The Morning After: Seahawks Lose Their Identity, Game to Cowboys, 30-23

Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

There is always that moment after the Seahawks lose where everything feels wrong, and hope seems to slip into the shadows. Hyperbole and scapegoats step into the spotlight. Fans bicker over the meaningless and media jumps to unfounded conclusions to make an easy story. We have all done it. Some of us, for a very long time. It is why I forced myself to write these game columns the morning after; to let a nights sleep interrupt any irrationality. In nearly every case, the faults seem less damning and the strengths start to show themselves. When my head hit the pillow last night, I knew this would not be one of those nights. The Seahawks are not the team we want them to be. Not yet.

Identity crisis

Dallas lost 27-7 the last time they came to CenturyLink Field. They fell behind 10-0 in that game after a blocked punt was returned for a touchdown. Sound familiar? That is where the stories fork. Seattle won that day by mercilessly pounding the rock with Marshawn Lynch 26 times for 122 yards. The ran the ball 41 times compared to 20 throws. 
The Seahawks offense was built to protect Russell Wilson back then. They would run the ball all the time, on any down and distance. It was not a sustainable way to win. Offense needs variety. But it established a clear mentality and identity that the Seahawks were going to fire off the ball and try to mash you into submission every week. 
Lynch touched the ball twice in the first half against the second-worst rush defense in the NFL. He ran the ball on consecutive plays just twice the entire game. Here were those two moments:

First possession, 3rd Quarter, Trailing 17-10

1st and 10: Lynch up the middle for 4 yards
2nd and 6: Lynch right guard for 32 yards

4th Quarter, Tied 20-20

2nd and 10: Lynch left tackle for 4 yards
3rd and 4: Lynch up middle for 5 yards
1st and 10: Lynch right tackle for 1 yard
That is five carries, only one of which was less than four yards. There was even this moment of enticement from the Dallas defense on that first Seahawks possession of the second half when Lynch burst through the line for 32 yards on his first chance at back-to-back to carries. It was as if they were flashing a neon “RUN THE BALL” sign at Darrell Bevell. 
Pete Carroll revels in the run. He has told anyone who would listen for the last four years that running is their identity. And yet, the Seahawks looked more like a gadget Oregon Ducks offense yesterday built around Percy Harvin’s skillset instead of an intimidating collection of brutes who will leave you battered and broken. 
This is a bad Dallas defense, who struggles most at defending the run, and is at its best defending the pass. The Seahawks game plan did not make sense in the moment, and it makes even less sense upon reflection. A conspiracy theory would be that the Seahawks are preparing for Lynch to leave next year by beginning the transition to a Harvin-centric system; short passes and wide runs instead of gut punches and deep throws. 
There were barely any throws over 10 yards until the fourth quarter. They had little success when they finally did take a few shots downfield. Jermaine Kearse (3 catches in 7 targets) had arguably his worst game as a Seahawk, dropping passes his quarterback and team needed him to make.
Luke Willson (2 catches in 6 targets) dropped a crucial chance as well. Bryan Walters was targeted as many times (3) as Doug Baldwin, who was visibly frustrated on the sideline. Harvin had 3 carries for -1 yards and three catches for 0 yards. 
Today is Tell the Truth Monday over at the VMAC. Carroll should sit down with Bevell and Tom Cable and look them in the eyes and say, “We are not playing Seahawks football. We need to get back to run first and throw second.”
That is the truth. It may not have turned a loss into a win yesterday, but it would have narrowed the questions about how to get better. This short passing game and jet sweep stuff is new. It was not a big part of the game plan last year. Lynch was a punisher and Wilson was the best deep thrower in football. Gadget plays and bubble screens were sprinkled in as changeups. 
The number one factor I found when examining why Super Bowl winners did not return to glory the following year was a tendency to move from the run to the pass. It happened with the Packers, the Patriots, and even the early 80s 49ers. Teams fell in love with their young championship quarterbacks instead of falling in love with the formula that led them to a ring. As it stands, the Seahawks are running the ball 48% of the time (5th in the NFL), down from 53% (1st in the NFL) last year. 
Some of the early results have been good enough to defer judgement. I have seen enough. Win or lose with the physical style that was becoming the brand of Seahawks football. 


Seattle gave up 162 yards rushing yesterday after coming into the game as the best run defense in the NFL. So it may sound a little crazy to say that is not the real concern. There were correctable mistakes in how the Seahawks played against the run, and if these two teams played again, the result would be different in that regard.
What has graduated from a concern to a problem is a total lack of pass rush and a secondary that simply is not playing anywhere near the level it reached last season. They are not legion. There is no boom. 
Byron Maxwell left with what appears to be a bad ankle sprain. A Seahawks cornerback group that already was greatly diminished from last year, now has enough injuries to make it one of the least talented groups in the NFL. It is Richard Sherman, and some guys. And Sherman is not exactly playing dominant football right now. He is not alone. Earl Thomas has been a shadow of himself.
Thomas was in nearly every play last season, or so it seemed. He is rarely in frame this year. His biggest contribution to the game yesterday was a series of missed tackles. This is the best safety in football and the best corner in football. Mike Holmgren used to always say you needed your best players to have their best years when you want to win a Super Bowl. That was last year, but certainly not this year. 
The Seahawks finally got a few takeaways, but none of them were forced by the defense. The first was a muffed punt and the second was a fumbled snap. This defense is not pressing opponents into mistakes. They did not do it to Kirk Cousins. They did not do it to Tony Romo. These are two guys put on Earth to make terrible decisions. I don’t see the dog in this Seahawks crew. Where is the edge?
It is hard not to point a finger at an offseason of celebration and pats on the back. Thomas admitted he regained his championship mentality after the loss in San Diego. The team played a spirited and great game against the Broncos until the last drive. The PA system blared “Hold Me Back” late in the game yesterday, and you could see the energy and edge return for a few series when Dallas could not do a thing. The simplistic conclusion there is that when this defense is motivated, they are great. The thought that motivation may be the problem is a bitter pill to swallow.

Growing pains

A common storyline in the NFL season is that teams grow and mesh over time. A young offensive line that struggles early can find its feet and become better. A rookie pass rusher who flashes a bit early in the year may get more snaps later and add to the attack. Those stories are hard to find with the Seahawks.
Justin Britt has played reasonably well, and one could hope that as he improves, the Seahawks can leave the tight end in less often to help him block. Russell Okung is still working his way back into playing shape, and should stabilize as the year wears on. Jeremy Lane is on IR, designated to return, and should help the secondary. So should Tharold Simon. Anyone thinking Simon or Lane are the cure to the secondary woes would be wise to temper their expectations. Neither player has the look of an impact player yet.
Paul Richardson was inactive yesterday. Kevin Norwood has yet to suit up. Christine Michael has not been active, and even if he was, the Seahawks need to get the ball more to Lynch before they start figuring out how to involve a third runner.
Cassius Marsh has yet to make an impact during the season. Jordan Hill has shown some glimpses. Maybe Bruce Irvin can get untracked as a pass rusher.
Compare that to a team like the 49ers who will be getting Aldon Smith back, and hope to get NaVarro Bowman back, and Anthony Davis and maybe Glenn Dorsey. There are legitimate reasons to think that team will be far better late in the year than they are now. Arizona has been winning with Drew Stanton at quarterback and a newly formed offensive line that should grow more organized.
Seattle is counting on their great players to return to greatness. If we are not talking about Thomas and Sherman and Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril making great plays, they are probably not getting made by anyone. 
Seeing Kearse struggle yesterday definitely had me wondering if Norwood will make his first appearance soon. He is a physical receiver with great hands who would add a dimension the receiving corps does not really have outside of Kearse. That is an easy change to make just to see if he can have an impact getting the snaps Richardson had been receiving until Sunday.

Facing forward

Seattle is 3-2. They still have Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Brandon Mebane and a host of other top-flight players. This is not the moment where hope is lost. It is the moment when the obstacles between this team and another championship are coming into focus.
The coaching staff has a history of identifying those obstacles and finding a way to overcome them. The players have a history of playing their best when nobody else thinks they are capable of it. This feels, though, like the toughest test of the Carroll era. 
He was proud of their plan to evolve this offense. He loves to be unconventional. The sooner he realizes they have strayed too far from the bruising formula he cherishes, the sooner this team can return to more reliable results. 
The players must look to each other and decide if the endorsements and attention and past accomplishments are enough. Words are words. Hunger and passion and energy cannot be faked. They have to find the burning desire to be the best again, and bring that everyday. 
There is no easy street back to the top. It is a crucible built to test your will, your talent, and your wisdom at every step. It is the game we love. This Seahawks team has championship talent and character. Where all others teams are trying to become something they have not been, the Seahawks need to remember who they are. 

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