Is Sunday’s game in Carolina the most significant of the season?

The Seahawks are 2-0 in Carolina over the last two years

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.


  1. hawkmeat

    First I just wanted to tell you Rob I am at a WA state lean conference and you were quoted in a large presentation. Thought that was pretty cool.

    The football related comment is the concern I have over the defense. Pete mentioned today he does not plan on changing or adding personnel on the defensive line, or something to that effect. He also suggested it is the same key members and left out key players from last year that are now gone. I missed big red and CC; even more so today.

    • Rob Staton

      Thanks for passing that on Hawkmeat. That’s pretty cool.

      Agreed on Big Red and Clemons. Pete is saying what he has to say to the media, but deep down he knows this isn’t last years defensive line. It’ll be a priority area in the off-season.

    • Arias

      I’m not sure Clemons would have been so effective had the team paid his salary to retain him this year. Even though he has 4 sacks he’s ranked dead last at 75th of 75 defensive ends ranked by PFF so far this season.

      • Colin

        PFF is a borderline garbage website.

        • Arias

          If they were ‘borderline garbage’ I really don’t think NFL teams would be paying big bucks for their services. They’re not perfect by any means, but calling them ‘borderline garbage’ when you don’t agree with their conclusions sounds like a rash overreaction.

  2. Micah

    I agree with the snap count for Bennett and avril and moving Irvin back to pass rush specialist. The beauty of last year was a fresh pass rush especially during 3rd down and the end of the season. We already have looked winded and we have only played 6 games. I know injuries have played a part, but fatigue is evident. Can we use Scruggs on early downs in the Bryant position and rotate avril and Irvin on early downs? Then on 3rd and long use irvin, avril at both ends and move Bennett inside with rotational dt. Also, what happened to the bandit package with the third safety in the game? Can’t jeron or shead come in there as an extra safety. It feels like we have really gotten away from some of the personnel things we used to do. I know teams are doing more hurry up on us, so it’s harder to sub, but we gotta find some way to use our talent better

  3. CC

    Hate to think we’re in must win territory, but we are. The unfortunate thing is that Carolina is basically in the same boat – maybe not for their division, but in terms of playing a terrible game at GB.

    I’m not sure if they blitz more, but they are going to have to make some moves to change it up. The Seahawks have always said “we do what we do” and now teams are adjusting.

    At least it isn’t going to be 90 degrees in Carolina this weekend.

  4. Colin

    Pete Carroll mentioned in his Monday Press conference that they cannot do the same things this year that they did last year. He mentioned -ever so slightly- they are going to make some tweaks to the defense. I’d expect them to start being a bit more aggressive in their looks. They can’t afford to sit around and wait for things to happen on defense.

    Conversely, the offense has to have better starts in the 1st half, especially when they get the ball to start games.

  5. Adog

    When Carroll says tweak …I expect him to put Thomas up in the box. They will risk giving up the “big” play in favor of turnovers and qb pressure. With Thomas playing closer…I expect to see kam and a linebacker twisting and stunting in zone blitzes and qb spies.

  6. AlaskaHawk

    So many of our problems are injury driven. Now we have our back up against the wall. That should be all the motivation we need. Just have to eliminate the fluke plays and big gains against us. That is so hard to do with backups playing.

    My modest proposal for drafting is find 2 offensive linemen for left side, 2 interior defensive linemen, a big wide receiver, a running back, and a middle linebacker. They may start or they might be backups, but they will all be needed.

  7. JeffS

    The pass rush didn’t get going last year until they brought back McDonald. At the time,it was widely reported that his interior rush opened everything else up.

    It was a great mistake to fail to sign him again.

    • Rob Staton

      I’m not sure they had the room to re-sign him. Not identifying an affordable alternative though is an issue.

    • Colin

      Can’t really blame the team when the player wants to go to free agency and signs a pretty good deal.

  8. Mylegacy

    While our team has its pimples (OLine, DLine, injuries,etc) it is also true that the team is sprinkled with stars (maybe even some future Hall of Famers) on both offense and defense. Despite an OLine that I (among others) has been knocking for two years now – last week that line allowed the Hawks to make three second half drives (averaging over 85 yards each). Simon looked (completely without discipline) but also potentially fantastic.

    In my opinion – this team CAN win the SB again. However, with so many challenges in either talent, maturity or health I just don’t don’t see us as being a favorite. We’ll have to transcend our challenges to thrive. Perhaps we can.

    Rob, you are right, this game is the most “significant” of the season. As will each succeeding game become for the duration of our season.

    We are no longer the consensus choice for Glory – this year we’ll have to achieve Glory by over coming our considerable questions. When we win it the repeat SB win will be be all the sweeter.

    • AlaskaHawk

      It was nice to see the Seahawks pass downfield – what a change.

      • CC

        Amen! And PRich sounds like he’s ready to open up the plays down field – so let’s hope we can throw some to him. Carolina’s DBs are average.

    • Jarhead

      I will say this, Seattle still has more haters than any other team in the NFL (just go to any article about the Seahawks on ESPN and read the facebook comments) it is refreshing to have almost the entire NFL media give up on us and jump ship to Dallas, Phila, and Denver. It feels a lot more like early last year when no one believed in us and we were constantly the underdogs. Seattle fits that mentality better- the chip on our shoulder, we WANT to prove you wrong- mentality. Does anyone here think that analysts would pick us over a rematch with Denver, Dallas, Phila, or even GB whom we dismantled? Then again, would anyone here NOT pick us to beat every one of those teams in spite of our injuries and recent games? I like this feeling of being an underdog and being underestimated again. We wouldn’t be the first team to get healthy at just the right time with a bunch of fresh legs and catch fire going in to the playoffs.

      • AlaskaHawk

        I must have read the same article. I was amazed at how bitter the other fans were toward Seattle. And there is nothing you can say to change that. Like if you say that the team has a lot of injuries they will say that we are whiners.

        Also interesting the way the media has gone out rumor hunting. If they can’t find a source like RW has problems with teammates in the locker room, or RW isn’t black enough; then they just make something up like What would happen if Lynch got traded to San DIego? Sports writers got to write about something. It’s just interesting how it went from dead silence before the Harvin trade to all these rumors.

        • Jeff C

          I just wish they were playing like last year, with the chip on their shoulders. The team really doesn’t look physically dominating like last year. At least so far.

  9. Ross

    They should go back to last year’s rotations and simply replace Clemons, Bryant and CMcD with players still on the roster. Irvin can rush on first and second in place of Clemons, with either TMcD or KWill on the other side, and Jordan Hill, when healthy, can continue filling CMcD’s role. The production won’t be as high, but it fulfills the primary goal of keeping Bennett and Avril from playing so many snaps. Unless they miraculously find an interior pass rusher on waivers or via trade.

  10. DieselDriver

    That Mayock video was interesting, although I think he missed on a couple of his assessments.

    1) On the play KJ Wright gets walled off on, that’s on the 2-Technique (Tony McDaniel) who completely whiffs on disturbing the release of the guard. There is no way that his assignment on that play, in that alignment, is not to engage the guard. Instead he let the guard have a free release on the backside linebacker. On top of that, there is no way McDaniel’s responsibility was not to spill the pulling Guard. That’s a simple trap play, and McDaniel got absolutely owned. KJ Wright is actually not in a terrible position to defend his running lane.

    2) On the goalline play, Jaye Howard didn’t really get “buried”. Him dropping to a knee is a technique to defeat a double team. Unfortunately, he didn’t maintain leverage with both players (Guard and Tackle) which both allowed him to get beat and allowed the Guard to climb to the scraping linebacker.

    Now…. Cliff Avril….. Absolutely embarrassing effort against the Tight End. The lane that the running back explodes through is his lane. Then, in the goalline play, he gets absolutely embarrassed again by the puller… knocked back all the way to the goalline. I don’t know if his assignment on that play was to spill or set the edge (probably to spill), but it certainly wasn’t to take on the full man… and certainly wasn’t to get buried 5 yards into the endzone.

    I haven’t broken down enough film to say one way or the other, but if that’s what the majority of the tape looks like on Avril, then he needs to be on the sideline.

  11. Roland jose

    Its obvious by this post that depth is an issue, the harvin deal messed this up, cause we could have signed needed depth role player like McDonald for interior rush probably on the cheap, this team is built on great defense and running the ball to control the clock, and they might have got away from that, its also obvious by the stats that bennet and avril are better when in a rotation with depth, so if we r gonna move forward and maybe make a deal or sighn some players off the street, it needs to be done, or maybe bring players up from the practice squad and give them a chance and needed experience cause this defense isn’t as explosive as it was a year ago, we need more depth to share the workload it seems that we are better this way so players are refreshed and can focus better on shorter stints, second if we are not going to do this, then we need to get creative on blitzing and also using stunts creativity might help. we need to breath some life into this defense, they are tired!, we need to get some more depth. as for our offense, we need a tall receiver in there, but probably not gonna happen next year is fine, cause the TE position is taking care of that issue (I think I like the move TE to combat the issue of tall receiver like how the patriots are doing it), and its much more cheaper than paying for a receiver like V Jac, who is also a headcase, we don’t need anymore of those, stop giving an arm and a leg for these divas and our future!. The defense is the key if we are gonna save this season. If not cant win them all lets get ready to build for next season then! the patriots who was the last dynasty didn’t win the superbowl after the first time, so its all good and long and we go on the win more of them before this regime is done!:)

  12. Stuart

    A huge beef for me is when we are in the Red Zone, the urgency to score a TD feels lacking to me, like a FG will be just fine….

    Case in point-our first possession in the Rams game, settling for a FG, those 4 points were huge!

    Same thing against Dallas too.

    • Hay stacker509

      I don’t know how far off I am but it’s seems like to me as soon as we get to the 5yd line Seattle turns into feed lynch the ball all 3 times. Oh we didn’t score let’s take a field goal. I love beast don’t get me wrong but I’m really getting tired of these 1-5 yd red zone field goal situations

      • cha

        Must get Miller healthy!

  13. Barry

    Watching the games earlier this year the D hasn’t looked the same all year. They haven’t been as physical. It has shown up even worse the last few weeks. They are behind, and I’m not just saying on the score. They LB’s look lost at times and when they don’t look lost they look beaten up and same can be said for the secondary. Kam and Sherm have really shown a lot of character in my opinion the last few weeks. But our front seven especially look over matched. We all know about the pass rush issues but our size and physicality hasn’t been there this year either

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see more exotic over loaded and zone drop blitzes. We have athletic D-ends and LB’s I know it gets away from Pete’s principal D but something will be done to counter and cover what is happening and what we don’t have on the D side of the ball.

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