Has Bevell Become Liability For The Seahawks?
By Corbin Smith
It's a great time to be a Seattle Seahawks fan, and I have no intentions of minimizing one of the biggest wins in franchise history.
After defeating the New Orleans Saints 23-15 on Saturday to earn a spot in the NFC Championship game next weekend, the Seahawks find themselves one win away from reaching the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history. The defense suffocated Drew Brees most of the afternoon, Marshawn Lynch finally had a breakthrough game after struggling for several weeks, and the Seahawks get to play one more game in front of the best home crowd in all of football. And that game will be against a bitter rival that this team badly wants to send home for the off-season.
So why do I feel so unsettled about Saturday's performance? And why do I suddenly find myself with little confidence in offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell?
Look, I'll be the first to admit that I've been a big fan of Bevell since he joined Seattle's staff a few years ago. He's done a phenomenal job helping Russell Wilson develop while also maintaining an impressive rushing attack led by Lynch. When Wilson struggled early as a rookie last year, Bevell used conservative play calling tactics to protect his young quarterback without hurting Seattle's ability to win football games. It was almost as if Wilson was transitioning from training wheels to riding a regular bike during the first half of the season, but as he continued to grow and become more comfortable running the offense, the playbook began to open up and the nation got to see how great he could be.
Wilson tossed for well over 300 yards in a close defeat to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Divisional round last year, and for most of the 2013 season, Bevell's aggressive game plans allowed Wilson to beat teams through the air. He threw for 320 in a season-opening win over the Carolina Panthers and proved to be the difference in a low scoring affair. He assaulted the Saints in Week 13 for 310 yards and three touchdowns en route to a 34-7 victory at home. With his presence as a passer becoming more prominent, a Super Bowl favorite became even more dangerous.
Somewhere along the way, however, Bevell decided to neglect a large portion of his playbook. Somewhere along the way, he decided to switch the gears into reverse and put the training wheels back on. Somewhere along the way, he forgot how special of a talent he has under center and prevented him from playing to his full potential.
If you've watched the Seahawks play over the past month, the offense simply isn't clicking, and I believe Bevell deserves most of the blame for these mediocre showings. Many have claimed that Lynch's late-season swoon stemmed from being worn down, and that may have been part of the problem. But handicapping the offense and limiting Wilson's ability as a passer played a role, as defenses continued to stack eight or more players in the box daring the Seahawks to pass. Bevell has been stubborn, continuing to ignorantly run the same plays over and over and over again.
As a play caller, there's nothing wrong with using the same play multiple times if it is working. But as some point, you have to realize that a play isn't working and that the defense has it on lock down. I've watched Bevell aimlessly call sweep and pitch plays on a consistent basis in recent games, and a minimum two yard loss results every time. I've sighed out loud in front of the television as I watched Wilson throw yet another slant on a 3rd down and short play. Simply put, the play calling has been unimaginative, undesirable, and most importantly, too predictable.
The Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, and Saints all deserve credit for strong defensive performances against Seattle the last three games, but it's easy to replicate performances when the opposing team refuses to make adjustments. All three of those teams used a similar blueprint to shut down the Seahawks, stacking the box and having a linebacker ready on the outside for when Bevell decides to call yet another play action boot play for Wilson. The offensive line has played better in recent weeks, but Wilson has suddenly become an indecisive shell of himself who can't throw the football accurately at the opportune moment. Normally among the most poised quarterbacks in the league, he's seemed uncharacteristically rattled at times, and all of these concerns arose because of tentative coaching.
Wilson deserves to be under some fire for his recent accuracy issues, and weather conditions on Saturday certainly played a part in only letting him throw 18 times. I understand and respect that logic.
But weather conditions had nothing to do with offensive struggles against Arizona or St. Louis, and Brees found success passing in the fourth quarter of the divisional playoff game for the opposition. Wilson has averaged roughly 147 yards per game in the last four games for the Seahawks, and he threw for under 110 yards in two of those games, including a paltry 103 against the Saints. Players and coaches keep talking about how they don't need to pass the football well to win games, but there's no way that this team can beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday without a great game from Wilson. Lynch will continue to be the main focal point on offense, but Bevell needs to look in the mirror and realize that it's time to re-open his playbook and give his quarterback a chance to be successful.
Critics continue to blast Seattle's receiving core, but even with Percy Harvin again battling the injury bug, Bevell should have plenty of confidence in the receivers left available to play. Doug Baldwin has been one of the most underrated targets in the league since arriving as an undrafted free agent, while Golden Tate has an uncanny ability to break tackles and generate big plays after the catch. Tight end Zach Miller doesn't have great speed, but he's a reliable possession receiver who can move the chains and creates match-up problems thanks to his size. Losing Sidney Rice earlier this year hurt, but the pieces are still in place for Seattle to have an explosive passing game. Bevell simply has to allow it to happen!
Enough with the slants, enough with the sweeps and toss plays to Lynch, and please, enough with running the same boot play on first down. This team has way too much talent to cut the playbook to five plays, but it seems like that is all the Seahawks have ran for over a month. I'm ready to see this offense flourish with a strong mid-range passing attack that makes opponents pay for stacking the box in an attempt to shut down Lynch. I'm ready to see Bevell remove the training wheels once again and let his star quarterback win games with both his arm and his legs. And I'm mostly ready to see the Seahawks' real offense stand up and provide some support for one of the best defensive units this game has ever seen.
Make it happen, Darrell Bevell. Seattle's Super Bowl aspirations rest on your shoulders.