Icy Issue: Pete Carroll's big mistake starting Russell over Flynn
By Joseph Fell
Cold, Hard Football Facts Ice Man
Opinions about Pete Carroll are diverse as the celebrities who populated the USC sideline during Carroll’s tenure as head coach.
Some fans believe that Carroll is a rules-bending rat who conveniently fled the sinking ship of the USC football program immediately before sanctions were imposed.
Others believe that Carroll is a visionary coach whose relentless innovation will eventually allow the Seattle Seahawks to rule the NFC West.
But here's one take on Carroll you can take to the bank: his decision to name rookie Russell Wilson the starting quarterback ahead of Matt Flynn will prove Carroll’s worst move during his tenure as Seattle's head coach
Carroll: the Kate Hudson of QB relationships
Regardless of what one thinks about Carroll, most fans agree that he is a coach who is unafraid to take risks and eschew convention.
During his first two seasons as Seattle's head coach, Carroll has attempted to turn around the careers of three of the most controversial wide receivers in recent NFL history. Instead of pursuing safer options, Carroll rolled the dice with the overweight and motivationally-challenged Mike Williams, the perpetually malcontented and drop-prone Braylon Edwards, and the tempestuous Terrell Owens.
Carroll has also gone through quarterbacks more quickly than Kate Hudson has gone through rock star boyfriends. In the span of two seasons, Carroll has shuffled three quarterbacks through the starter’s role with little regard to maintaining continuity at the position.
Despite his penchant for change, Carroll’s era of constant change at the quarterback position appeared to be at an end when the Seahawks shelled out a three-year contract worth $19.5 million to bring in Matt Flynn during the offseason.
Flynn became the second coming of Tom Brady in many general managers’ eyes after he threw for 480 yards and 6 touchdowns against the Detroit Lions in the last game of the season, and he was the most highly sought-after quarterback in the free agent market during the past offseason.
Although Carroll raised some eyebrows when the Seahawks selected Wilson in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, few analysts expected Wilson to seriously challenge Flynn for the starting job this year. After all, the Seahawks had two high-priced veteran quarterbacks with on the roster--why go with a rookie quarterback?
However, just as soon as Seahawks fans began to shell out their hard-earned money for jerseys with Flynn’s name on the back, Carroll once again demonstrated his flair for the dramatic by announcing that Wilson would be the Seahawks’ starting quarterback this fall.
This experiment will prove a disaster.
The NFC West is a mere Alex Smith regression away from being a wide-open division, and the Seahawks would have a solid chance of winning the NFC West crown if the San Francisco 49ers fail to live up to expectations.
By eschewing a veteran for an untested rookie, though, Carroll is almost guaranteeing that the Seahawks will not one of the teams with a serious chance at filling the 49ers’ void.
Sure, Wilson outperformed Flynn in the preseason. In fact, it wasn't even close:
- Wilson: 35 of 52, 67.3%, 464 yards, 8.92 YPA, 5 TD, 1 INT, 119.4 rating
- Flynn: 27 of 26, 65.4%, 102 yards, 3.92 YPA, 0 TD, 1 INT, 56.9 rating
Based on statistics alone, Carroll’s decision to start Wilson seems like a no-brainer. But there is much more to the story in this case.
A closer look at Seattle's 3-0 preseason reveals that Carroll’s decision to start Wilson is at best foolhardy and at worst dangerous to the short-term future of the franchise.
The case for Matt Flynn
First, Wilson was given more opportunity to prove himself than Flynn, who didn’t even play in Seattle's third preseason game, a 44-14 win at Kansas City Chiefs.
Would Flynn have made up the difference in yardage and touchdowns? Probably not. Could Flynn have shredded the Chiefs’ defense like Wilson did? Possibly.
Is it sensible to hold a quarterback competition in which one quarterback has three games to prove himself and the other quarterback only has two games to prove himself?
Even when both quarterbacks split playing time during the first two preseason games, Wilson had more passing attempts than Flynn. In the first two preseason games, Flynn passed the ball only 26 times, while Wilson attempted 33 passes.
Second, Wilson didn’t face an opposing first-team defense until the third preseason game. Prior to last week’s game, Wilson entered in the second half.
Essentially, Carroll is basing his decision to start Wilson on only one half of football that resembled the type of competition and talent that Wilson will face every week in the NFL.
Wilson feasted on defenses consisting largely of backups and inexperienced young players, while Flynn faced the first-team defenses of the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos.
The 2011 Titans ranked fifth among all NFL defenses in CHFF’s Defensive Real Passing Yards Per Attempt, limiting opposing quarterbacks to an average of 5.86 yards per pass.
Third, there is no pressing reason to start Wilson immediately. This isn’t Cleveland, where the Browns imported a 28-year-old rookie quarterback who needs to play right away.
Wilson is only 23 and has at least 10 years of productive football ahead of him. Flynn is 27. Why not start the older, more experienced quarterback, and if he fails, turn the reigns over to the rookie quarterback? Unexplainable.
Lastly, Wilson’s decision to bench Flynn should cause Seahawks fans to wonder if Carroll even watched any preseason action. Flynn was robbed of a spectacular 46-yard touchdown pass against the Broncos when a rusty and wide open Owens—who hadn’t played a down of football in the NFL since 2010—dropped the pass.
Carroll may be an unpredictable coach, but even he should be able to understand that a perfectly thrown dropped pass isn’t the fault of the quarterback.
Flynn can find one silver lining in this entire mess, though. Carroll’s fondness for changing quarterbacks should give Flynn reason to believe that Carroll won’t hesitate to replace Wilson with Flynn when Wilson inevitably struggles behind center.
While this outcome may ultimately vindicate Flynn’s feelings about being passed over as the starter, a lost season will rob the Seahawks’ fans of the opportunity to see a winning team in 2012.
A fan base whose energy shook the Earth with earthquake-like force during the 2010 playoffs deserves better than a coach who treats the Seahawks’ roster like his own personal Madden 13 franchise.
Perhaps Carroll will have the opportunity to sit with those fans in 2013. His experiments with reclamation projects at wide receiver have had limited success, and his inability to maintain continuity at the quarterback position resulted in a lost 2011 season with the inept Tarvaris Jackson behind center.
Starting Wilson will most likely lead to another wasted season, and this move may be the one that leads owner Paul Allen to fire Carroll.
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