We all have a family member who has some glaring flaws. They are constantly late, or flake out, or something far worse. It becomes family lore. Everyone talks about Suzie’s problem. You analyze it from every angle, picking it apart, hoping to either find a solution or just use the conversation as a sort of group therapy session to cope. If it is a serious flaw, there is sadness and sometimes anger mixed in with deep love and compassion. You all want to help, but every time Suzy slips up, you feel more betrayed and always ask yourself if you can stand by her again. But you do. You love her in a way that silences rational thought and self-preservation. Your heart bruises, but it heals. Anger rises, but it subsides. On the occasions where all is right, you feel an elevated sense of satisfaction and happiness because you know you stood by her when you had every reason to turn your back. The flaw is still there. It is part of who she is. You love her all the same.
The immediate reaction to seeing the Seahawks blow a 17 point lead in losing to the Bengals was somewhere between anger and depression. It feels like this team is not going anywhere. This is just one of those seasons where things are not going to work out. Even Cliff Avril was quoted as saying, “We just have to get our mojo back.” I have some troubling news for you all on Tell The Truth Monday: this Seahawks defense has never excelled at holding fourth quarter leads. There have been seventeen games since 2012, including the playoffs, where the Seahawks have surrendered a fourth quarter lead.
There have been games like the NFC Championship or against the Bears in 2012 where they regained the lead and won, but most resulted in a loss. Of the 107 turnovers the Seahawks have forced since 2012, only 9 have come when the game was close (leading by 7 pts or less) in the 4th and they were trying to close out a win. Three of those nine came in the NFCC against the 49ers in 2013. Only nine of the Seahawks 139 sacks since 2012 have come in the 4th quarter when they were protecting a lead of seven or less. Those nine sacks came in eight different games, and the Seahawks won seven of them.
This game against the Bengals was the most shocking, sure, but let’s not act like this is the first time this flaw has surfaced. Pete Carroll prides himself on building a team that finishes. I think if he is honest with himself, he will realize there is a fundamental problem somewhere in his defensive strategy for closing out football games. If you are screaming at your phone or computer right now saying, “Yeah, it’s his conservative playcalling on offense,” I was right there with you before I went back and reviewed the game.
Blaming the play calling is myopic
After the Seahawks went up 24-7, they started their next possession at their own two yard line. Any team would run there, and that is what Seattle did on their first play. Then they passed on two of the next three plays. One of those plays was a 39-yard strike to Tyler Lockett that would have flipped the field if he would have kept both feet inbounds.
Thomas Rawls ran for seven yards on second down before Wilson was sacked on 3rd and 3. That was three passes, including a deep ball, and three runs on a drive that started at their own two yard line. Not exactly conservative.
The next series started at their own 16 yard line. Rawls ran twice for six yards, setting up a 3rd and 4. Wilson could not find an open receiver and essentially threw it away in the direction of Jermaine Kearse. Still up 24-7, that felt smart more than conservative. Seattle trailed 7-0 early, and they ran three straight times to open their first possession. They ran on five of their first seven plays of the game, and scored a touchdown on that drive. The game plan did not change when they got ahead. It simply did not work when they needed it to.
Seattle got the ball again and passed for nine yards on their first play before three Rawls runs setup a 3rd and 2. They passed the ball. Predictable? Maybe. Not conservative. Not effective.
Their final drive of regulation, now ahead only 24-21, definitely felt defensive. They ran twice again and then Wilson could not find an open receiver on 3rd and 4 and scrambled for what ended up being a zero yard sack.
The play calling could have been more creative. The execution could have been better. It is just hard to lay this game at the feet of an offense that has barely been able to function the past two weeks, was missing Marshawn Lynch, and put up 200 yards rushing and nearly 400 total yards against a very good Bengals defense on the road. They even started fast with an opening drive touchdown. Their performance should have been enough to win this game. It was not.
The most inexplicable part of this game were the breakdowns on defense in the red zone. Seattle came in as the second best red zone defense in the NFL. They gave up three touchdowns in four red zone possessions in this game, with the only stop coming at the end of regulation when the Bengals kicked a field goal to tie it.
The first two touchdowns came on what seemed like identical plays with identical breakdowns. Tyler Eifert ran past Kam Chancellor and nobody was behind him for what became easy scores. Both times, Earl Thomas looked perplexed at what Chancellor had done. Only guys in that locker room know what the mistake was, but it was not hard to tell that there was a mistake both times.
The third touchdown came when Dalton noticed there were no defenders in the middle and audibled to a quarterback sneak. Give Dalton credit there, but leaving nobody in the middle on your own five yard line qualifies as a mistake. That one may be the fault of the coordinator.
A hold in any one of those possessions makes this a win for Seattle.
Fans will want to throw shade at the Seahawks, and much of that is deserved. Cincinnati’s offense deserves a ton of credit as well. Dalton, in particular, is playing at a very high level. I watched most of their games from this season, and it was clear how well this team was playing. Dalton was making lightning quick reads and throws. He was creating plays on breakdowns. He was accurate.
That is what made the Seahawks dominance through three quarters so impressive. I was braced for an ugly loss. The Bengals are going to destroy a lot of teams this season. They are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Seattle was embarrassing them at home.
Dalton looked rattled after the Seahawks moved Richard Sherman onto A.J. Green. He was sacked four times in the game, when he had only been sacked twice all season. He was intercepted for just the second time all season. Then he adjusted. He checked to shorter throws and showed the patience necessary to move methodically down the field.
That is now the book on this Seahawks defense. Throw underneath. Be patient. Make a play in the red zone. It is on the Seattle coaching staff to combat that because they are certain to see more and more of it.
The Seahawks choked away a big lead. They have lost a fourth quarter lead in three of their five games and very nearly did against Detroit as well. It is a serious problem, and probably has already cost them things like home-field advantage. There is a tendency by some to go full gloom and doom and say they should be 1-4 and are terrible. Others will say they have been ahead in the fourth quarter of every game this year and should be 5-0.
They are 2-3. That is who they are right now. They are a team capable of roaring from behind against the undefeated Packers in Lambeau Field and silencing the crowd or dominating the 5-0 Bengals to the tune of 24-7 and unleashing the boo birds for a rare Cincinnati sellout. They lost both of those games, but the ceiling that they demonstrated was real. Consider that the Bengals had trailed for a total of 1 minute 56 seconds before the game against Seattle.
Seattle found an effective running game. They lead the NFL in rushing yards despite playing without Lynch for what really was three games. Their offensive line played their most complete game of the year in a game that featured a nightmare defensive line. The final tally shows four sacks, but one came when Wilson ran out of bounds one yard behind the line when he could have just tossed it away. Another came when Wilson decided to scramble quickly and got back to the line of scrimmage. They played well and earned some praise.
Nobody is going to feel sorry for Seattle. The vultures will circle, looking for chances to swoop down and feed. The Seahawks could just wither and become a major disappointment. That is not what I expect from this group. There is too much talent and too much grit. There will probably be a few more seats available on the bandwagon. The ride will be a bit bumpier. You may have to endure more trolling from opposing fans and friends. But you know this team. You have seen who they are and what they can do. They will fight. They will claw and scratch. Even if they have failed to finish games, they have consistently proven they can finish seasons. Acknowledge the failures and pain so far, but recognize the potential and the integrity. They flashed greatness even in their most confounding loss. I plan to be there when they emerge from this, ready to prove the doubters wrong again.