This is a guest article by Curtis Allen…
What an exhilarating quarter. Sweeping the entire quarter is a huge accomplishment, particularly when you consider they had two division games and two other opponents they do not often play — with contrasting styles of offense and defense.
This team is currently playing at a near peak-level of Pete Carroll’s original vision with an offense that uses all phases of the game (and the field), a defense that can get after the passer with only the front four and generate turnovers and a special teams unit that blends seamlessly with the other two phases to complete the circle.
Evidence — the Seahawks had the NFL’s best point differential in these four weeks, scoring 48 more points than their opponents.
The closest way this team is like the early Pete Carroll legendary teams? They are winning games while simultaneously developing young talent. Once that talent gets a feel for the nuance of the game, watch out.
If the Seahawks end up making noise in the NFC, this quarter is the one you will be able to point to as where it really got started.
The numbers continue to defy belief. In four games he has six touchdowns vs two interceptions, a 70.63% completion percentage, a 99.8 QB rating and six rushing first downs.
At the pseudo-halfway mark of the season, he is on track to throw for 28 touchdowns with only 8 interceptions, a QB rating of 107 and over 4100 yards passing.
Those are only the top sheet statistics though. What makes his performance so remarkable is the source of those numbers. The calm in the face of pressure (this quarter he faced blitzes about 40% more than he did in the first quarter), the command of the offense (watching him get the offense to the line with 15 seconds to spare and orchestrate things is near poetry) and his cool in the face of adversity (overcoming a pick-six with seven straight third down conversions in Week Nine).
And he is doing it all for a $3.5 million cap hit plus incentives, call it $7 million. The Seahawks have $33.5 million invested in the quarterback position this year when you figure in Russell Wilson’s $26 million dead cap. Even if you do not factor in the picks and players they received in trade and just look at the cost and benefit at the position, the Seahawks are netting a nice profit. Incredible.
The biggest takeaway from this quarter may be this — teams now have tape on Geno in this offense and have yet to be able to devise a consistent way to slow him down or effectively counter what the Seahawks are doing.
This quarter, he graduated from a surprising curiosity to a bona fide top NFL quarterback and has made the Seahawks relevant again.
In the four games this quarter he recorded five sacks, six tackles for loss, eight quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
He played 79% of the snaps in those four games and he has not worn out. The Seahawks have been thin at the position with Darrell Taylor, Alton Robinson and Tyreke Smith all missing time.
Nwosu is playing more than he ever has and is providing career-best numbers. This has allowed the Seahawks to ease in Bruce Irvin and not overwhelm rookie Boye Mafe without missing any productivity. That is fantastic value and will pay dividends later in the season.
He is doing all this on a 2-year $19m contract. His cap number this season is $6.3 million. He has already earned his salary this year. Everything else is pure profit.
Perhaps most importantly, the Seahawks are no longer needing to blitz at crazy levels to get pressure on the passer — so the young backfield is not overburdened. Nwosu has been a key piece of that transformation.
With Rashaad Penny getting injured in Week Four, the rookie has been pushed into the spotlight. Result? The running game with Walker has not missed a beat.
There are several things that make a running back valuable, from keeping the offense balanced and on schedule to relieving some pressure on the quarterback. However, a lot of the pure stats can be padded or need real context to grasp their true value.
So, how can we cut through the minutiae and see what made Walker such a valuable player this quarter?
How about his fourth quarter stats as the team went 4-0:
*189 yards rushing
*4 First Downs
Walker is the living embodiment of the dream scheme for most NFL teams and fans — mix the run and pass to get a lead, let your defense chase their quarterback around a bit and protect that lead and then slam the door on them late with a running game they cannot stop.
A player like Walker is tying the offense and defense together and making the formula one that is hard to beat.
Rookie of the Quarter
424 yards. 23 first downs. 13 explosive runs. 6 touchdowns.
We have talked a lot about how Jonathan Taylor is the one that got away in 2020. His rookie year he ran for 1169 yards, 69 first downs and 11 touchdowns.
If Walker keeps this pace up, he will steamroll Taylor’s numbers — accumulating 1418 yards, 71 first downs and 19 touchdowns. That is even accounting for him missing the first game and being lightly used in the next four.
And yet, you can see there is more to come with experience. He also has potential in the passing game that is so far untapped.
The Seahawks have got a good one here.
The flashy stats of the first quarter are not there but make no mistake, his star is continuing to ascend. He had four passes defensed and one interception this quarter.
His year-to-date PFF grade is 72.9. Have a look at his four game grades this quarter – 83.6, 63, 65.6, 69.3. That is consistently good play. It looks even better when you consider some of the names he lined up against: Hollywood Brown, Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Darius Slayton and DeAndre Hopkins. None of those guys had games to write home about playing against the Seahawks.
Kyler Murray had targeted Hopkins 27 times in the previous two games. He only managed to target Hopkins five times in Week Nine.
Woolen has not earned the ‘shutdown corner’ label just yet. But whatever phrase you prefer that is just one notch below that, that is where he is.
Again, this is a fifth-round rookie who is earning $788k on the cap this year. Ridiculous.
3a and 3b.Charles Cross and Abe Lucas
These two have continued to put in 60-ish grade PFF performances on a regular basis. This quarter, they reduced their penalties. Each had one false start and Cross had a holding penalty that hindered a drive but the defense had his back and gave the ball back to the offense.
They also showed us something further — development. They both had a shaky game (by their standards, anyway) Week Six against the Cardinals, as Geno Smith was sacked five times. How would they handle the rematch in Week Nine? Smith was only sacked twice. Once was on a blitz by Isaiah Simmons that Will Dissly could not handle (nothing to do with the tackles). The other – both Cross and Lucas got pushed by their rusher but the interior line also made sure Geno could not escape.
Also notable was Cross’ performance against Khalil Mack in Week Seven. Mack did not get a sack and only recorded one pressure, going head-to-head with Cross most snaps. Considering the year that Mack was having, that is impressive and shows growth.
What is great about these two is they are taking their lumps and learning on the job, while the Seahawks are winning games. They are solid to the point where fans are already just assuming that the opposition pass rush will not be a huge problem for them and they will be able to run the ball as they need to.
Just wait until these two get some more reps under their belt. Lucas in particular will be tossing bodies regularly on highlight reels.
Honorable Mentions-Coby Bryant and Boye Mafe
Both players are progressing. Both have a way to go. You can see them in coverage at times, trying to think their way through things instead of acting on instinct. Open-field tackling can be problematic. Mafe is adjusting to what the scheme requires of him in coverage, and Bryant is getting used to not having a sideline ally to work with as a nickel. It is just not quite there for them currently.
And yet, like the two tackles, they are learning on the job while the Seahawks are winning games.
With Mafe, it is just a matter of time before he becomes a regular contributor. He is too strong and too skilled to not keep progressing. It feels like a breakthrough is coming.
Bryant is more than compensating for his steep learning curve at the nickel spot by displaying a penchant for forcing fumbles. We have even seen a couple Bryant-generated turnovers get wiped off the record books with penalties and judgement calls by the officials.
In training camp, I witnessed Bryant step onto the practice field on the very first day and scrimmage well at left outside corner. I styled him the “rookie star of the day” amongst all the rookie talent the Hawks brought in and praised his performance.
Later in camp I saw that the Seahawks were giving him time at the nickel spot and questioned the position change, pointing at players like Damien Lewis as proof the Hawks could be messing with a good thing.
At this point, I am reconsidering that viewpoint. Bryant’s ability to generate turnovers demanded he get on the field as soon as possible and with Woolen locking the right side job down and the left side a crowded field of capable corners (at this moment Michael Jackson and hopefully soon Tre Brown) the move to nickel appears to be a positive one.
Bryant has the skills and the desire to embrace the challenge of change and he had college experience but no NFL experience as an outside cornerback. He had a training camp and preseason to get ready. And with the NFL becoming more and more of a three wide receiver league, the nickel spot is becoming critical. Why not develop a talent like Bryant and lock that position in for the foreseeable future rather than bringing in a veteran off the scrap heap every season and play the hit and miss game at an important spot?
1.Defense: The Adjustment
After five games of disastrous results, Pete Carroll and the staff made an adjustment that is paying off extremely well.
The biggest change is up front with the linemen. In short, they want them to attack instead of reacting.
Originally, they instructed their base three defensive lineman to control the gaps and read what the offense was doing. Now, they have changed their assignments to have them attack the gaps and create both run and pass pressure. This allows them to use their skillsets to their maximum ability.
Players like Poona Ford, Shelby Harris and Quentin Jefferson have come alive with the change.
The other big adjustment has been behind the line. The Seahawks had been using Cody Barton (PFF 52.6) on nearly every defensive snap. This quarter, they scaled back his snaps to as little as 30-40% and brought a three-safety look onto the field, with Ryan Neal taking on a larger role.
Neal (PFF 78.5) has exploded this quarter. In four games, he has 5 passes defensed, an interception, a quarterback hit, a sack, three tackles for loss and several impressive tackles in the run game.
The whole adjustment stems from a pretty simple principle: Understanding what your roster does best and putting them in the most advantageous position to do that.
Last quarter, I put the defense on notice in my report card. They have risen to the challenge and more than met their expectations for a passable NFL defense.
Let’s not embrace that they were so late to the party and rather rejoice that they showed up at all and are making a huge difference now.
What have been the results of these adjustments from a statistical viewpoint? Read on…
The first quarter, this defense allowed 30.8 points per game, good for #31 in the NFL. They were absolutely dreadful.
This quarter? They dropped that to 12.75 points per game (51 total points over four games. I refuse to ding the defense for the 15 points the offense and special teams conceded this quarter).
Just for comparison, the legendary Seahawks defenses of the 2013-2015 era (sacrilege alert) gave up 14-15 points per game over the course of their seasons. Yes, this year’s model is only a four-game stretch and their horrid first quarter assures their year-end numbers will not be great. Yet for this quarter, this Seahawks defense was in rare air.
Perhaps it had something to do with their pass rush…
At the end of the first quarter, the Seahawks were in the dregs of the NFL in team sacks with eight putting them firmly within the worst defenses at 29th overall.
This quarter? They had 19 sacks to catapult them to 4th overall in the entire league with 27. I repeat: the Seahawks defense went from 29th to 4th in sacks in only four games.
Eleven different players have sacks.
The 3-4 alignment allows them a more natural posture for the edge players to rush the passer. So really, the only blitzers they have are defensive backs and off-ball linebackers like Cody Barton and Jordyn Brooks. So, the rush is more organic, and those safeties can man their regular responsibilities more readily, and let the pressure come from players that know they are going to rush the passer.
I think we all can agree that it is working.
Honorable Mention: Sweeping Arizona
Any time you sweep a division opponent it is sweet. How much more so to start and end the quarter with a win. Beating the same team twice in four weeks is a real accomplishment.
The fact that the Cardinals are struggling and are now pretty much out of the division race and primed to play spoiler for LA and the Niners makes it even sweeter.
Honestly, were there any real struggles of serious consequence this quarter?
Quandre Diggs still not living up to his $13 million a year contract? (He has a 62 PFF grade so he is not awful)
The blocked punt in the end zone that resulted in a touchdown in Week Six? (The Seahawks had counter-balanced that by having two punt fumbles forced and recovered to ease the team to a win against the Giants)
Dee Eskridge needing to show up in games? (Marquise Goodwin’s day against the Chargers sure eased that difficulty)
The punt return weirdness? (Frustrating but not game changing)
Kyler Murray running for 160 yards? (ditto – frustrating but not game changing)
Pete Carroll’s continued odd use of timeouts? (some things will never change)
I don’t know.
When the Seahawks log four straight wins and win by an average of 12 points per game, particularly in the way they are winning, trying to find real discernible struggles for this four-game stretch feels like nitpicking and strains credibility.
Next Quarter Games
@Tampa Bay in Munich
@ LA Rams
What a strange quarter this will be, particularly in comparison to what we thought it would be when the schedule first came out.
All four teams are wounded animals of sorts.
The Buccs just came off a three-game losing streak, the Raiders are a talented disaster, the Rams’ offensive line is a mess and they could not make any of their patented ‘screw the salary cap, screw the draft picks’ trades this time and the Panthers have enjoyed a post-coach-firing dead cat bounce.
Every game is winnable in its own way and a dangerous trap in its own way.
1.Beat the Rams
The Seahawks have a healthy lead in the division but let’s be right. They need to beat LA. The Rams have been their nemesis for years.
The Seahawks finally beat the Rams in 2020 to win the division. It was a short-lived victory as the Rams came to Seattle and bounced them out of the playoffs two weeks later and then swept the Hawks last year.
A page is turning in the division back to Seattle. The Rams announced their intention to take the division over in 2017 with a 42-7 blowout, probably the worst loss of Pete Carroll’s Seahawks career.
Will the Seahawks be able to make a similar announcement this year?
I am not saying the Seahawks need to blow them out like that. That would be nice though.
Beating the Rams would also be a major accomplishment for Pete Carroll. In his Seahawks tenure, Carroll has never had a losing season vs the NFC West. They stand at 2-1 currently, and a win would keep that streak alive. It might be a very meaningful stat in a season of shattered expectations.
2.Set up the Fourth Quarter
The last four games of the season look scintillating. The Seahawks host the Niners for a revenge game, go to Kansas City for a Saturday game that looks far more interesting than it should, host the upstart Jets and finish by hosting the hated Rams.
Going at least 2-2 this quarter helps set them up entering the fourth quarter at 8-5. A 3-1 run has them at 9-4 and looks so, so much better with four very tough-looking games to play.
More than just simply putting wins in the column, if we want to keep comparing this team to the legendary run Carroll had in 2012-2014, the team will need to add one of that team’s trademarks — absolutely rolling through opponents in November and December.
Those teams built momentum over the year. The young talent matured right in front of our eyes and was battle-tested come the cold and rainy season, when playoff hopes are defined and character is demonstrated.
3.Tap the reservoir of talent
As good as the team has been and as good as the young talent has been, there is still more depth for this team to plumb.
Tre Brown is nearly ready to come back. Can he get in the game and show some of the speed and feisty play he demonstrated last year before his injury?
Penny Hart is a heart-and-soul glue guy for this team. He can contribute on special teams, throw his relatively small body at tacklers in the run game and surprise cornerbacks with a key catch or two. Can he find a way to contribute this quarter?
Pete Carroll has been very quiet about Alton Robinson’s injury status. Bruce Irvin’s arrival cools the need for him to get back on the field. Yet a third or fourth quarter shot in the arm with a fresh pass rusher from the edge would be fantastic. Robinson has demonstrated a trait not unlike Coby Bryant — he has not recorded a lot of sacks but every time he got one, they were incredibly well timed and impactful. That would be a cherry on top of this burgeoning pass rush if he can get back in the fold.
Dee Eskridge. He had a prime opportunity to contribute in Week Nine with Marquise Goodwin out and could not capitalize. It appears at this point that Pete Carroll does not even trust him to return punts. The coaches need to reach him. That incredible potential we all saw pre-draft needs to be tapped. As good as the top two wide receivers and the three tight ends are, having a real third wide receiver option that takes the top off the defense would be the ingredient that takes this offense from very good to absolute juggernaut. He has got to find the fairway.