An odd feeling, wasn’t it, seeing the Seahawks so casually do what they were supposed to do against an overmatched opponent? It was a rare drama-free Sunday in Seattle.
The Seahawks’ 40-3 dismantling of the New York Jets on Sunday was their most lopsided victory since 2012, and one the Seahawks hope will springboard them over the final three weeks of the regular season.
Of course, questions still remain, and here in our weekly Four Downs series, Seattle Times Seahawks beat writers Bob Condotta and Adam Jude answer some of them as they review the game from Sunday and look ahead to what’s next:
1. Coach Pete Carroll is convinced the Seahawks have made a ‘big turn’ on defense. Are you?
Condotta: I’m starting to buy into it more. I’d like to see a few more big plays out of the defense, which we would have seen Sunday if a couple of those three dropped potential interceptions had been caught. Seattle is going to need to complete some plays such as those to make a Super Bowl run — recall how the 2013 Seahawks forced eight turnovers in three playoff games. But first things first — the Seahawks are getting cleaner on defense with fewer blown coverages and missed assignments, which was at the root of so much of the early struggles. Adding a few legit pieces such as Carlos Dunlap — who could return Sunday — also has made a difference. But it can’t be ignored that the recent resurgence has come against the since-benched Carson Wentz, backup Colt McCoy and a terrible Jets team. The Arizona game gives everything more validity, no doubt. But the Rams game Dec. 27 will be the truest test.
Jude: I’m not convinced this is suddenly a great defense, but I do think it’s a good-enough defense — and it’s capable of being a solidly good defense. And that is a monumental improvement from where it was in the first half of the season, when the Seahawks were on pace to be the worst defense in NFL history. The Seahawks entered Monday ranked No. 19 in points allowed (24.9 a game) and No. 21 in Pro Football Reference’s expected points contributed (-96.77) statistic. Since hitting rock bottom in Buffalo on Nov. 8, the Seahawks have allowed point totals of 23, 21, 17, 17 and 3, and they have been one of the most effective pass-rushing teams in the NFL. Yes, Seattle is 3-2 in its past five games, but the defense has been good enough to win each of those, and I do expect the defense to play well enough over the next three weeks to give the Seahawks a chance — a chance — to win the NFC West.
2. Jamal Adams broke the NFL sacks record by a defensive back Sunday. How impressive is that, and have the Seahawks figured out how to utilize his skill set?
Jude: It’s a significant achievement, and one Adams has been chasing for a couple years. And to do it against his former team, the Jets, no doubt was especially sweet for Adams, who has three more games to extend the record. As to the larger context, Adams is unique. He has been knocked for his coverage skills, and he’s been disparagingly labeled “Blitz Boy.” But give Seattle coaches credit for giving him freedom and flexibility in this defense, and Adams credit for rebounding from his early season injuries and frustrations. We saw Carroll and Adams track each other down and embrace on the sideline Sunday, a symbolic indication of how they’ve come together this season. The pieces of this defense have (slowly) come together, and as Adams said after the game he feels like he’s just getting started.
Condotta: To be fair to the Seahawks, I think from the start they understood how to use Adams as a rusher — Adams has 89 pass rush snaps this season, according to Pro Football Focus and has 30 pressures, more than any of his seasons with the Jets. The trick was integrating that with the rest of the defense — Seattle has never had a player like Adams in the Carroll era (Kam Chancellor had just two sacks his entire career and none after 2011). Blitzing safeties a lot was just something Seattle didn’t do much in the Legion of Boom era, in part because it didn’t have to. Carroll has talked of Adams getting better at picking up the subtleties of defensive adjustments, and I think that’s the biggest thing — Adams getting comfortable and confident in the defense where he can play without thinking as much.
3. Russell Wilson broke his franchise record with his 36th touchdown pass. Is he fixed? And what version will we see over the final three weeks?
Condotta: My not-hot take here is that Wilson was never really “broken.” The team put him in the position where he needed to do more earlier in the season, and that led to him making more mistakes. His only stat for the season that is worse than any other year is interception rate — he’s at 2.6 after throwing his 12th Sunday, a career high. But he also has a career-high completion percentage (70.4), career high in touchdowns (36) and his third-best passer rating (109). Wilson is rightly held to a high standard — that comes with making $35 million a year. But the disappointment that arises when he doesn’t meet those expectations shouldn’t obscure that most of the time he does.
Jude: Wilson looked closer to his September form Sunday, and that is obviously reassuring for the Seahawks — and a sign that they are capable of running the table over the final three weeks. Then again, it was the 0-13 Jets, and I need to see him play this well — or something close to it — against a good defense before being 100% sold that he is “fixed.” Better yet, what should help Wilson is the return of full-go Chris Carson, who looked as spirited as he has since September. That balance Carroll always mentions should take pressure off Wilson.
4. How concerning is Sunday’s road game against the surging Washington Football Team?
Jude: The team from D.C. has one of the NFL’s best and most talented defenses — it scored two touchdowns Sunday in a 23-15 victory over San Francisco, and set up another field goal with a takeaway. On paper, this matchup looks eerily similar to the one that gave the Seahawks such problems last week against the New York Giants — a stout defense with a struggling offense. Difference here is, this Washington team’s defense is even better than the Giants’ defense. I think we’ll learn a lot about exactly where Wilson is at this stage of the season.
Condotta: I’d put it somewhere between “definitely” and “extremely.” The WFT is one of the NFL’s hottest, having won four in a row behind what is becoming one of the league’s best defenses — ranked fourth in yards allowed and sixth in points. Granted, playing in the NFC East helps those numbers, but the victory against the Steelers last week gives Washington’s recent surge validity. It sounds like Alex Smith will be healthy enough to play quarterback for Washington, after he left the game Sunday because of a calf injury. Oddly, this game won’t play a huge factor in Seattle’s NFC West hopes — that will come down to the Rams game Dec. 27 due to the importance of the head-to-head tiebreaker. But any chance of a first-round postseason bye disappears with a defeat. This would be among the better Seahawks victories of the year if they can get it.