Following the Seahawks’ 44-34 loss at Buffalo on Sunday, coach Pete Carroll said the way the game went left him thinking “I don’t even recognize us.’’
One could argue that the game was a pretty perfect illustration of what the Seahawks have been more often than not in the first half of the season — save for four turnovers from quarterback Russell Wilson.
From the first game, the Seahawks have been able to score on anyone and pretty much unable to stop anyone (other than a gimpy Jimmy Garoppolo for three quarters).
Seattle has scored 30 or more points in seven of eight games (and a mere 27 in the other) and ranks first in the NFL in points scored per game at 34.3 points per game while allowing 30 or more points four times and at least 23 in each in giving up an average of 30.4 per game, 30th in the NFL (and for some context, the Seahawks went from the middle of 2011 to the first game of 2015 allowing 30 or more points just four times in a span of 65 games).
Maybe the Seahawks just are what they are and the rest of the season will be about trying to overcoming their flaws enough to still accomplish their goals. It’s worth remembering they have pretty much done that so far, standing at 6-2 and in first place by a game in the NFC West over the Cardinals and Rams (each 5-3) and tied with Green Bay and the Saints atop the conference.
But, before the second half begins Sunday in Los Angeles against the Rams, it’s time to hand out a few grades and awards for the first half.
This one is pretty easy. At what is basically the sole point of it all, scoring points, no team has been better than Seattle. And as noted above, Seattle has also been consistent, scoring from 27 to 38 points every game. Via Football Outsiders, the Seahawks are second in points per drive at 3.13 behind Green Bay’s 3.21. It can always be cleaner — Seattle’s 11 turnovers are suddenly tied for the 11th-most in the NFL. But in general, not much to complain about.
And, well, this one is also surprisingly easy. Despite now featuring five players who have been in Pro Bowls, the Seattle defense simply remains confoundingly bad.
There have been some good moments here and there, such as the last-second stops against Dallas and New England (though think how bad things would be if those hadn’t happened). And some players have played well. And yes, there have been some extenuating circumstances, with a lot of yards and points early on coming in games when the Seahawks had big leads. Still, it just hasn’t come together. And the Seahawks can’t blame turnovers (just 29 of the 243 points have come following turnovers) or being put in a lot of bad field positions (Seattle’s average opponent drive start is 25.59, according to Football Outsiders, fourth best in the NFL).
Oh, and for those keeping track, their 243 points allowed are already more than the 237 the 2013 team allowed all season (and yes, Seattle, allowing 455 yards per game, remains on track to shatter the NFL record for most yards allowed in a season of 440 set by the 2011 Saints).
Grade: D (avoiding an F thanks to a couple of early games).
The opening kickoff may still be fresh in people’s minds as one bad play for Seattle’s special teams. But otherwise, they’ve been really good. Jason Myers is 7 for 7 on field goals, and 18 has hit in a row dating to last season. And Michael Dickson is fourth in net punting at 44.5 yards per attempt, on pace to better his own team record by two yards. Football Outsiders this week ranks Seattle’s overall special teams fourth best in the NFL.
And now for a few midseason awards:
Offense: QB Russell Wilson
Wilson is on pace for 56 touchdowns, which is still on pace to break the NFL single-season record of 55 by Peyton Manning in 2013. And yes, he can’t keep throwing five interceptions in the span of three games, as he has. But a lot of those have come in desperate “trying-to-make-a-play’’ situations — five of his eight picks have come on either third or fourth down, and also when Seattle was tied or trailing.
Defense: MLB Bobby Wagner
Wagner may not be coming off his best game of the year against the Bills, but he remains Seattle’s best defensive player. Pro Football Focus selected him to its midyear All-Pro team this week, noting his pass-rushing prowess with 14 total pressures already this year, matching his 2019 total on 18 fewer pass-rushing attempts. And his passer rating allowed is down to 85.4 from 108.2 in 2019. But one thing to watch — via Pro Football Reference, Wagner has missed six tackles. He missed only one in 2018 and 10 a year ago.
Special teams: Michael Dickson
Myers, as noted, has been good but, through no fault of his own, hasn’t really had to make a real critical kick yet. So, we’ll go with Dickson, whose 50.5 yards per kick gross average is second in the NFL, as is his 21 punts downed inside the 20, which would also shatter the team record of 34.
Most underrated player
Right tackle Brandon Shell
Seattle may have really whiffed on free-agent signee B.J. Finney, who got a $2 million signing bonus, will still count as $1 million against the cap next year and never played an offensive snap before being traded. But they hit with Shell, who has played all but 13 snaps at right tackle and has proven to be an upgrade on the starter there a year ago, Germain Ifedi, especially in pass blocking. Ifedi allowed 50 pressures on 660 pass block snaps last year, via Pro Football Focus, while Shell has allowed 16 on 354 this year.
There is simply no way to spin it — a secondary that some thought could be among the best in the NFL after the offseason trades for Jamal Adams and Quinton Dunbar has so far not come through. To be fair, the injuries to Adams, Dunbar, Shaquill Griffin and Marquise Blair have taken a huge toll. And Seattle does have nine interceptions, tied for the fifth-most in the NFL. And the inability to get consistent pressure out of a four-man rush is a big factor, as well. But the hope was that the back end would be so strong that it might make up for any growing pains up front. That hasn’t happened.
That’s the fewest yards Seattle has allowed in any game this season. In a “how the mighty have fallen’’ stat, the Seahawks allowed that many just once all year in 2013 and twice in 2014.
Key question for the second half
Will the defense improve?
Carroll keeps saying it will, particularly as injured/new players get fully integrated into things again. And indeed, if Seattle can play a few games in a row with Adams, Dunbar, Griffin and Carlos Dunlap, things should look better. And they likely inevitably will once Seattle gets past the Rams and Cardinals the next two weeks and then plays the Eagles, Giants, Jets and Washington in consecutive games. The hope will be Seattle can find some consistency and confidence in those games to take into the playoffs.
One bold prediction for the second half
That’s my revised guess at Seattle’s final record, which should be good enough to get to the playoffs.
Seattle plays just three teams left with winning records — the Rams twice and Arizona once, with two of those three at home (the 39.6 winning percentage of Seattle’s remaining opponents is the lowest in the NFL). Seattle might well lose this week to the Rams and compel more dire assessments of where things are headed. But the steady hands of Carroll and Wilson will allow Seattle to ride that out and get back on track to take care of the winnable games in late November/early December and hold on to the NFC West. Whether that will be good enough to get the top seed in the NFC, though, may be the real question. After the games of last weekend, FiveThirtyEight.com now has the Packers as the favorite for the top seed (and a bye in the first round of the playoffs) at 31% followed by the Saints (29%) and Seahawks (28%).
The final word
How did Carroll assess the first half?
“If you’d asked me at the start of the season where you want to be at the halfway point, I’d still want to be undefeated,’’ Carroll said this week. “But the next thing I would have said is we’d like to be in first place in our division because that’s where all of our focus lies, when you finish out the season you want to have a chance to play at home in the playoffs, and that’s the best way to control that. … To be in first place at the halfway point is what we need to be. And so the fact that we’re there doesn’t mean anything because it’s what are we gonna do about it now.’’