The Seahawks had no problem Sunday in Houston, winning their second straight game, 33-13, against the Texans. It was also the first time this year Seattle has won consecutive games — and second straight scoring 30 or more points, and second straight shutting out their opponent in the second half.
In fact, Seattle has outscored the 49ers and Texans 26-0 in the second half the past two weeks.
So have the Seahawks truly turned things around after a 3-8 record that had led to questions about the future direction of the team? And can they really still make a playoff run?
Beat writers Bob Condotta and Adam Jude break down some key questions in the wake of Seattle’s win Sunday in our weekly Four Downs feature.
1. To quote Jim Mora — “Playoffs?!?” After winning two in a row, can the Seahawks really get there?
Condotta: The odds are still not good. Seattle did move up two spots in the NFC playoff seedings with Sunday’s win to 13th. But FiveThirtyEight.com still lists Seattle as having just a 4% chance to make the playoffs. But consider this — with a win Sunday at Los Angeles, those odds would leap to 11%. A loss, though, and those odds drop to 0.1%. So, basically, Sunday is make-or-break for the Seahawks, as each of the past two Sundays have been as well. The Rams opened as 7-point favorites. And if Seattle loses, it is assured its first losing season since 2011. But the Seahawks have kept hope alive.
Jude: Let’s say, for kicks, that the Seahawks go to LA this weekend and knock off the Rams, then take care of business against the Bears and Lions the following two weeks at home. That would get the Seahawks to 8-8 and create a lot of wild playoff scenarios going into Week 18 in this first year of the wacky 17-game schedule. The Seahawks close out the regular season at Arizona, and it’s possible Arizona could have already secured the No. 1 seed (and a first-round bye) in the NFC playoffs by that point. Would Arizona consider resting QB Kyler Murray and some other starters against the Seahawks? Could the Seahawks get another shot at Colt McCoy with a playoff berth on the line? How likely is that? About as likely as Santa delivering me a new Maserati next week, but it’s fun to daydream, isn’t it?
2. Seattle’s defense now ranks fifth in the NFL in points allowed at 20.2, due in large part to a run defense allowing just 3.8 yards per carry (second). Which leads to a question: Who would you pick as the MVP of the defense right now?
Jude: Al Woods. He’s a great story. Here’s a 330-pound, 34-year-old nose tackle who sat out the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic — while his wife was pregnant with their third child — and has come back to post the best season of his 11-year NFL career. Where would this Seahawks defense be without Woods? He’s playing 52% of the defensive snaps, on pace for a career-high snap count. For all the struggles the Seahawks have had at getting pressure on the QB from the edge, the interior of the D-line has been perhaps the team’s greatest strength through large stretches of the season with Woods, Poona Ford and Bryan Mone. Beyond that, coaches and teammates point to him as an emotional leader. He’s more than the “unsung hero” of this defense — he’s their most valuable player.
Condotta: The play of the tackles — Woods, Ford and Mone — has been stellar. Linebackers Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks have also done their part in defending the run. Woods in particular is hard to ignore; he is rated 11th out of 129 defensive tackles by Pro Football Focus, and he has the third-best run defense grade out of 139 tackles. But as good as Woods has been, the vote here is for safety Quandre Diggs. Carroll wants his safeties to do two things — create some turnovers and limit big plays. Of late, Diggs has done that as well as anyone. He has a team-leading four interceptions, and opponents have gotten few explosive plays against Seattle over the past two months or so. As the free safety and the proverbial last line of defense, Diggs has had as big of a role in that as anyone.
3. Rashaad Penny turned in the kind of game Sunday the Seahawks have always insisted he was capable of. Penny is in the final year of his rookie contract. Should the Seahawks try to re-sign him in March?
Condotta: How quickly things have changed when it comes to Penny’s future, haven’t they? The combination of his play the past two weeks and that Chris Carson is out for the season with a neck injury means that Seattle bringing back Penny now seems like it could be a priority, assuming Penny can stay healthy and productive over the last four regular-season games. That, of course, is the big caveat. But another thing to consider is that if Penny continues to play well, he could have a bigger market around the league. Certainly his value to Seattle is increasing with Carson’s future uncertain and Alex Collins a free agent at the end of the season. Depending on the team’s confidence in Carson to return, the Seahawks might need to make several moves this offseason. But if Penny plays another game or two more like he did Sunday, he’ll seem pretty certain to be part of the picture.
Jude: If Penny continues to play like he did Sunday, yes, the Seahawks should bring him back next year. But, as Bob noted, a lot can (and will) happen over the next four weeks. Penny’s fortunes have shifted so much, and so quickly, throughout his career already, so let’s see how things play out. Regardless, the Seahawks no doubt will make running back a priority in next spring’s draft. As much as everyone loves Carson and wants Penny’s feel-good run to continue, given their injury history, it would be prudent for the Seahawks to bring in younger, fresher reinforcements.
4. Finally, have the Seahawks shown enough the past two weeks to make you think they really can go to LA and beat the Rams?
Jude: I give them a chance, yes. A good chance, even. Look, Carroll’s blueprint is to keep the game close going into the fourth quarter. Even when things were going poorly this season, the Seahawks were largely able to do that. They even did it in the first meeting with the Rams back in October. They just didn’t have their closer then, after Russell Wilson’s finger injury on an Aaron Donald hit late in the third quarter. Their ace closer is back — and back to form the past two games — and I do expect the Seahawks to have a legitimate shot in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Condotta: Ah, the Rams. As was oft-noted after Seattle beat the 49ers two Sundays ago, while Seattle seems to always be able to beat San Francisco — having won eight of 10 since Kyle Shanahan became coach in 2017 — the Seahawks seem to struggle against the Rams. Seattle is just 3-7, including playoffs, against the Rams since Sean McVay became coach in 2017. That includes three losses in four games since last November. As Carroll noted Monday, the Seahawks have always had difficulties with the Rams’ defensive front, specifically Donald. The best way to combat that is to run the ball well enough to avoid desperate passing situations. Gaining 193 yards rushing against Houston was nice, but Houston ranks last in the NFL, allowing 147.3 rushing yards per game. The Rams are seventh at 100.4 heading into Monday night against Arizona. We can declare the Seahawks truly back if they beat the Rams, and running well feels necessary to get that done.