Seattle is 3-2 as it gets back to action against the Giants Sunday in New York but has a lot of work to do to become the team it wants to be.
The Seahawks entered their bye having positioned themselves well enough but not having really proven anything.
The 16-10 win at Los Angeles on Oct. 8 gave them a tiebreaker leg-up on the team that appears to be their most legitimate threat in the NFC West.
But Seattle got to its 3-2 record rather tenuously. Other than a home blowout of a struggling Colts’ team, Seattle’s other four games were all decided by eight points or less, all basically going down to the final few minutes.
Seattle is averaging exactly the same amount of yards per play as its opponents — 5.2 — and has one fewer first down (94-95). And take out the Colts’ game and Seattle has been outscored.
In other words, Seattle has yet to display the kind of dominance it did in the 2012-14 glory days, or in the second half of 2015, or even for a few stretches of last season (it may be hard to remember, but Seattle started 7-2-1 last season before the late fold).
Maybe the fact Seattle has so far looked sort of average doesn’t matter in a 2017 season in which parity in the NFL seems greater than ever — when Kansas City lost on Thursday night it meant that all but one NFL team (Philadelphia) has at least two losses.
As the Seahawks now begin a stretch of 11 games in 11 weeks Sunday against the Giants in New York they remain considered a leading Super Bowl contender — Seattle has 10-1 odds in Las Vegas this week to win the Super Bowl behind only New England (4-1), Kansas City (7-1) and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (8-1).
But achieving those lofty goals won’t happen unless the Seahawks improve in a few key areas.
Here are five things Seattle needs to do to better beginning with Sunday’s game at New York, in no particular order.
1. Start faster on offense
Seattle has scored just nine points in the first quarter this season, an average of 1.8 that is fifth-lowest in the NFL, all on field goals.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll and others with the team don’t seem to think it’s a big deal, in part because it’s sort of always been the Seahawks’ way to get stronger as the game goes on — in the Super Bowl season of 2013 Seattle was 21st in the NFL in points scored in the first quarter, for instance.
But this Seattle team has a smaller margin for error than some of the past teams (or it appears to, anyway) and counting on the big second half may not be as reliable of a strategy as in the past. The good news is that Seattle has allowed just two points in the first quarter this year, fewest in the NFL, oddly making the first quarter one of just two in which Seattle has outscored opponents this year — the Seahawks have been outscored 38-27 in the second and 38-35 in the third before outscoring opponents 39-9 in the fourth.
2. Get more production from the tailbacks
Seattle’s rushing totals might be better than you think — the Seahawks are 15th this week at 109.2 per game.
But the two players who for now are the top two tailbacks — Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls — have yet to do much. Lacy has 74 yards on 25 carries and Rawls just 24 on 13, a combined 98 on 38, just 2.5 yards per attempt.
And with C.J. Prosise’s ability to stay on the field consistently remaining a big question, it may be Lacy and Rawls or bust for Seattle’s running game this season. Seattle simply has to get more out of at least one of those two.
3. Utilize Jimmy Graham even more in the red zone
The offensive bright spot of the win over the Rams was Graham’s four-yard touchdown catch on a jump ball fade route from Russell Wilson, the kind of play that looks so easy to pull off but has seemed far too difficult for Seattle to get done consistently.
But unless the running game really gets going, Seattle will need more where that came from this season — the Seahawks have just two rushing touchdowns, fewer than all but three other teams (granted Seattle has played one less game than all but nine other teams, but it’s still a middling total).
Seattle has also scored touchdowns on just six of 14 trips inside the red zone, 42.86 percent, tied for 30th in the NFL. Getting Graham involved more consistently should help that.
4. Defend the run better
Sure, a few big runs have helped bloat Seattle’s run defense statistics —- 136 of the 636 rushing yards the Seahawks have allowed have come on two plays.
But the numbers are what they are — a year after leading the NFL in fewest yards allowed per carry at 3.4 the Seahawks are now allowing 4.9, which ranks 30th. Opponents have had at least one run of 22 yards or longer in each of the last four games — in 16 games last year, only five times did an opponent have a run of 22 or longer.
And that comes despite the fact Seattle has played only one team that ranks higher than 14th in the NFL in yards per carry (Tennessee, which is third).
That Seattle held Todd Gurley down as much as it did two weeks ago — a season-low 43 yards on 14 carries for a player who ranks fourth in the NFL overall with 521 — shows that the Seahawks can still get it done. The goal the rest of the way is to avoid the uncharacteristic errors that have led to a few uncharacteristic big runs allowed.
5. Even out the sacks and quarterback hits
Yep, we’ve gone this far without really writing about the offensive line, though obviously the line contributes to the running game issues and offensive slow starts mentioned earlier.
But maybe the most glaring stat indicative of the work-in-progress that the offensive line remains comes in quarterback hits — Seattle has allowed 43, sixth-most in the NFL. And that’s with Wilson back to his old shake-and-bake mobile ways of years of past. Seattle now has to get through 11 games in 11 weeks and can’t afford Wilson getting hit that much every week.
Conversely, Seattle’s pass rush has been inconsistent, and now will go at least eight games without Cliff Avril, who last year led the Seahawks with 11.5 sacks. Seattle ranks tied for 21st in sacks per game at 2.2 (with 11 total) and has 29 quarterback hits, but with 11 coming against the Colts, getting four or fewer in three other games.
Michael Bennett leads Seattle with 10 quarterback hits but no one else has more than four. And Bennett is walking wounded these days, battling a plantar fascia injury, meaning Seattle will have to hope for consistent play from Frank Clark, now filling in for Avril, and Marcus Smith, among others.