July 27, 2021

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The Pete Carroll All-Stars | Football Outsiders

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The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the nature of a lot of offseason football content, and amidst our brainstorming sessions to come up with ideas, we decided to revive our old “coaching all-star team” series. In these articles, we take a historical look back at some of the NFL’s best or most famous coaches and identify the best player-seasons in those coaches’ history. Obviously, each player included on these lists is the clearly correct choice at that position, and any differences of opinion are simply wrong.

We kick off the 2020 iteration of this series with the NFL’s current oldest head coach, Pete Carroll. Carroll began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, the University of the Pacific, in 1973 and spent 11 years working his way up the defensive food chain in college before taking a job with the Bills as their defensive backs coach in 1984. He landed his first NFL defensive coordinator job with the Jets in 1990 and was eventually named head coach there for just one season in 1994. After a 6-5 start, the Jets lost five games in a row down the stretch, and Carroll subsequently got the axe.

Carroll then spent two more years as a defensive coordinator, this time in San Francisco, and a pair of top-two finishes in defensive DVOA earned him another shot as a head coach, this time in New England to replace Bill Parcells. His Patriots tenure was an improvement over his time with the Jets, but his teams still declined each year, going from AFC East champs and seventh in overall DVOA in 1997 to last in the division and 21st in DVOA in 1999.

Another firing forced Carroll to return to the college ranks, where he presided over USC’s resurgence on the national scale, finishing with two national championships and runner-up status in the 2006 BCS National Championship Game (for the 2005 season), commonly regarded as one of the greatest games in college football history. However, his time with the Trojans became mired in scandal by the end amidst looming sanctions related to former star running back Reggie Bush receiving impermissible benefits. Carroll then jumped at the chance to head back to the pros and take over as head coach of the Seahawks.

His first Seahawks team was objectively very bad, finishing 30th in DVOA and losing seven games by 17 points or more. That team also just so happened to be the 7-9 team that won an absolutely miserable NFC West before pulling an all-time playoff upset against the reigning Super Bowl champion Saints, courtesy of a throwback game from an aging Matt Hasselbeck and a seismic 67-yard touchdown run that you may remember. The Seahawks spent a year in the quarterback wilderness in 2011 with another 7-9 season while acquiring more of the key building blocks for the dominant defense soon to come.

Then 2012 happened. The 2012 draft brought Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, and several other key contributors into the fold, and they helped jumpstart Seattle’s DVOA dynasty, in which they finished first overall for four straight seasons. Carroll’s crowning moment came in 2013 when a deep, ferocious defense featuring the Legion of Boom, Wagner, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, K.J. Wright, and others shut down Denver’s record-setting offense in the Super Bowl, holding them to a meaningless touchdown as time expired in the third quarter in a 43-8 romp.

The more recent stages of Carroll’s Seahawks tenure have featured a bit of an identity crisis, as a once-dominant defensive unit has drifted towards mediocrity while Wilson has ascended toward MVP contender status. Carroll would love to still be able to rely on his defense and running game, but his team is not quite built for that anymore.

For this all-star team, we’ll be looking for the best player-seasons from Carroll’s time as an NFL head coach, allowing us to choose from the 1994 Jets, the 1997-1999 Patriots, and the 2010-present Seahawks. While including some of his stars from his USC days might be fun, they were not always great at the NFL level in spite of their collegiate success, so we’ll be sticking to players Carroll coached in the NFL.


Offensive Skill Players

QB: Russell Wilson, 2015 Seahawks
RB: Marshawn Lynch, 2014 Seahawks
WR: Doug Baldwin, 2015 Seahawks
WR: Tyler Lockett, 2018 Seahawks
WR: Terry Glenn, 1999 Patriots
TE: Ben Coates, 1998 Patriots

In what is going to be a theme, the skill position group is very Seahawks-heavy. With all due respect to Drew Bledsoe, the choice at quarterback really only came down to Wilson’s 2015 and 2019 seasons. He finished with a passing DVOA of 24.3% in both, but he earned slightly more value overall in 2015 thanks to his rushing contributions (1,313 vs. 1,298 total DYAR), even though he only received All-Pro team love in 2019. Additionally, even though his passing DVOA was the same in each season, he ranked higher when compared to the rest of the league in 2015.

Lynch was another easy choice with two seasons to choose from. He finished with over 100 more total yards in 2012 due in large part to his 1,592 rushing yards, but his contributions in the passing game in 2014 put him over the top, finishing with 452 total DYAR compared to 411 in 2012 and ranking first in the league among running backs in rushing DVOA.

The wide receiver spots had two obvious choices in Baldwin and Lockett, but the third spot was a bit more up for grabs. Sidney Rice and Golden Tate from 2012 and Jermaine Kearse from 2015 were also considered, but Glenn’s role in New England’s offense put him over the top for the third spot. Tate and Kearse had more or less the same receiving DYAR as secondary options in Seattle’s offense, while Rice outpaced him on a DYAR and DVOA standpoint. However, it’s hard to overlook how run-heavy Seattle was in 2012, or the 400-yard edge for Glenn in a very different offensive environment.

I fought back and forth with whether to choose a second tight end over a third wide receiver, but there wasn’t a second tight end that was clearly a better choice than Glenn. Coates’ led the league in DYAR among tight ends in 1998 and earned a Pro Bowl berth. His 1998 DYAR was similar to that of his 1994 season (under a different head coach) when he was named First-Team All-Pro. Jimmy Graham’s 2016 campaign for Seattle was the next best option for a second tight end (and he finished second in the league that year in DYAR), but he accrued fewer DYAR than all four of the wide receivers considered. Coates is the clear No. 1 here, so we would be using Graham as essentially a big wide receiver anyway if we had given him the fourth pass-catcher slot.


Offensive Line

LT: Russell Okung, 2012 Seahawks
LG: Max Lane, 1997 Patriots
C: Max Unger, 2012 Seahawks
RG: Todd Rucci, 1999 Patriots
RT: Bruce Armstrong, 1997 Patriots

The offensive line was a bit tricky to choose because of the relative lack of individual player data available for the Jets and Patriots linemen. We also ended up fudging the selections a bit with the tackles because of the unimpressive track record of true right tackles for this All-Star team. Offensive line choices balanced traditional accolades like All-Pro nods with adjusted line yards data and charting statistics from more recent seasons (i.e., when they are available).

Max Unger is the clear choice at center from what was his most-decorated season as a pro, committing only one penalty and making both the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro team. At tackle, we had three real choices for two slots, needing to pick two of Duane Brown, Russell Okung, and Bruce Armstrong to fill the roles (none of Seattle and New England’s right tackles were particularly impressive). Armstrong at right tackle seems a bit like cheating, but he did play right tackle early in his career. (If we had to pick a true right tackle, it would be Zefross Moss with the 1997 Patriots.) Brown arrived in Seattle at age 32, so we’re going to give the nod at left tackle to Okung’s best and healthiest year with the Seahawks.

At the guard spots, we’re going with Max Lane’s healthiest season under Carroll and Todd Rucci because there really aren’t impressive options at guard. Others considered for the two spots were James Carpenter, J.R. Sweezy, Dwayne White, and Paul McQuistan … you get the idea. Not a lot of excellent guard play to choose from.


Defensive Front

DE: Michael Bennett, 2015 Seahawks
DT: Jarran Reed, 2018 Seahawks
DT: Chad Eaton, 1998 Patriots
DE: Cliff Avril, 2016 Seahawks
LB: Bobby Wagner, 2018 Seahawks
LB: K.J. Wright, 2016 Seahawks

Pete Carroll runs a base 4-3 on early downs, but because of his background as a defensive backs coach, we’re going to be using five defensive backs and two linebackers. There were also five defensive backs that warranted inclusion, one of whom could absolutely handle certain linebacker duties if needed. We’ll exclude the third linebacker — nickel is the new base after all (except for the 2019 Seahawks).

Wagner had a number of seasons to choose from, but in terms of overall individual impact, we’re going with his 2018 season. The Legion of Boom had dissolved, and the defense was not nearly as good as in the past. Wagner was essentially the last great player left and held the defense together; he was also a little better in coverage in 2018 compared to his 2016 season where he was used more as a blitzer.

The other linebacker spot came down to Wright and 1997 Chris Slade. Had we included three linebackers, both would have made the team ahead of 1999 Tedy Bruschi, who was still coming into his own before flourishing under Bill Belichick. Slade provided more value rushing the passer while Wright made his hay in pass coverage and also had more tackles for loss. Slade would definitely have a role on this defense since no team only uses 11 defenders all the time, but we’re going with Wright here because of his coverage ability.

There were a number of different defensive ends considered for this team, including Bennett, Avril, Chris Clemons, Frank Clark, and Willie McGinest. We also thought about Jeff Lageman of the 1994 Jets (believe it or not, we did consider players from that Jets team), but he did not measure up to the other defensive ends Carroll has coached over the years.

Bennett narrowly edged out McGinest on one side, though their statistical profiles matched up pretty well in terms of sacks, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles. It seems a bit silly to break a tie using the Pro Bowl, but McGinest did not earn the nod in any of his seasons under Carroll while Bennett did make the trip in 2015. It’s tough to go wrong with either here, and there is definitely room for both to be on the field when defending the run is a priority.

Our pass rush specialist, playing the LEO position in Carroll’s defense, came down to 2011 Chris Clemons, 2016 Cliff Avril, and 2018 Frank Clark. Clemons had the most tackles for loss but came up just short in sacks and quarterback hits. Between Avril and Clark, I almost flipped a coin but ended up going with Avril due to his edge in forced fumbles and similar sack/hit production.

We didn’t have tackle for loss data for some of the New England seasons, which makes comparing run-stopping ability a bit difficult. Reed is on the list for sure thanks to his massive 2018 as an interior pass rusher and 12 tackles for loss, though it appears this may have been a one-year fluke compared to the rest of his career. With Reed in the lineup, we need a nose tackle, so we’re going with 1998 Chad Eaton.


Defensive Backs

CB: Richard Sherman, 2012 Seahawks
S: Earl Thomas, 2013 Seahawks
S: Lawyer Milloy, 1999 Patriots
S: Kam Chancellor, 2011 Seahawks
CB: Ty Law, 1998 Patriots

It’s hard to find a better way to augment one of the most feared secondary groups of all time than by adding two players who also made first-team All-Pro at their positions. We’re shoehorning a third safety into the secondary here, but Chancellor and Milloy were both very deserving. Chancellor was an integral component of what made the Legion of Boom the Legion of Boom, and Milloy’s resume is tough to argue with. While forcing a third safety into the secondary may seem a little off given Carroll’s proclivity for playing a single-high Cover-3, this is an All-Star team, and the on-field fit does not have to be perfect.

It’s easy to make do with Earl Thomas covering up mistakes in any of his three first-team All-Pro seasons, though we’re going with the one that matched his career high in interceptions with five. He also had nine passes defensed, two forced fumbles, a career-high 105 tackles in 2013. Chancellor’s 2011 makes the cut, as he had his best year in coverage in his first year as a starter in the fledgling days of the Legion of Boom. Coincidentally, 2011 was Chancellor’s first year as a starter because the 2010 Seahawks featured Milloy at strong safety in the last year of Milloy’s career. Milloy’s swan song was not nearly as good as the 1999 season that earned him first-team All-Pro.

At corner, we’re going with 1998 Ty Law, who led the league with nine interceptions on his way to All-Pro honors for Carroll’s last playoff team in New England. Law would continue to play at a high level into his 30s, as he led the league in interceptions again seven years later. Flanking him will be Sherman, who burst onto the scene in 2012 and somehow made the All-Pro team despite not making the Pro Bowl. Throwing at Sherman was asking for trouble, as he had a league-leading 24 passes defensed in 2012 to go with three forced fumbles and eight picks. An argument can be made for Sherman’s 2013, but you’re really just splitting hairs at this point.


Special Teams

K: Stephen Hauschka, 2012 Seahawks
P: Jon Ryan, 2012 Seahawks
KR: Leon Washington, 2010 Seahawks
PR: Tyler Lockett, 2015 Seahawks

Stephen Hauschka beat out Adam Vinatieri for the best kicker season when considering both kickoffs and field goals/extra points. Hauschka didn’t miss a field goal from inside 50 yards all season in 2012. Carroll’s best punt unit in terms of net points of field position value came in 2012, which gives Jon Ryan the nod at punter. We also end up with a representative from the 2010 Seahawks in Leon Washington, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns on the year. Before he developed into Seattle’s No. 1 receiver, Lockett originally made the All-Pro team as a punt returner and helped Seattle lead the league in punt return value as a rookie.


Conclusion

Upon further review, Carroll’s 14 seasons as an NFL head coach have given him quite the list of players to choose from. The defense is essentially the core group from Seattle’s excellent 2012-2015 units plus a few other seasons ranging from good to All-Pro level. He has a good (if a bit small) receiving corps along with an All-Pro at tight end that should have no trouble working with peak Russell Wilson at quarterback. The offensive line has a few well-regarded pieces but is also probably the weakest unit on the team, and the specialists each had their season in the sun. This team has a lot going for it and would be a force if it somehow was able to play out a full NFL season.

Previous coaching All-Star Teams:

https://www.footballoutsiders.com/ramblings/2020/pete-carroll-all-stars

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