lynch) and daring strategies that have worked despite criticism (the roster shuffle after the NFL cut date). But until this week, Carroll, with the help of general manager John Schneider, has been able to implement a plan without major obstacles. Now, he’s weaving through an entire obstacle course. Now, you’ll truly determine what he’s all about.
Pete’s in a pickle, laughing. Is he crazy? Or crafty?