Sunday is significant. This Seahawks team shouldn’t be losing three games in a row. They’re too good, even with the injuries. Yet they face a big challenge to right this ship and avoid what could end up being a wasted season.
Who would’ve forecast the forthcoming problems two weeks ago? The Seahawks were 3-1 having already handily beaten (despite a close finish) the Denver Broncos. Then two defeats and a Percy Harvin fiasco later — the season is on the line.
It’s not a ‘must win’. We’re not at that stage yet. Not with five NFC West games still to come. But avoiding a third straight loss will bring fresh belief and confidence to this team. It will show they can overcome adversity.
Carolina is far from an easy game, even if they too are facing a similar crossroads. They’re 3-3-1 in a wide open NFC South, despite emerging as a contender last season.
The difficulty is, the issues go far beyond bringing together what some argue is a fractured locker-room. That could be a separate challenge, depending on what you want to believe.
Kevin Clark at the Wall Street Journal points out the key ingredient to Seattle’s slump — and it’s nothing to do with Harvin or Russell Wilson:
Last season, the Seahawks sacked the quarterback 12 times in the fourth quarter. This season, they are on pace to do it twice. They have allowed 8 yards per passing attempt in the fourth quarter—up 40% from last season. Most astonishing is the difference in quarterback “hurries,” or rushed passing attempts, late in games: Last season, the Seahawks hurried the opposing quarterback 21 times in the fourth quarter. This season’s total: one.
Bennett, one of the linemen that the Seahawks did hold on to, has played over 70% of Seattle’s defensive snaps in all six games this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Last year, over the entire 16-game season, he played that much only four times. Cliff Avril has played over 60% in five of Seattle’s six games. Last year, all season, he did that twice.
Here’s another stat of note — they’re giving nine more points per game on defense. Nine.
Pete Carroll and John Schneider spent two seasons trying to get the pass rush right. In the third year they finally got there. And now it’s back to square one. Adding to the problem — injuries at linebacker, cornerback and safety. Opposing teams have found a formula to combat the cover 3 — San Diego mastered the plan, others are emulating it.
Even the St. Louis Rams, sporting an ultra conservative game plan to aid quaterback Austin Davis, managed to exploit Seattle’s feared defensive unit. The most alarming play of the season so far isn’t the 3rd and 20 conversion by Tony Romo or the fake punt on Sunday. It’s the sight of a totally un-flustered Davis having the time to make a 30-yard throw on third down to extend a vital drive for the Rams. A total gut-punch on the way to an 80-yard scoring drive.
Getting back on track isn’t so much about moving on from the Harvin trade or running Marshawn Lynch more. Or anything else. It’s repairing the defense. It’s about making it productive again. It’s about rushing the passer and staying disciplined.
Failure will prolong the struggles. You better believe Eli Manning and the Giants will do what Rivers and Romo did if he’s given time. Carson Palmer, Nick Foles, Alex Smith. They’ll all do it. It’ll put pressure on the offense to keep scoring. They’re capable, but it’s not the formula from last year. Not even close.
Look at this video from Mike Mayock. He highlights some alarming issues. Cliff Avril struggling to get off a tight end block. K.J. Wright missing a running lane while two players fill the same gap. People constantly talk about the lack of turnovers, but they’ll go in turn with pressure and discipline. Even in the games Seattle led in, they aren’t forcing mistakes. The most opportunistic secondary in football isn’t being given an opportunity to make a play.
Seattle doesn’t want to lose all that Championship momentum. The philosophy is ‘Win Forever’, not win off-and-on. It’s hard right now to see what they can do to improve this situation. Bruce Irvin was already playing more defensive end. Clinton McDonald simply hasn’t been replaced. Benson Mayowa is long gone, Cassius Marsh is on I.R. Jordan Hill won’t play this week it seems. What can they do?
I suppose they can take a page out of 2012’s book. Sure they had Bobby Wagner healthy, Kam Chancellor healthy. They had Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. Yet they didn’t have Michael Bennett or Cliff Avril. They were starting Jeremy Lane instead of a suspended Brandon Browner for a stretch — so the situation at corner (starting a raw, untested player) was similar. Mebane, Sherman and Thomas are still here. So is K.J. Wright.
They still found a way to do enough on defense to be very competitive. Remember how they destroyed the Bills in Toronto, Arizona in Seattle and the 49ers before Christmas? Remember the tighter yet no less vital wins against Chicago, St. Louis and then Washington in the playoffs? They even won on the road in Carolina — as they did last year.
Maybe they’ve lost some of the hunger and chirpiness that 2012 roster had, but now’s the time to get it back. Major repair work is needed to improve the pass rush but this can’t be done until the off-season. Nobody is trading Seattle a top pass rusher on the cheap before the deadline on October 28th. Maybe they have to review how they used Clemons in the LEO and install Avril in the same role? Perhaps Irvin has to be used as a mere specialist again, putting responsibility on Kevin Pierre-Louis or Brock Coyle? Can Bennett do more work inside to provide some interior rush?
Channeling that 2012 spirit can get the Seahawks into a winning habit. There’s a reason they’re still ranked at #4 by Football Outsiders’ DVOA — and it’s not because they’re incapable of solving this defensive slump.
Sunday could be a turning point, or it could be the sign of some further tough weeks ahead. Either way it could be the most important game of the season.