DENVER – Whether Pete Carroll meant it as a barb for Russell Wilson or a bouquet for Geno Smith, the Seattle Seahawks coach made play-calling wristbands a hot topic in the NFL during a topsy-turvy season that has rattled the longstanding quarterback order.
Carroll was talking about the Seahawks’ surprising success in 2022 after moving on from Wilson when he mentioned Smith’s willingness to wear a wristband to help facilitate Seattle's play-calling.
“If you notice, Geno’s going off the wristband, and that’s a big help,” Carroll told Seattle Sports 710 AM earlier this month. “It’s smoothed things out, sped things up. And that’s part of it, too. We never did that before. There was resistance to that. So, we didn’t do that before.”
Wilson retorted with his own subtle dig, reminding that he "won a lot of games there without one on the wrist. And I didn’t know winning or losing mattered if you wore the wristband or not.”
Coincidentally, Wilson wore a wristband for the first time with the Broncos in a win over the Jaguars in London two days before Carroll's comments, and he's been using it at games and practices ever since as the Broncos try to jump-start a sputtering offense.
He even wore it at the podium on Wednesday.
“Yeah, I guess I'm rocking this wristband here,” Wilson said with a chuckle.
On any weekend, roughly two-thirds of NFL quarterbacks are rocking the wristbands. Tom Brady has used one his whole career. But some QBs and coaches prefer memorization skills for their more complex plays.
The bands that hug the quarterback's non-throwing wrist and forearm contain dozens of plays with corresponding numbers or codes. They are often as much a benefit to the play-caller as to the QB because he can just call out a simple number rather than the entire play sequence with all its protections, checks and other nuances.
“As a play designer sometimes you want to get a little creative and those things can get a little bit verbose,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said.
Calling out a number and not the entire play sequence saves a few ticks before the quarterback's earpiece shuts off with 15 seconds left on the play clock. The QB can then relay the play and break the huddle quicker, getting up to the line of scrimmage with a few extra seconds to survey the defense for any necessary adjustments.
Hackett said the wristbands especially come in handy on the road and are particularly helpful with the game's ever more complex play calls.
“It's just how offenses have advanced,” Hackett said. “... we're getting more elaborate with our play designs."
Not all plays on the coaches' call sheets are listed on the quarterbacks' wristbands. They're often limited to those complex calls or to red-zone plays that are installed later in the week, which means players have had less time to practice them.
Wristbands aren't for everyone, though.
Some QBs, such as the Titans' Ryan Tannehill, have tried them but don't wear them all the time like Brady does.
“Last year when we went to Seattle I wore one” because of the din at Lumen Field, Tannehill said. “Not too many times. I like to be able to hear the call and visualize it in my head as it comes in. It just helps me build the picture of what’s going on. When I hear it and I have to build the picture of the play in my head, it helps me communicate with my guys as opposed to reading a line on a wristband.”
Vikings QB Kirk Cousins doesn't usually wear a wristband, and that has something to do with Rams coach Sean McVay, who was Cousins' offensive coordinator in Washington from 2014-16.
Cousins recalled telling McVay, “These plays are long, and I could use a wristband.”
"Sean would say, ‘I don’t look down at the call sheet to call the play to see what the wristband number is. I just call the game from my head,’” Cousins recounted. “So, he said, ‘We can’t do that because I’d have to go find the play and then give you the number.’ I learned with Sean that I’m just going to have to memorize these plays and I don’t have the luxury of a wristband.”
“There’s so many different ways to do it and I think there’s positives and negatives to every different way,” Cousins said. “There’s times where I like having a fair amount of words because you can paint the picture better, but there’s other times where you’re calling two to three plays and it can just be a lot. With a motion, a shift, an alert and you have the play clock, so there’s a lot going on.”
Cousins said he picked up a trick from backup Nick Mullens when he was digesting the Vikings' new offense this summer.
“I was really struggling late in August and early September of really getting to a place where I could spit the plays out with just total ownership,” Cousins said. He recalled Mullens telling him, “I just record the tricky plays on my phone and instead of listening to music or the radio on the drive to and from work, I'll just listen to the play calls.”
“I started doing that and my drives are a little more boring," Cousins said, “but I find myself getting home to the garage and I feel a little better about the game plan and my command of the game plan.”
AP Pro Football Writers Dave Campbell in Minneapolis and Teresa Walker in Nashville and AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.