I don’t often make a habit of reading the comments on Seattle Seahawks’ posts on Facebook. However, every now and then I find myself inexorably attracted, knowing full well the dangers. One of those moments came after the loss to the San Francisco 49ers. There was one prevailing theme: the refs cost us the game against the Niners.
While this is a tried and true argument from Hawks teams past, I just didn’t see it on the football field. Not once did I see a play on which the Hawks were penalized that I felt was unjust. That is not to say that penalties were not a problem on Sunday. On the contrary, they were a huge problem. But that was not the fault of the refs: it was a problem with the Hawks, the defensive unit in particular.
There is an oft repeated statistic this year: the Seahawks are the second most penalized team, behind only the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is not something new in the Pete Carroll era. While the first year under Carroll, the Seahawks were just the 11th most penalized team in the league, the numbers have just gotten worse. 2011 saw the Hawks as the 2nd most penalized team, behind only the Raiders. Improving to just the 8th most penalized team in 2012, the Seahawks regressed again this year.
Is there a discipline problem in the locker room culture of Pete Carroll’s Seahawks? Absolutely. The penalties are just one indication. The suspensions and drug problems of Seattle make headlines regularly. From Brandon Browner to Walter Thurmond, substance abuse suspensions abound. Browner is currently in the process of appealing a 16 game suspension. While some of these (see Bruce Irvin’s), are PED suspensions, many are for other violations of the substance abuse policy of the NFL. Since 2010, eight Seahawks have been suspended for drug related offenses. In fact, some have started referring to the Legion of Boom as the “Legion of Bong” or, even, the whole team as the THC-Hawks.
These problems severely impact the team. Defensive depth is taking a hit. So far, this season, the team has averaged nearly 2 first downs for their opponent on accepted penalties. In a close game, come playoff time, a couple of first downs can be absolutely crucial.
These discipline issues are something the Hawks have seen particularly under Pete Carroll. Don’t get me wrong. I, for the most part, love the positive, upbeat and competitive philosophy of Coach Pete. For those who have not read the ESPN story titled “Lotus pose on two” by Alyssa Roenigk on the Hawks unusual culture, you should. I love the culture. But the Achilles’ heel of the culture might be discipline.
Sure, top defenses often have an edge and intensity that makes them something to be feared. Toeing the line instills a sense of ferocity in a defense. But this has gone beyond that. A team does not need to be so heavily penalized, often for senseless reasons, to be successful.
Perhaps the best correlation for this is the 2005 Seahawks, who appeared in Super Bowl XL. Similar to this year’s team, the Hawks did not lose at home, dominating through the first two rounds of the playoffs at home. However, there is at least one notable difference: 2005’s Seahawks were the least penalized team in the league.
While the Niners loss was a minor speed bump in the likely path to the NFC’s number 1 seed, the discipline problems continue to rear their ugly head. Being a Seahawks fan has prepared me for all sorts of heartbreak, but losing a playoff game because of penalties would bring it to a new low. The Hawks have three weeks to clean it up before the postseason. Coach Pete has silenced many of his critics and, hopefully, he can do it once more on the biggest stages of football.