Well, this is an unusual feeling, isn’t it?
The Seahawks dropped to 2-4 following the heartbreaking 23-20 overtime defeat Sunday night in Pittsburgh. It’s Seattle’s worst six-game start since 2015, a year when they did rally to make the postseason.
So where does this Seahawks team go from here? Beat writers Bob Condotta and Adam Jude break it down in our weekly Four Downs Q&A:
1. What do you think — could this still be a playoff team?
Condotta: Yes it can be. But it will not be easy. Consider that five teams in the NFC are 5-1 or better — Arizona at 6-0, and Dallas, Green Bay, Tampa Bay and the Rams each 5-1. Four of those teams will likely win divisions, and the Rams are two games ahead of the rest of the conference in the wild card and show zero signs of letting up anytime soon. So that puts the Seahawks among the rest of the NFC who might already be battling for the two remaining wild-card spots. If Seattle can win its next two games at home against New Orleans and Jacksonville and get to 4-4 by the time Russell Wilson might be back, then hope will remain alive. But a defeat in either of the next two games will be hard to overcome.
Jude: It comes down to this: The Seahawks have to beat New Orleans. They have to. It’s almost impossible to imagine them rallying from a 2-5 hole and having a realistic shot at the playoffs. It’s a must-win Monday night game against the Saints at home. That’s no sure thing, either. The Saints are 3-2, with two quality victories on their resume. But it is a winnable game for the Seahawks. After that, they have to beat Jacksonville at home. They have to. They have to get to 4-4 entering their bye week and then hope Wilson can indeed come back ahead of the Green Bay trip. That’s not the Seahawks’ only path back to postseason contention, but it might be their only realistic path.
2. There were some signs of a turnaround for this Seattle defense. Is there reason to think a breakthrough is imminent?
Jude: The Seahawks debuted a new dime package — let’s call it dime plus — featuring seven defensive backs, and it was fairly effective. It was better than what they had been doing, anyway. And, hey, give Pete Carroll credit for trying something, anything new. The new package brought Ryan Neal, Ugo Amadi and Marquise Blair on the field on third-down situations, joining the four regular starters, and allowed safety Jamal Adams to play closer to the line of scrimmage. This suits Adams’ strengths. In the previous three games, Adams had blitzed just seven times total; he exceeded that against the Steelers alone, blitzing eight times Sunday night and getting credited with one QB hurry, per Pro Football Focus. He affected Ben Roethlisberger on a couple other plays, and came close on a couple others. Again, that’s an improvement, but that’s still not enough. For Adams to maximize his value and best help this defense, he needs to start paying off some of those pressures — he needs to wreak havoc (and, yes, he needs to catch the ball when it hits him in the face mask). The defense, overall, needs to be even better over the next two weeks, but Sunday night was at least a baby-step forward.
Condotta: It’s always worth remembering the opponent. The Steelers have not been a very good offensive team this year, ranking 27th in total offense before Sunday night. So the hope was Seattle would look better defensively in this one. But I’d agree there were some positive signs. The cornerback play was the best it’s been all season — Tre Brown was a revelation and gave an early indication Seattle might have found something there. And Seattle seemed far more solid in its overall play — the Steelers’ longest play was 25 yards and there was no pass play longer than 23. Curtailing big plays is the first thing Seattle has to do to get back to defensive respectability and Sunday was a step in the right direction. New Orleans has been even worse statistically than the Steelers, so Seattle needs to do it again next week.
3. What do you make of Geno Smith’s first start for the Seahawks?
Condotta: Until the last play, I think it was about all you could realistically hope for. If you wondered if the Seahawks could be competitive without Wilson, the answer turned out to be yes, even if for the first 30 minutes it appeared to be trending toward a decisive no. Smith took what the defense gave him throughout and as the game wore on seemed more assertive in throwing the ball downfield — he was 15 of 18 for 146 yards and a touchdown after halftime, a passer rating of 118.98. But the fumble at the end is simply something that can’t happen. Nothing was more important there than ball security, especially on a first down and knowing that getting a first down or two would just about eliminate any chance of losing the game — for playoff purposes, if nothing else, a tie wouldn’t have been the worst thing to come out of the night. But overall, Smith did what the Seahawks hoped.
Jude: Turnovers, and fumbles in particular, have been an issue for Smith throughout his career, and it showed up again at the worst moment Sunday night. That can’t happen, and he knows it. At the same time, Smith gave the Seahawks reason to believe he can manage these next two games. The Seahawks can win with him at quarterback, and they believe they have the formula and the pieces around him to get it done. They almost did Sunday night, despite their dreadful first half. For Smith, it’s simply all about the ball.
4. Where would the Seahawks be without Alex Collins?
Jude: Those are eight words no one thought we’d be uttering in 2021, eh? But we saw late in the game Sunday night just how important Collins is to this offense right now. With Collins nursing hip and glutei injuries up on the sideline, the Seahawks relied on third- and fourth-string running backs DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer late in the fourth quarter and overtime. To be clear, Dallas and Homer both had strong showings in limited opportunities Sunday, but Collins was the Seahawks’ most valuable player on the field — and it changed the course of the game not having him out there in those crucial moments.
Condotta: An obvious question is why the Seahawks waited so long to go to a run-based offense featuring Collins. He had just 19 yards on four carries in the first half, all in the first quarter, before finishing with 101 on 20. The interesting dynamic now is the expected return of Rashaad Penny this week. If Collins is still banged up at all, then the hope is Seattle can lean on Penny. I understand the skepticism in that sentence because Penny has barely played since December 2019. But Penny understands as well as anyone that this could be his last shot to make something significant of his Seattle career, asked to step in with Chris Carson out and Collins maybe as well. And for those who have wondered why Seattle kept Penny around, this is why — in a 17-game season you can never have too many running backs.