The Morning After: Still Searching Seahawks Stumble Past 49ers 25-23
Offense
Defense
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The Seahawks were in a death spiral heading into this last game against the 49ers. Not only were they struggling to win games, they appeared to be out of touch with each other and the ferocious intensity that has defined their spirit over the past few years. This modest win against a lowly San Francisco team answered few questions, but something happened in this game that might prove meaningful.

San Francisco started by fumbling the ball on their first series, gifting the Seahawks a chance for a quick score. The offense failed to gain a first down, with Russell Wilson throwing well behind an open Jimmy Graham on what would have been a third down conversion. It was just the latest example of the various units on the team failing to work in conjunction with one another to build toward victory. The defense then gave up two long touchdown drives to put the Seahawks down 14-3. It was the perfect example of how the outcome of an NFL game can often be traced to mindset, emotion, and desire as much as talent. Seattle was in a state of mind where they could literally lose to any team in the league. Then, even if for just a few moments, they fought back as a team.

The offense started by putting their first productive drive together. They recorded their first 1st down with 14 minutes and 6 seconds to go in the second quarter on a pass to Jermaine Kearse. Wilson found Paul Richardson a couple of times for nice gains before the drive stalled in the red zone. A field goal made it 14-6. The defense came out and sacked Colin Kaepernick to start the next drive and then stuffed a running play to set up a 3rd and 10. The 49ers managed to burn the Seahawks secondary for a 24 yard gain, and it felt again like the offense and defense could not unite for even a couple of series. Ahtyba Rubin stopped that nonsense. A play later, he ripped the ball from DeJuan Harris’ hands for a fumble that Frank Clark nearly returned for a touchdown.

The Seahawks offense was once again given a golden opportunity in the red zone. This time, they cashed it in with a beautiful throw from Wilson to Luke Willson for a touchdown. Now 14-13, the fight was back for Seattle. The defense allowed one first down and then pushed the 49ers to a 3rd and 7. Jeremy Lane made a beautiful play on the ball to slap it away and force a punt. The 49ers pinned the Seahawks offense deep in their territory at the 9-yard line. The scuffling Seahawks offense managed to go 91 yards in just five plays for a touchdown to put the team on top 19-14.

A blocked extra point put an end to the inter-unit harmony that had turned a 14-3 deficit into a 19-14 lead in just over 11 minutes. The team never recaptured that connectedness the rest of the way as they largely stumbled their way to the finish line, but that does not take away the fact that it made an appearance. A blowout victory would have felt good on many levels, but being pushed and needing to fight back as a team may wind up being more valuable. Those who would belittle the significance of fighting back against a lowly 49ers squad would be wise to remember they were well on their way to losing against that lowly team. This was never a game about which team was better. It was never a game about the second seed in the playoffs. It was an expedition.

Fifty-three players and 27 coaches set out in search of one another. They have been scattered in recent weeks, out of touch. Standing alone, they were like a fence in need of mending. An opponent who ran into resistance in one spot could just take a few steps and find an opening. For those 11 minutes, there was no gap in the fence. The offense worked with the defense. San Francisco had no place to go. Eleven minutes of good football certainly won’t be enough to make a run in the playoffs, but the experience of being pushed and pushing back together is something to build on.

Logic dictates that getting a playoff bye is preferable. Winning two games is easier than winning three. While true, it is apparent this Seahawks team needs more time on the field, not less. This is still the team that beat the Falcons without Kam Chancellor or Frank Clark and eventually without Michael Bennett. This is still a team that beat New England in Foxboro. They are capable of beating anyone in this playoff field, but are in the equivalent of a basketball shooting slump. Nothing feels quite right. As any shooter will tell you, the only way to end a shooting slump is to put up more shots. That means getting back on the field next weekend for this team and trying again to find their rhythm.

 

Red zone emerges as key

So much has been going wrong, it can feel impossible to make progress on any one thing. If I was talking to Pete this morning, I would point him at one area for both sides of the ball to focus on: red zone efficiency. Take this game as a perfect example.

Seattle finished the game 2-6 in the red zone on offense. Every time your team settles for a field goal in the red zone instead of scoring a touchdown, you are leaving four points on the table. That means the offense left a total of 16 points on the field by struggling in the red zone. Convert just two of those four missed chances, and the team scores 33 points instead of 25 points. Convert them all and you are topping 40 points.

There are many ways an offense can struggle. The most crushing is when they cannot even reach the red zone to create scoring chances. Seattle has actually averaged a healthy 4.2 red zone chances over the last five games, which includes the 38-10 drubbing in Green Bay where they had just one. They have been earning those chances against some pretty good defenses as well. Arizona finished the year second in the league in yards allowed and the Rams finished ninth.

Third down performance is often an early indicator of red zone performance as both situation call for quick decisions and often involve short distances. The Seahawks offense has done remarkably well on third downs in recent weeks. The game against San Francisco broke a string of four straight games where Seattle converted 47% of more of their third down conversions. Before that streak, they had just two such games in their previous eleven.

Red zone performance, however, has been dismal during that time. Seattle is 8 for 21 (38%) in the red zone over their last five games. Any respectable offense needs to be converting at least half of their red zone chances.

It is not just the offense. The Seahawks had the second-best red zone defense in the NFL after the first eight games, holding opponents to 10 touchdowns in 23 red zone chances (44%). They have become one of the league’s worst red zone defenses in the past eight games (70%) , and abysmal in the past four (77%). They gave up three touchdowns in three red zone chances for the 49ers, which means opponents have scored touchdowns on six straight red zone possessions. In fact, other than a hopeless Jared Goff-led Rams team that went 0-3, the Seahawks defense has surrendered 10 touchdowns in 10 red zone possessions. That is…not good.

Just as converting red zone chances can gain your team four points on offense, denying them saves you points on defense. If Seattle had held San Francisco to a field goal on just one of their red zone possessions, the score would have been 25-19. Make it two, and it would have been 25-14. The math is obvious, but that is the point. If the Seahawks improve in no other area other than red zone offense and red zone defense, they will still be a significantly tougher opponent.

Convert 4 of 6 red zone chances on offense yesterday and hold the 49ers to 1 of 3 chances on defense, and the score becomes 33-14. It starts with Wilson on offense and the secondary on defense. It is likely not a coincidence that the worst of the red zone defense has come since Earl Thomas was injured. Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and crew need to get their unit functioning at a higher level in those pivotal moments.

 

Playoff bound

This has been a tough season. It has felt disjointed and perilously close to the edge. Wilson has not looked like himself, but set a franchise record for passing yards. Michael Bennett missed time and finished with just five sacks, but the Seahawks finish with their most sacks (42) since their Super Bowl run (44). They went 3-1 against teams who made the playoffs, and 3-2-1 against division opponents who all finished with more losses than wins. What they have proven is that they can beat any team in the NFL, and they can lose to any team in the NFL. It is an uncomfortable reality for fans to grapple with.

That Seahawks swagger is absent as they stride into the second season. Nobody will fear them. The Seahawks, themselves, will be unsure of the outcome. That does not preclude them from finding themselves and the consistency they need to make a run for glory. It was not that long ago that a 7-9 Seahawks team won their division and defeated the defending Super Bowl champs. That team did not have a Wilson, or Baldwin, or Graham, or Sherman, or Chancellor, or Wagner, or Wright, or Bennett, or Avril, or Clark. Much more has been accomplished with much less.

It is hard to imagine this team catching fire and rolling through the playoffs. It will be a grind. This team is full of grinders. Just a taste of that grit was enough to set aside the 49ers yesterday. They will need to bring a lot more to turn this purgatorial season into something heavenly.

12 Responses

  1. Uncle Bob

    Collapsing in the red zone. Missed PAT. Bad snap leads to unforced safety. Only 8 yards in the first quarter and a half. 3 for 12 in third down conversions on the day. And wasting time outs on poor clock management over and over. Sure, that was yesterdays game, but with only slight changes it could be any of the last six. Situational football failures are a pattern for this team almost all year. If you only look at the game ending stats none of those lost games look all that bad for yardage, pass plays, and most times for QBR………………yet the losses were real and a few of the wins were just barelies (like yesterday) when they needn’t be. To me that shows we’ve got the talent on the field, but there’s a problem with when in the game they perform. There’s surely a portion of on field leadership in play, but also some very poor coaching/game planning for success. Soothing “I’m okay, you’re okay” style Carrollisms be damned, these guys need an overhaul on pre and in game strategy.

    The defense has it’s problems too. Wagner is just balling it, the man is a monster. If MVP weren’t so QB focused he should be a leading candidate. KJ is rock steady. the others are mostly above average with a few exceptions. Sure, we miss ET, but it would be harder to make Terrell the scape goat this week. But all that said, the defense is not working in a complete fashion either. The other article about tipping plays may not be taking the defense into consideration as well. The bottom feeder Niners, who started the day vying for the number one draft pick, showed utter disrespect for the Hawk D TWICE in one drive by going on 4th and 1……..and making them both!! They’ve lost the mantle of “the team nobody wants to play”.

    Again, these are not single game anomalies, it’s been a pattern for most of the year. And we’re not just “one player away” to fix it. Stick Joe Thomas at the end of the line and the offense probably won’t improve much if at all. Certainly won’t fix the flubs of ST. If ET were miraculously back on the field next week the D would be flawless? Uh………….no. Again, there’s sufficient talent out there, even on the much maligned O line (that ought to get some screams). Is Fant that much worse than first round tackle for the NYG, Flowers? I’d argue that one. Is the entire line worse than, say, the Vikings line? Those guys cost more……….the normal rationale says they should be better.

    All that grousing is mitigated by the fact the Hawks are in the playoffs just the same. Maybe as fans we’re spoiled with high expectations because of the success of the past several years. We’ve got the best possible match up next week in the Lions who are on a losing streak coming in, but do we want it enough to pull it off? I just don’t know………and it shouldn’t be that way……..

  2. Brent McKinney

    So many cricital injuries this year: Russell hasn’t been himself to extend and create explosive plays. The O line is still learning with so many new players. All of our RB’s have been hurt at one time or another. That means no consistency–poor red zone offense and the defense stays on the field. I’m proud of the Seahawks for all they have done losing so many key players. I think that D line will rise to the challenge and get it done! Critical Sacks coming at pivotal moments! Strip the ball! Go Hawks!

  3. Ross

    Hauschka has become a liability. PAT’s now are a source of angst. The blocked kicks are all on him; He kicks low and always has.

    RW is demonstrably slower than his first few years, and he seems to have lost the passing touch he showed last year.

    Hopefully all improves for playoffs.

    • hawk787

      I agree with Ross, even when RW has time to throw, It seems he doesn’t have the touch on his throws like last year, all year in critical times in games that we should have or could have won, RW has over thrown or under thrown his WR’s for TD’s. the Packers game was a perfect example, Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham both wide open
      for easy TD’s, that’s 14 points early in the game, Sure hope he can get on a hot streak
      in the playoffs, Like to see him laughing more and get his swagger back, GO HAWKS!

  4. Doug

    Goor read Brian, and yes, purgatory is exactly where this team is at the moment. Can they find the grace to save themselves? We will see, but I have a hunch they are going to do it. Given their strange up/down season, things are shaping up not too badly at all for our Hawks.

    Consider they get Detroit at home–a good test but your Tale of the Tape is going to show considerable advantages over a Detroit team that has to travel to the coast on a short week. Assuming the Hawks do win, next up will be Atlanta in Atlanta–don’t you think the Hawks will be up big time for this ‘revenge’ game (going back to the 2012 playoffs)? They have already proven to themselves that Atlanta can be beaten.

    Then, either Dallas in Dallas or (could it be possible) Green Bay or NYG in Seattle, an outcome I see as a real possibility.

    Ya, I am a glass half full guy, but I am betting on two home playoff games for the Hawks and a heavenly run this postseason!

  5. kenny

    There have been plenty of head scratching games in the past. I tire of everyone acting like 48 was a normal game and we were that awesome all the time. I can remember almost losing to the jags, bucks and a whole lot of other unbelievable stuff.
    I will acknowledge it’s worse than ever, but hell, think of all the fun it can be with no expectations.

    Fuck your negativity.

    • Tom T

      If u r referring to the 2013 season Hawks beat the Jags 45-17, pulling starters in the 3rd Q i believe. We did have some bad first halfs that season, made up by great 2nd halfs in houston (who can forget sherman’s pick 6, ruined shaubs confidence forever) & the Bucs game, & lost 3 games by a total of 15 points. The hawks under PC have always been a slow starting team, I guess thats PC´s strategy, wear down the other team by running beastmode. However we no longer have beastmode, no longer have a OL capable of creating a punishing running game, & that strategy is not working. Falling behind to the 2nd worst team in the league, recovering a fumble at their 20 & going 3 & FG should not be acceptable to this team. I am no longer confident that the hawks can come from behind or hold a lead. They should be able to beat detroit, but cant see them winning in Atlanta. The team is not properly built, too much cap space for too few players, leaving too many weak areas. The two #1 seeds have taken a different route, Dallas by concentrating on the O line for years, & NE, who have TB, Gronk & a bunch of no names, if a no name wants big $$ he’s gone.

  6. metelhead

    It is tough being a fan in ‘Hawksville’, so tough in fact, that critical comments are taken as ‘bandwagon worthy’, when actually its quite the opposite. If I’m pissed at how My Seahawks are playing, its because I’m a passionate Fan. The Pink clouds and lollipop crowd repulses me…RW is not a god, our defense has been medicore at best, ST has been a train wreck right besides our offense. 2016 has been an underachieving year on all phases of the game for the Hawks, the mere fact we are in the playoffs is crazy to me considering the ugliness of our play….as illustrated in this article our RED ZONE sucks and nobody is talking about it.
    …all that said sure I hope we find a way to the SB, if anything this year has taught us is that every NFL team can be beat at any one game- that fact actually bodes well for us.

  7. Morgan

    I must agree with the commenter above that coaching seems to be sorely lacking. Other teams game plan to take advantage of our weaknesses and we seem to be incapable of doing the same thing. There is an impotence to our offense at times and for crying out loud if I ever see a three man rush in other than spot duty I will lose my mind. There are wide open recievers running loose all over the damn place and free rushers untouched or even glanced at by our offensive(literally) line. Wilson has regressed in accuracy and decision making. Jeremy Lane did it disgrace in in the last game but it’s his first in a while. All these maladies point in one direction, coaching are very level of the club. These are the ones who need to tighten up their games the most. All the way up to PC. My two cents.

  8. pkgoode

    Dissenting voice here (to a point).

    D: Once the defense adjusted to the dump-offs to Shaun Draughn, it was stifling.

    O: The OL is not there, and it’s not likely to get there this season. While Darrell Bevell gets criticized for throwing on 3rd-and-short — what that tells me is that he has no confidence in the OL being able to muscle out a yard or two no matter what. Same with Russell — he’s not 100% and that’s not going to change.

    ST: Gee, I miss Clint Gresham.

    • Kelly

      But why is it literally impossible for the coaches to make adjustments before half time? They continually do the same thing over and over when it is not working and always wait for half time before they do anything about it! And we wait for them to do something different as the other team continues to score on our defense or stop our inept offense .Please, for the love of God, can SOMEONE make adjustments before half time! and of course Pete just keeps saying.”we are just feeling them out” in the first half…while your feeling them out, they are scoring and keeping us from scoring, not conducive to winning.

      just sayin’

  9. hawk787

    From the General Manager, Coaches, Players all the way down to the ball boys, time to look in the mirror, No finger pointing, Have each others backs. Make great decisions and plays not excuses, and us 12’s will do our part on Saturday, GO HAWKS!!!

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