In their first season under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks were good at the start and strong at the finish. Finding a way to bridge one to the other will be a key moving forward – and a key to moving forward.
It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.
Of all the catchphrases that served as cornerstones to Pete Carroll’s first season as coach of the Seahawks, that is the one that caught on most – especially as the team was struggling and then surging toward the end of the just-completed season.
But actually, the Seahawks started and finished just fine.
They started 4-2, including wins over the Bears in Chicago and the San Diego Chargers at Qwest Field. They finished the regular season with a victory over the St. Louis Rams that clinched the NFC West title and then stunned the football world by upsetting the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs, before Sunday’s season-ending loss to the Bears in the divisional round.
It’s the middle that needs improving as Carroll sets his sights on his second season.
That’s because in between starting 4-2 and finishing 2-1, the Seahawks lost seven of nine games – with the wins over the 5-11 Arizona Cardinals and 2-14 Carolina Panthers. In those other seven games, the Seahawks, well … hmmm … how to put it?
“We putzed around,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said.
That works. Hasselbeck was talking specifically about the 35-24 loss to the Bears on Sunday. But the problems the Seahawks had in that game were the same areas that bit them repeatedly during losses to the Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – by a combined score of 262-107.
In those games, the Seahawks couldn’t stop the run, allowing an average of 174.1 rushing yards. They couldn’t run the ball, averaging 62.7 rushing yards. They couldn’t get off the field on third downs, as opponents converted 49 percent (55 of 113) on the pivotal down. They couldn’t sustain drives, converting 29 percent on third downs (25 of 85). They didn’t force enough turnovers (five). They turned the ball over too often (17).
“In this last game, I just thought in the first half it was like a traditional what this team and a lot of teams in our division look like in that 10 a.m. game,” Hasselbeck said of the Seattle start time for the game at Soldier Field. “We’ve got to answer that. They’re not going to realign the time zones. So we’ve got to find an answer to that.
“It’s very similar to warm-weather teams or dome-(stadium) teams who struggle in cold weather. Got to find a way. It’s not going to change. How you solve that, I don’t know.”
In stark contrast, during their eight wins the Seahawks were able to run the ball, averaging 120.1 yards and producing six of their seven 100-plus yard rushing performance. And they stopped the run, allowing an average of 76.0 rushing yards. They were able to get off the field on third downs, as opponents converted 23 percent (24 of 106). And they did a better job of sustaining drives, converting 39 percent on third downs (46 of 117). They forced turnovers (17). They didn’t turn the ball over as often (nine).
Bridging that start/finish performance gap is Step One heading into Season Two.
“I feel very strongly that we’ve made progress. We’ve come together as a team,” Carroll said, buoyed by the way the team finished Season One.
“We’ve kind of joined forces and finished in a manner that gave us something that we were proud of – being a division champion is important to our program. Our playoff opportunities – we took advantage of one, we didn’t take advantage of the other – didn’t like the way we finished.
“So we end in that disappointment.”
Which Carroll will use as motivation moving forward.
“We’re very positive and look forward to what’s coming up,” he said. “We know we’ve made a lot of strides.”
The next needed stride is finding a way to build a performance bridge over the “putz” period, so the Seahawks can more easily connect the start and the finish.