Outside of stealing Seattle’s talent, there’s quite a bit to learn from former Patriots coach Pete Carroll’s Super Bowl-winning Seahawks in terms of the value he has placed on position players.
Culturally the Seahawks are as sound as they come, benefitting from a young and hungry group of players that average only 4.1 seasons of NFL experience on their 53-man roster. None had ever participated in a Super Bowl prior to Sunday’s massacre of the Denver Broncos. With such a large infusion of youth, the Seahawks were able to establish a loose and fun atmosphere where competition was routine and no job was ever safe. It bred camaraderie.
That’s eerily close to how the Patriots operate, with less emphasis publicly placed on how those competitions fare. You won’t hear about “Competition Wednesday” here.
Structurally, the Seahawks are also in a similar boat with the Patriots. Carroll handpicked general manager John Schneider (reportedly from a list of four options given to him), essentially giving him the keys to run the team with the blessing of management. Bill Belichick wields similar control over the Patriots, with director of player personnel Nick Caserio reporting to him.
But the two coaches diverge when it comes to philosophy, specifically when it comes to positions on the team they value. None of that is more apparent than in the draft and in free agency.
Since Carroll took over in 2010, he has drafted eight defensive linemen, a sure sign of his emphasis on the players up front. Only one was a core contributor this season, Bruce Irvin. But the Seahawks have brought in four others as free agents (Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel, Benson Mayowa) and traded for three more (Chris Clemons, Clinton McDonald, O’Brien Schofield). Of the four players that are holdovers from the Tim Ruskell era, two are defensive linemen (Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane). The 14 defensive linemen that have come through the Seahawks program since 2010 are by far the most of any position group on the team.
That set the stage for Carroll to infuse a competitive environment, with those with the right attitude and best ability winning out. We saw that on Sunday as the Broncos were able to get after Peyton Manning against the best offensive line in football, one that had allowed only 141 total pressures in the regular season and 13 total sacks. The front seven accounted for 14 hurries on Manning, four quarterback hits, and a sack.
It’s been a much different tale for Belichick and the Patriots, who have sought to revamp the secondary after finishing 30th, 31st, and 29th overall since 2010 in pass defense. The Patriots have drafted eight defensive backs, more than any other position. Devin McCourty and Alfonzo Dennard, two of those draft picks, have become quality starters. They’ve also added free agent Steve Gregory while trading for Aqib Talib. The investment has shown to be somewhat fruitful, as the Patriots finished 18th overall in pass defense in 2013.
But part of the Patriots’ pass defense woes has been the team’s inability to get to the quarterback. That was supposed to be shored up this past offseason when the Patriots brought in Tommy Kelly as a free agent to join Vince Wilfork. They also signed Armond Armstead out of Canada.
Unfortunately, Armstead never touched the field, and both Kelly and Wilfork suffered season-ending injuries. The Patriots were forced to utilize rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones as well as former practice squad player Sealver Siliga. With Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich as the team’s leading pass rushers, the Patriots totaled 40 sacks, good for 20th in the NFL.
Only four sacks behind the Seahawks.
Given the dire situation of the Patriots’ pass defense from 2010-12, it’s understandable that there was a greater need in the secondary. It’s been the Patriots’ chicken-and-egg dilemma.
Of course, the Seahawks scored big with draft picks Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Walter Thurmond, giving them a secondary that is unrivaled in the NFL. But the beauty of what Carroll has done in three short years is build depth on the line, using seven different players regularly. Even with their health woes, that’s one thing the Patriots are still working on.