It’s never “easy” to win in the NFL, but there are certainly games in which you are expected to finish handedly; even with some room for error, though no coach will admit it. For example: converting literally no 3rd downs and still beating the Arizona Cardinals, who are who we thought they were. As you’ve no doubt noticed, the Seahawks, since losing to the Chicago Bears, are one of the league’s hotter teams, going 4-1 over the past five games with the only loss coming from the Rams. If you ask some, that loss could even be their most impressive performance, due to the strength of that opponent versus the strength of the ones they’ve beaten.
At the end of the day, the Seahawks still only tout a 4-3 record, with all victories coming at the expense of sub .500 clubs and the losses coming from two division leaders and a middling Broncos team that historically takes care of business at home in September. There are some ugly wins. Some pretty losses. Some expected blowout victories. Some expected defeats. So are the Seahawks good, or are they just better than bad? Can this team contend for a playoff spot? With Green Bay falling to the Rams last week, it appears there is no slowing down Los Angeles, who are now four games up in the NFC West. Though anything can happen, the Seahawks realistically are bidding for a bid at the wild card.
Health is always one of the biggest factors in any team making a push for the Lombardi. The Seahawks, who started the season with a myriad of injuries, are in a pretty healthy state, seeing the returns of mainstay linebacker K.J. Wright and Dion Jordan, a key member of this defensive line. Debuting free agent acquisition Ed Dickson made an immediate impact, hauling in a 42-yard catch-and-run and providing another red zone presence for Russell Wilson.
The loss of Earl Thomas no doubt makes the Seahawks defense less potent but what’s happened in his absence is that teams are trying the deep portions of the field again. A reminder: Tedric Thompson is going to be good, folks. He is NOT Earl. He is not an eraser but once he settles in, you’re going to see him transcend. He’s putting himself in position to make plays but also overthinking. Setting anchor too early for a pass deflection on the early Marvin Jones touchdown, he was caught out of position. Then later, he couldn’t hang onto a routine interception that he could make blindfolded if given the same opportunity again. Making up for his early misplay, Tedric forced a fumble on an Ameer Abdullah kick return that set up Seattle’s second score of the day. He may not have the center fielder speed that ETIII had, but he doesn’t need it, as Kam Chancellor isn’t playing strong safety anymore. Kam is my favorite Hawk of all time, but I have no problem telling you that Bradley McDougald has better range and overall coverage skills. This alone takes a lot of pressure off the free safety.
Ultimately, what I’m saying is this: where the Seahawks have experienced some attrition, the “next man up” has, by and large, stepped up to plate. Whether it be Calitro and Mingo for K.J., Tedric for Earl, or Swoopes and Daniels for Dickson and Dissly. Even David Moore has gotten it done with Baldwin being eased back into the offense. These are all key factors when we look back on a season that started infirm.
Defensive line depth is another key to contending with playoff teams, especially against opponents that showcase high-powered offenses. After all the turnover that allowed doubt to creep in, we’re starting to see signs of said depth. Inside, the likes of Jefferson, Stephen, and Ford are stepping up while we still await the reemergence of Naz Jones. I mentioned the return of Dion Jordan, but even without him, the Seahawks have supplemented the outside linemen with Mingo, Martin, Jackson, and again Jefferson who, if you spotlight, has been playing out of his mind. Ideally, there is hope that Rasheem Green can relieve some of the workload once he returns too, which adds another set of fresh legs. When Seattle was on top, their defensive lines were deep. Once upon a time, there weren’t many household names; at least, they hadn’t become household yet. The current defense was ranked 12th in DVOA against the run prior to the Lions game. After only giving up 34 yards on the ground to Detroit, I anticipate them cracking the top 10 now. The defensive line deserves a “Lion-Share” of that credit.
Offensively, Pete Carroll is in complete nirvana. With Solari at the helm, and some used goods in Fluker and Sweezy, Pete’s offensive line has gone from one of the worst in the league to one of the best. Per the Delta, the emergence of Germain Ifedi was the least likely thing to happen in an infinite number of parallel universes strung out among the cosmos. Yet, it happened. The result? Russell Wilson has regained confidence. The running game has drastically improved. Yes, not only does it matter but it’s also helping play action when leading, despite the anti-run propaganda. What’s not propaganda is the group up front being the true difference maker, and while it may not matter where you get your running back, the personnel does matter somewhat. The backs aren’t one trick guys so you’re not tipping off the defense on 3rd down anymore. When George Fant comes in, the box must honor his eligibility whether he ever runs a route or not, particularly against man coverage. Utilizing an extra OL is not a brand-new concept but there isn’t a team in the league doing it as much as the Seahawks.
Seattle’s run/pass totals are fine in my opinion because the mix for most down & distances haven’t been predictable. Also, they’re not tipping run or pass by personnel groupings. The team isn’t shy to pass out of 20 or 22 personnel without play action. I tip my cap to the Lions defense on the 4th down attempt to Vannett that was called back. That was a 23 personnel look on the 1 yard line. That was the most obvious time to call run and Detroit didn’t bite.
The Seahawks are willing to run out of any formation or personnel grouping. They even don’t mind running on 2nd and long. While it’s not probable you’re picking up the 1st down, the coaches certainly trust Wilson to pick up 3rd and 6 with the current pass protection he’s getting. It’s awesome seeing how efficient Russell has become with the current balance, and how deadly he’s continues to be in the red zone. This is a result of, again, the improved offensive line, but the success on the ground too.
A team that wants to make their name being a tough running club usually relies on it when they get inside-the-20. However, take a gander at the pass/run scoring splits in the red zone and you may be surprised to see the Seahawks have been doing the opposite: running in between the 20’s and scoring via the air. Even including non-red zone scores, they’re on pace for 30+ passing TD’s. Other than the Cardinals game, Russell has had a multi-TD performance in every bout this season. Just simply looking at overall passes to runs is such a moot point now. Both Pro-Run and Anti-Run can see there’s more to it than that. Pete Carroll finished his Lions post-game press conference saying, “we aren’t fooling anyone” in regards to their offensive motive and, for the most part, he’s right. Teams know how he plays the game, overall. The mix has been good though and, whether Schottenheimer is responsible or just a byproduct of Pete Carroll getting his house in order, it’s hard to be upset.
That being said, we need to see it against winning teams.
Ultimately, that’s the box left unchecked right now. The next three weeks are going to answer our question about whether we should start preparing for football in January, or to temper further expectations. The Chargers, Rams, and Packers are on the slate. Go 2-1 and you’re 6-4 with some quality wins, heading into the final stretch with four home games left. Go 1-2 and you’re 5-5, the narrative being that Seattle is a middling team not able to get over the top with a philosophy no longer relevant against the best of the best.
These next three games are massive not only for the playoff implications, but for the future of the Seahawks. Botch these, and they’re likely missing the playoffs again; this time with 7 or 8 wins, setting up yet another dramatic off-season as the head coach and quarterback enter contract years.