Likely rested after their bye week, the Seahawks return to the practice field Monday to begin the furious race to the finish — 11 games in 11 weeks with hopes of embarking on a long playoff run.
They do so as one of just three undefeated teams remaining after Week 6 of the NFL season (the others being the Steelers and Titans, with the Seahawks the only unbeaten team in the NFC after Green Bay’s loss at Tampa Bay).
But they also do so carrying some questions into the rest of the season despite having the best start in franchise history. Here are five things we’re still wondering about the Seahawks, in no particular order:
Can the Seahawks keep winning giving up yards in record numbers?
The obvious answer is no.
The Seahawks are allowing 471.2 yards per game, which would shatter the record for most yards allowed by an NFL team in a season, an average of 440.1 per game by the Saints in 2012.
It’s simply hard to imagine a team that gives up the most yards in NFL history actually winning the Super Bowl.
But there are extenuating circumstances.
Seahawks players and coaches have rightly pointed out that a lot of yards having occurred when opponents have been behind.
The numbers give some validity to that assertion.
Via Pro Football Reference, the Seahawks — who have had the lead in three of five games at halftime — have allowed 1,398 yards on 201 plays in the second half of games, or 6.95 yards per play.
The Seahawks have allowed just 987 yards on 167 plays in the first half or 5.9 yards per play. That’s a lot of yards however you look at it.
Consider that the record for most yards allowed in a season is 440.1 per game by the Saints in 2012, the year that Sean Payton had to sit out and New Orleans went 7-9.
True, some recent Super Bowl teams have been far from dominant defensively.
The Chiefs ranked 17th in yards allowed last season and the Patriots were 21st. But that’s a lot different than being last, as are the Seahawks. The Chiefs allowed 349.6 yards per game last season, or about 120 less than the Seahawks.
The Seahawks are on pace to allow 432 points this season. The 2011 Giants, regarded as the worst defensive team to win a Super Bowl, allowed 400 points and 376 yards per game, ranking 25th and 27th in each category respectively.
We can all try to explain why the Seahawks have played the kind of defense they have so far. But it would simply defy NFL logic if Seattle were to win a Super Bowl playing the kind of defense it has so far.
Can the secondary live up to expectations once healthy?
So, here may lie the great hope for the Seahawks defense — the secondary finally playing healthy and together.
When the Seahawks traded for cornerback Quinton Dunbar in March and safety Jamal Adams in July there was a lot of thought the Seahawks could have one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
The pass defense numbers so far make that claim seem laughable. They have allowed 1,852 passing yards, not only the most in the NFL but on pace to shatter the all-time NFL record. That averages out to 370.4 per game. The NFL record for most passing yards allowed per game is 299.75 by Green Bay in 2011.
The caveat to a lot of things this year is that it is a really different year. Via PFR, teams are averaging 15 yards per game more on offense this year than in any other year in NFL history and scoring 2.3 points more per game than any other season (each before the games of Sunday).
The Seahawks are going to have to get better against the pass, even if they win the No. 1 seed and have to win only two home games to get to the Super Bowl. Those two games could be against Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
Barring a last-minute addition before the Nov. 3 trade deadline that doesn’t seem likely, the Seahawks’ best chance of getting better is for the secondary to suddenly improve greatly. And there’s some reason to think that could still happen.
Dunbar started camp late for legal and other reasons and has battled a knee injury the first month of the season, while Adams has missed the past two games with a groin injury,
But the hope is once Adams gets healthy and Dunbar gets fully into things for a few games that the entire back end will play a lot better, and then Seattle will have to blitz less and the entire defense will play a lot better.
Can they win a game when Russell Wilson doesn’t throw for three touchdowns or more?
Wilson’s play so far has simply been unprecedented by NFL standards so far this season, on pace for 61 touchdowns, six more than anyone has thrown for in league history (55 by Peyton Manning in 2013).
Wilson has thrown for three or more touchdowns in four of five games this season (and two in the other) something he had done in 31 of 128 games before this season.
While Letting Russ Cook has been the theme of the season so far, working maybe even more spectacularly than its most ardent supporters had hoped, there will come a day when Russ may be forced to have takeout and the Seahawks have to turn to other methods to win, especially as opponents figure to spend more resources than ever trying to stop Seattle’s passing attack.
Will the Seahawks be able to respond?
That may be the key to the season.
But, that’s also why the Seahawks have been excited about the return of Rashaad Penny to add to Chris Carson.
Can the offensive line keep playing at the same level (and stay healthy)?
Maybe the most underrated aspect of this season is how well the offensive line has played so far — especially considering the somewhat low expectations entering the season — which is due in part to everyone staying healthy.
The Seahawks have had just one offensive line start missed so far (left guard Mike Iupati missing the Minnesota game) with the line otherwise intact for every other game.
That continuity has helped lead to a line that has graded out well so far.
Pro Football Focus rates center Ethan Pocic as the 13th best center, right guard Damien Lewis 11th best among all guards and Iupati 15th. Left tackle Duane Brown is 12th among all tackles and right tackle Brandon Shell is 43rd.
The Seahawks appear to have better depth on the offensive line than in past years, with players such as Jordan Simmons able to step in and play a game in place of Iupati, as he did against the Vikings (or for most of the Dallas game, as he did in place of the injured Lewis).
Still, losing a Brown or a Pocic for any significant time would be costly — that hardly needs to be stated. More critically is whether the line can continue to play at a high level. We’re not saying they can’t, just saying it’s important that they do.
Can the special teams keep playing almost flawlessly?
Maybe even more underrated than how well the offensive line has played is how well the special teams have performed.
Not that the special teams are the only reason, but one of the most important stats for the Seahawks so far is that they have had an average drive start at their 32.6 yard line, third best in the NFL before Sunday. Opponents have had an average drive start at their 20.8, worst in the NFL (or meaning the best for the Seahawks).
Those are a lot of hidden important yards for the Seahawks due in part to really good coverage and kicking by Michael Dickson and Jason Myers.
Larry Izzo, who took over as special-teams coach when Brian Schneider took a leave early the season for personal reasons, has been an overlooked hero of the season so far.