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Originally published January 16, 2014 at 6:01 PM | Page modified January 16, 2014 at 7:15 PM

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No time for Pete Carroll, Seahawks to be conservative

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll shouldn’t be afraid to let quarterback Russell Wilson loose in the NFC title game against the 49ers.


Seattle Times staff columnist

Just win, baby

26-9

Seahawks’ record with Russell Wilson as the starting QB

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Jerry, Jerry, Jerry. The NFL is probably the most conservative professional sport. Winn... MORE
Analysis in the football world is frequently flakey. Wilson doesn't play Kaepernick... MORE
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It is the most Pete Carroll thing ever: The Seahawks coach, the king of complexity, is a gambler and a fraidy cat at the same time.

He’s the man most likely to take a crazy risk — or have a “hormonal upsurge,” as he once called it — and shrug it off as necessary aggressiveness. And he’s the man who is currently playing ultraconservative on offense despite having a young quarterback who has earned two Pro Bowl appearances and back-to-back seasons of 100 passer ratings.

Carroll’s competitive fire normally dictates that he wants his team to maximize its potential in every area. But with a Super Bowl in sight and seemingly no team capable of penetrating a Seahawks defense that has become historically stellar, Carroll has turned his self-proclaimed formula of strong D and a run-centric offense into a rigid, restrictive command.

Can this Seahawks team win a championship this way? Yes, absolutely. Look at how close they already are.

But what if they lose Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against San Francisco, or the Super Bowl against an elite AFC offense, because Carroll was unwilling to let the entire team show what it can do?

This is the story line of the Seahawks’ title run. If they aren’t hoisting the Lombardi Trophy next month, it will be because the offense didn’t do enough. While the offense is limited because its receiving corps is incomplete (Sidney Rice is out for the season, Percy Harvin is a perpetual question mark) and its offensive line is inconsistent in pass protection, it also specializes in creating explosive plays without committing turnovers.

Carroll loves winning, and he loves keeping his team challenged. So it’s surprising to see him handcuff the offense when he doesn’t need to do so. He’s absolutely right to play off his defense and direct the offense not to put its most dominant unit in terrible situations. But it seems that Carroll has gone to ridiculous extremes lately for no reason. That’s uncharacteristic of a coach who is in constant pursuit of excellence.

The Seahawks didn’t have a game this season in which they were too aggressive on offense and embarrassed themselves by turning over the ball too much. In fact, the Seahawks’ offensive struggles began after a four-game stretch in which they averaged 33.8 points, concluding with their most complete performance of the season in a 34-7 victory over New Orleans on Dec. 2.

Since then, the Seahawks haven’t been the same. They averaged 19.3 points and 263 yards per game in the final four games of the regular season, finishing with a 2-2 record after an 11-1 start.

Last Saturday, on a wet and windy divisional round playoff game at CenturyLink Field, they built a 16-0 lead, sat on it and held on to beat New Orleans again 23-15. The strategy was wise, but it did little to alleviate concerns that this offense is broken.

The Seahawks need to do more against the 49ers. San Francisco might have the only defense that rivals Seattle’s in the NFL this season. But the 49ers have also been functioning as the most complete team in the league the past six weeks. They have found themselves on offense, and while you shouldn’t expect the 49ers to score a lot against the Seahawks, they likely won’t come here and score just three points like they did in Week 2.

You’d like to see the Seahawks create more wiggle room in this game, so that it doesn’t end up like the Arizona loss last month. Remember that game? The defense was brilliant. The offense did nothing. Carson Palmer made one great throw to Michael Floyd, and though Byron Maxwell covered the play well and even tipped the football, Floyd came down with the game-winning catch. Arizona won, 17-10.

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that the Seahawks are capable of more on offense. For that to happen, the commitment must be there.

Russell Wilson’s 100.6 career passer rating makes him the most efficient quarterback in NFL history through his first two seasons. Wilson had one multiple-interception game this season, and it came more than two months ago. Through the first 12 games of the regular season, the Seahawks managed to average 28.3 points per game while keeping turnovers low and refusing to defy Carroll’s “It’s All About The Ball” mandate.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is a prime head-coaching candidate for a reason. Wide receivers Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin produce when they are targeted. Tight end Zach Miller is a capable receiving threat. If Harvin can recover from a concussion, there’s another weapon. The Seahawks aren’t the most dynamic collection of weapons, but they’re good enough.

The Seahawks aren’t the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. They don’t have Trent Dilfer at quarterback. Wilson has shown he can be more than a game manager. They can win a Super Bowl the way the Ravens did that year, but why make it so difficult?

Carroll is being bashful, but you’ve seen his daring side before. He is being boring, but you’ve seen him be bold. He has the ol’ angel and devil on each shoulder right now. He thinks it’s the angel telling him to be conservative, but that might actually be Jim Harbaugh with a harp and wings.

The Seahawks don’t have to turn into the Denver Broncos. They should attack the game offensively, however. It’s all about balance, as Carroll often says when explaining why the Seahawks don’t air it out like other teams.

Well, right now, the Seahawks are off balance because they’re too vanilla. No coach is better at self-analysis than Carroll. This week, he should look at the situation and live by a different motto.

No risk, no rings.



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