RENTON — Pete Carroll knew that 6-6 records produced pink slips not legacies.
After his first year at USC in 2001 when the Trojans finished .500, Carroll decided all punches thrown would come from him. Always a defensive coach first, Carroll brought in schematic guru Alex Gibbs in the offseason to help him reset the USC offense. Carroll figured if his time in Los Angeles was going to be brief, he was going to at least have it transpire in the manner he saw fit as opposed to crossing fingers following deferring to offensive coordinators.
That, in part, helped turn the Trojans into an 11-2 team. Quarterback Carson Palmer, whom Carroll will oppose Thursday night when the Seahawks travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals, won the Heisman Trophy after 2002’s turnaround. He was later selected with the first pick in the draft.
So, Pete Carroll, offensive football coach, had arrived.
“We built it around the running game that you see now, and the passing principles that we have now in our own system right here,” Carroll said. “I just had always sat back to the guys that were in charge, and then I didn’t do that anymore.”
Over a three-week period toward the end of last season, the Seahawks scored 109 offensive points weeks 14-16. The burst has become a Utopian comparison point for the offense this season. Though, that thought is misguided.
More common was a lower output. The Seahawks averaged 17.8 overall points in 2012’s 13 other games, including defensive scores. The three-game spurt was an outlier.
“I don’t know if we’ll be able to reach the levels that we saw late last year, where we were scoring points at a huge rate,” Carroll said. “That was an enormous run that we had. But that’s good to expect that and I’d like to see that too.”
Through the first six games this year, while the defense is ranked second in the league, the offense has looked much the same as last season, if not better.
The average point total is up to 24.3. Removing the 45-17 trampling of Jacksonville, Seattle still averages 20.2, a slight bump from last year.
Quarterback Russell Wilson is the scourge or fuel of the offense, depending on perspective. Often lost is the fact that this is his second season. In addition, the Seahawks will be a run-first team at all times. And, any current assessment needs to include the caveat that three starters on the offensive line, including two Pro-Bowlers, were missing for two weeks. The Seahawks are still down two starters because of injuries to left tackle Russell Okung and right tackle Breno Giacomini.
Since the trio, including center Max Unger, was injured, Wilson has been on the run, which he said he “hates.” It’s a byproduct of a porous offensive line. It’s also something he’s simply good at and is a facet of the Seahawks’ offensive machine.
After running 17 times in the first three games combined, Wilson has rushed 33 times in the last three weeks. He’s been averaging 80 yards rushing during those three games.
“Me running and the balance of that, I really don’t think about it,” Wilson said. “It’s just one of those things that kind of flows with the rhythm of the play. The game happens so fast, I’m not really thinking about running at all. It just one of those things that happens.”
Wilson is also no longer a mystery to opposition. He said he’s seeing defenses do some different things this season in attempts to confuse him. Last year, the Seahawks were able to shift their offensive approach around midseason, essentially giving the league two Wilsons to look at. This year, the scout on him is expansive.
“What teams had prepared for last year (during that three-game stretch) was totally different than what they had prepared for early in the season,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “The schemes, the way that defense tries to attack an offense, that changes. We have to adapt to that.
“It may be a little more difficult this year because teams have a full body of work for Russell and our offense with him as a quarterback. It may look a little more difficult and it may be a little more difficult, but there’s still progress going on.”
That’s the word being repeated when the Seahawks comment on their offense. Progress. When the word incremental precedes it, the term is not a party starter. Yet, it’s something the Seahawks continue to lean on.
The Seahawks’ offensive improvement list contains three points: Better on third down; better in the red zone; and more explosive plays.
They are 15th in the league in red-zone touchdown percentage. This was an issue early last season, too.
“I think if you look back to last year too, or even earlier in the season I think we were dead last in the red zone to start the season,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “We kind of improved, we’ve kind of moved up, and we’ve kind of made that same jump last year. I was hoping we wouldn’t do that same climb, but we’re still working it out.”
After going 0-for-3 on third down to start the game Sunday, the Seahawks finished 5-for-10. The five conversions were as many as the team had the prior two games combined.
Many of the conversions were because of Wilson’s fleet feet, the ones he says he’s loathe to use unless chaos demands it.
The Seahawks’ offense is not dynamic. This is not the Buffalo Bills of the1990s or the St. Louis Rams of the early 2000s. It’s not even the Trojans of Carroll’s past.
But, it’s his style. Zone-blocking run attack. Mobile quarterback. Efficiency and wins.
After all, keeping your job is a form of progress, too.