RENTON — When Geno Smith takes the first snap Sunday at Pittsburgh it will mark the first time in 3,608 days someone other than Russell Wilson will have started a game at quarterback for the Seahawks.
And this week, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who like Wilson joined the Seahawks in 2012, came up with maybe the most fitting description of what it will be like to see someone start for the Seahawks at the game’s most important position.
“It’s definitely foreign territory,’’ Wagner said.
But if Smith stepping in for Wilson — who has started every Seahawks game since Jan. 1, 2012 — is the obvious storyline, it’s not just the quarterback situation where the team is verging into rare and potentially uncomfortable ground.
Even with Wilson starting the first five games, the Seahawks are 2-3 and for the second consecutive season fielding a defense that is opening the year as among the worst in the NFL.
The Seahawks are last in the NFL in yards allowed (450.8 per game), proving equally pliable both through the air (allowing 305.6 yards passing, 30th in the NFL) and the ground (145.2 yards per game, 31st).
It’s a far cry from not only the Legion of Boom days, but also the end of last season when the hope was that the Seahawks had turned a defensive corner for good in holding their last eight regular-season foes to 23 points or fewer.
Even two weeks ago there was hope that some of the defensive lapses in the first three games had been sorted out when the Seahawks beat San Francisco 28-21 in a game in which the defense held the 49ers to 13 points until a garbage-time score.
But Thursday’s 27-16 loss to the Rams, in which the Seahawks allowed 301 yards in the second half, was a step back that may be as distressing as Wilson’s absence for at least the next three games after he was placed on injured reserve Friday.
Lost in the spotlight on Wilson’s injury is that the Rams game not only dropped the Seahawks to 2-3 and continued what has been a string of mediocre play.
Since a 5-0 start to the 2020 season — which included three wins decided in the final minute — the Seahawks are 9-8 including the playoff loss to the Rams.
That includes just four wins against teams with winning records at the time of the game, the Seahawks going 4-4 in such games.
A loss to the Steelers and the Seahawks would fall to 2-4 for the first time since 2015, the latest in a season they have been two games under .500 in the Wilson era. The only stretch since then that they have been two games under .500 was an 0-2 start in 2018.
And a loss is what the oddsmakers are expecting.
The combination of Wilson’s injury, Pittsburgh’s win over Denver last Sunday and the Seahawks’ loss to the Rams compelled the betting line to shift from the Seahawks originally being favored by 2.5 points to standing as a 5.5-point underdog at some sports books.
In early lines for next week, the Saints are already listed as three-point favorites against the Seahawks next Monday night, which would mark four straight weeks as an underdog, something that hasn’t happened since late in the 2017 season. They were an underdog just once all last season.
But the Seahawks will hope that the defense can rattle the Steelers’ 39-year-old QB Ben Roethlisberger, who more than ever is content to throw quick, short passes — his 6.6 yard average per attempt is the sixth-lowest in the NFL.
They’ll hope that they can get a consistent push against a young Steelers offensive line, that includes two rookie starters, to hold down Pittsburgh’s running game and force Roethlisberger to have to make plays.
They’ll hope Smith can pick up where he started in the Rams game when he completed his first five passes to lead a 98-yard scoring drive.
Smith knows that because he hasn’t started a game since 2017 the Steelers may blitz more than they have to far this season to try to force him into mistakes.
“Am I expecting pressure?’’ Smith said this week. “Probably so, early on. They are going to want to test me, I’m pretty sure. That’s something I’ll be expecting and I’ll be ready for it.”
Wagner said players know the season is already being viewed as at a crisis point by those on the outside, but vowed that as the Seahawks have done so many times in his 10 years with the team, they will find a way.
“We understand the task at hand,’’ he said. “We understand there’s a lot of people who are counting us out, a lot of people that believe we can’t do it. We’ve proved people wrong in the past before, and I don’t see why the future doesn’t turn out the exact same way.”
Seahawks elevate Luton and Dorsett
The Seahawks elevated quarterback Jake Luton and receiver Phillip Dorsett to the active roster off the practice squad Saturday.
Luton will be the backup quarterback to Smith while Dorsett gives them a fifth receiver.
Dorsett was also elevated for the Rams game, so he would have to be signed to the 53 to play in any other games this season. This is Luton’s first elevation so he can be elevated one more time. But with Wilson assured of being out three games after going on injured reserve on Friday, the Seahawks will eventually have to sign Luton to the 53 — or go with Danny Etling, who this week was signed to the practice squad.
Dorsett played five snaps against the Rams but did not get a target.
Luton, who played at Marysville Pilchuck High School and at Idaho and Oregon State, started three games for the Jaguars last year as a rookie. The Jags lost all three games en route to a 1-15 season. But one of the games was a competitive 24-20 defeat at Green Bay.
The Seahawks signed Luton after the preseason and he spent the first three games of the season on the active roster before being waived and then re-signed to the practice squad.
“Jake has been in the system and knows the deal,” Carroll said this week. “He has been working to get ready for this opportunity. He has not had a lot of work — he’s had to do it on the backburner. I’ve gone back and looked at his games and all of the snaps that he’s had and the throws he’s made to see where he is. He’s capable of making plays, so we have to keep it clean for him, make sure that we don’t burden him if he gets a chance to play, and give him an opportunity to do what he does well. He has a strong arm, a strong hose, good release, and good accuracy. It will be a little bit of an experience once we start it up because he hasn’t had a lot of turns. He’s obviously getting more in practice now.”