The Morning After: Seahawks High-Wire Act Continues in 32-28 Win over Cleveland
This Seahawks season has been one long Rorschach test. Every fan sees something a little different that reveals some truth about the team and some truth about the individual. Some focus on the increasingly potent Seahawks offense that has scored 27 points or more in five straight games and features an MVP candidate at quarterback and a bruising running back with three straight 100-yard rushing games. Others focus on the porous defense that has given up 28 points or more in three of four games and registered 0 sacks in those same three games. Some delight in a coaching staff that continues to win at record rates and has shown real signs of evolution in offensive play calling. Others wince at every poor strategic decision. Your Seattle Seahawks have powerful strengths coupled with concerning flaws. What is undeniable is they are 5-1 after six games, indicating the good outweighs the bad.
Weird games are becoming normal with this team. At different points in this win over the Browns, you could have made a strong case for each unit on the team being either the reason for losing or the reason for winning.
Special teams started out with a terrible kickoff and poor coverage that nearly gave up a touchdown. There was also a missed extra point, another bad kickoff, a shanked punt, and a punt into the end zone. There was also a key blocked punt and two made field goals.
The defense was mostly suspect throughout, but started off atrociously by yielding three straight touchdowns. Cleveland was doing anything they wanted in the first half. Seattle did not have a single stop of zero or negative yardage. Every single Browns play in the first half, other than incomplete passes or turnovers, gained yardage. Seattle would finish the game with zero sacks, zero QB hits, and just two tackles for loss. On the flip side, they finished with four turnovers for the first time in years, including a game-clinching pick by K.J. Wright at the end.
You might be wondering what could be criticized about an offense that scored 32 points and piled up over 450 yards. Well, after scoring a touchdown on their first drive, they had to settle for two field goals in the red zone. One of those came after the special teams gifted them the ball at the Browns 20-yard line following the blocked punt. The next Browns drive ended in the first of three interceptions, and the offense proceeded to go 3-and-out.
After finally wrestling away control of the game up 25-20, the defense forced a quick punt and the offense had a chance to effectively end the game. For some questionable reason, they chose to run C.J. Prosise on a 3rd and 1, who fumbled the ball away. The defense found a way to make a goal line stand to protect the lead, and the offense could not gain a single yard, which led to a shanked punt and a 24-yard drive for the Browns to take the lead.
As I said, each aspect of the team contributed to the muck and the majesty we witnessed. There were a few players who played nearly flawless football.
Russell Wilson has transcended to a new level of performance. We can say it has been all season if you look at the numbers, but it really started in the second half of the Steelers game when the quick passing game sprung to life.
Wilson has always been an efficient player. He minimizes turnovers and maximizes yardage and points. What he has not always had was a consistent way to attack defenses. One of his greatest strengths is throwing the deep ball. The deep ball takes time to allow receivers to work their way downfield, which gives pass rushers time to get to the quarterback. It is electric when it works, but often drive-killing when it fails.
Wilson is now far more reliant on quick passing than at any point in his career. He is getting much better at utilizing his running backs as a pressure release valve when defenders break through the line. When he is being sacked, it is for less crippling yardage.
Wilson averaged 7.2 yards lost per sack over the past three seasons. He is averaging just 5.8 yards lost per sack this year. That’s a 19% reduction.
All of that is being added to his already considerable talents for what has been arguably the best quarterback play in the NFL to start the season.
His backfield buddy has not been bad either. Chris Carson has rushed for over 100 yards in three straight games. Only Leonard Fournette and Nick Chubb have more yards rushing over that span at the running back position.
Carson remains underappreciated by the fan base. He has 24 games under his belt as a Seahawk. The only player in franchise history to rush for more than Carson’s 1,863 yards in the first 24 games of his career was Curt Warner, who rushed for 2,108 yards in the 80s. Marshawn Lynch did not start his career in Seattle, but even his first 24 games in Seattle totalled just 1,542 yards on the ground.
Carson very well be headed for a Chris Warren-style career as a very good runner who never quite emerges as a memorable fan favorite.
The offensive line performed admirably. They were missing starters Duane Brown and D.J. Fluker, and yielded just 3 sacks and 6 QB hits. Two of those sacks could very well be attributed to Wilson, who had plenty of time to throw the ball away, but chose to try and extend the play instead.
Seattle ran for 170 yards and passed for nearly 300. There were very few penalties on the line. I will want to see the final numbers, but I believe even Germain Ifedi deserves praise for one of his best games.
This was my favorite game of D.K. Metcalf’s young career. He made a wider variety of plays than he has to date. There was a beautiful toe-drag lean along the sideline, a trucking of defenders for a big run-after-catch, his first end-around, and a game-sealing third down catch while under tight coverage.
Tyler Lockett had another series of impressive catches. Jaron Brown had two crucial touchdown catches. Neither of which were easy. David Moore did well with his opportunities.
Overall, this Seahawks offense is 3rd in the NFL in point scored and 2nd in yards gained since week two of the season. They boast the highest rated passer and the 7th most prolific rusher. At what point does Brian Schottenheimer deserve credit for being good at his job? At what point does Pete Carroll deserve credit for firing his whole offensive coaching staff two years ago and hiring this one?
My conversations with many fans on this subject tend to head down a path of all the credit going to Wilson. Just one season ago, Schottenheimer and Carroll were under massive fire for their game plan on offense and the “wasting” of Wilson’s career. There is mounting evidence that Wilson is playing the best football of his career while being paired with Schottenheimer. It also becomes harder to make a credible case that anyone’s career is being wasted when they are considered the MVP of the league.
It will probably always be through clenched teeth for some, but what I’m watching leads me to believe the coaching staff deserves a healthy amount of credit for learning and growing along with their quarterback.
Losing a great player like Will Dissly makes life tougher. He was a fantastic blocker and receiver. It would be like the Cowboys losing Jason Witten in his prime. Luke Willson has played well, but is nowhere close to Dissly. Jacob Hollister will be a pleasant surprise for many when they see him used in the passing game, but he is a truly bad blocker.
Carroll sounded pessimistic about Ed Dickson coming back this year, but he is eligible to return in two weeks. If he can come back at all, that now becomes a very big deal. The health of Duane Brown is another factor. If he can return to the field, that allows George Fant to play some tight end as well.
On the other side of the ball, this defense is struggling. They are not defending the run or the pass well. Their tackling remains suspect. The pass rush has yielded zero sacks in three of the last four games. Safety play has been particularly bad. Coaches are acknowledging the problem to some extent by rotating in Lano Hill and Marquise Blair for Tedric Thompson. The linebackers are not impacting the game the way everyone had hoped.
The one player you can say is playing consistently great football is Shaquill Griffin. He had a crucial pass breakup in the endzone at the end of the first half that led to a Thompson interception and an eventual touchdown for the Seahawks. It is not hard to argue that was the biggest play of the game. Had the Browns found a way to score a touchdown on the next play, the score would have been 27-12. Instead, the Seahawks went into half down 20-18.
The path to improvement for this defense is foggy. We can hope that the players grow more accustomed to this new scheme over time and learn how to make bigger plays more consistently. We can hope that getting Jarran Reed back will solidify the run defense, and improve the pass rush. We can hope that a young player like Blair grabs a hold of the safety spot to provide some upside playmaking potential. We can hope.
It is not unprecedented for a team to make a Super Bowl run with a powerhouse offense and a suspect defense. The Patriots made the Super Bowl four times with a defense that ranked 20th or worse in either points allowed or yards allowed, including the 2011 crew that ranked 31st in yards allowed. The Falcons made the Super Bowl in 2016 with a defense that ranked in the bottom third in points and yards allowed.
For that to be a viable path, the offense has to be incredibly special and irrepressible. That is not out of the question. It also seems to be in many of those circumstances, the defense plays it’s best football at the end of the season and in the playoffs.
The chances of that happening are 50/50 at best for this team. Carroll has always had a knack for getting his teams playing their best football late in the year. This defense may simply have a talent gap that puts a ceiling on how good they can be.
The special teams has to find their way back to credibility. Michael Dickson has been a massive disappointment this season. Jason Myers has been roughly equivalent to the past two frustrating kickers for Seattle. Coverage teams have been bad. Many of us wondered why Brian Schneider was not fired along with the rest of the coaching staff a couple years ago. Nothing from this season changes that. This defense could really benefit from Dickson getting his foot on straight.
Seattle has had significant problems on defense and special teams, and finds itself sitting at 5-1 after six games. You could argue they should be undefeated. You could argue they should be 1-5. In truth, the Seahawks have been the better team than all but the Saints team they played. Even there, I’d pick the Seahawks to win that game if they played it again.
There are rough roads ahead with two games against a very good 49ers team, and what is graded as the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL. Finding an offense that can consistently put up 27+ points gives them a chance to win any game. This Seahawks team has left no room for comfort so far this season. Each game has been harder than it needed to be. Yet, they just keep winning. It feels like a car trying to turn over that is somehow winning races. The sensational Lamar Jackson comes to town this week with old pal Earl Thomas in tow. It will take more than a sputtering engine, firing on a few cylinders to send them home empty handed. MVPs have a way of lifting teams above their talent level. Wilson has done that, and there is no reason to believe he will stop anytime soon.