The Seahawks won 12 games and a division title in 2020. So opening the 2021 season with a road victory should hardly be considered a surprise.
Still, the manner in which the Seahawks disposed with relative ease a Colts team that won 11 games a year ago made Seattle one of the big winners of Week 1 around the NFL.
As a new season begins, so does our weekly Four Downs look at some questions and issues from the game Sunday with Seahawks beat writers Bob Condotta and Adam Jude.
1. What stood out to you most about the offense?
Condotta: The way in which everyone who played made an impact. Seattle last year at times seemed too reliant on Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf as weapons for Russell Wilson, and opponents decided if they could at least somewhat contain those two then they could contain the Seattle offense. But Sunday, the Seahawks took a commanding 21-10 lead by halftime without Wilson even once targeting Metcalf. That loomed as a storyline until Metcalf then got involved with four receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown in the second half alone.
Wilson’s 18 completions tied his fewest of 2020. But he completed passes to seven different receivers, with five making two or more catches, all averaging 8.7 yards or more per catch. As was illustrated by Wilson’s 152.3 passer rating — the second-highest of his career — the Seahawks were especially efficient Sunday. Also evident: the increased use of play-action. According to ESPN, the Seahawks used play action on 41.4% of their plays Sunday, second-highest in the NFL. Seattle used play action on 27% of plays last season.
Jude: Let’s not forget about the run game. We know Pete Carroll wants to run the ball, and many of us wondered how first-time offensive coordinator Shane Waldron would strike the balance between establishing the run (and thus making his boss happy) and creating enough opportunities for all the elite playmakers in the Seahawks’ passing game.
Well, Waldron could not have scripted a much better start. The Seahawks were incredibly efficient in both phases. They ran the ball 27 times for 140 yards, and their average of 5.2 yards was fourth-best in the NFL in Week 1. Chris Carson was bullying defenders, rushing for 91 yards on 16 carries and hauling in three catches for 26 yards. Wilson is right: The Seahawks are capable of doing anything and everything on offense, and it’ll be fascinating to watch them figure out ways to do even more going forward.
2. What stood out to you most about the defense?
Jude: The pass rush, and Rasheem Green in particular. Green has shown flashes in the past, but nothing like this — one sack, two QB hits and two passes defended in a breakout game against the Colts. The Seahawks’ defensive front is deep and talented, with a nice mixture of veterans and up-and-comers. Green, a third-round draft choice out of USC in 2018, is still just 24 years old, and his 2020 season was marred by a shoulder injury. The pass rush already was going to be a strength of this defense, and Green’s emergence — along with Darrell Taylor’s stellar debut — solidifies that even more.
Condotta: Early on, the Seahawks unveiled a five-man defensive front in which all three tackles were on the field at once to combat the Colts’ rushing attack. And it was incredibly obvious that the pass rush was a factor throughout and not just due to blitzing or from one guy being dominant — Seattle’s 10 quarterback hits came from seven different players, all defensive linemen.
But give the much-maligned cornerbacks some credit. Tre Flowers allowed three receptions for just 28 yards, according to Pro Football Focus, while D.J. Reed allowed five for 50. Most critical, neither allowed a pass of longer than 19 yards (the longest Flowers allowed was 11). True, the Colts were short-handed at receiver without T.Y. Hilton and Seattle’s pass rush increasingly unnerved Carson Wentz as the game wore on (and you figure there’s some worry already in Indy about Wentz). But the corners did their job as asked Sunday.
3. Can Russell Wilson get any better?
Condotta: It was sort of stunning how effortlessly Wilson turned in what was statistically one of the best games of his storied career. As noted, Wilson’s passer rating was the second-highest of his career, and it was the 16th time he has thrown four or more touchdown passes in a game. Six of those games have come since the start of the 2020 season, meaning he’s thrown four or more TDs six times in his past 17 games.
Being better than Sunday is almost statistically impossible. But the trick this year will be to avoid the dips of last year, specifically the 10 turnovers in four games that led to three defeats at midseason. Wilson actually was under pressure quite a bit Sunday, on 13 of 28 drop backs according to Pro Football Focus. But he never forced anything, several times turning in big plays in the face of that pressure and other times content to live to fight on the next play.
Jude: Yeah, he can — if he throws the damn ball to Metcalf more. (I’m kidding. … Kind of.) This is Year 10 for Wilson, and we’ve seen everything from him in his career already. He’s elite, and he’s in the prime of his career. Still, that second-half nosedive in 2020 will linger in the back of everyone’s minds until Wilson again proves he can play at this level — at an MVP level — consistently over a 17-game season, and then deep into the playoffs.
That’s where Waldron comes in, and that’s why it was so important for this offense to have a strong showing in the first game. Wilson and Waldron appear to be on the same page, and that’s a great start. Now they have to prove they can do it when the scripted plan isn’t working so well, when they’re down in the fourth quarter and they’re facing a top defense. That’s when this team needs Wilson at his best.
4. Man, the NFC West is going to be something, isn’t it?
Jude: In a word: Yikes. The Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams and 49ers combined to outscore opponents by a whopping 141-76 Sunday. Everyone seemed to have written off Arizona as the distant fourth-place team in the West, but no one should be saying that after the Cardinals’ thrashing of the Titans in Tennessee — perhaps the biggest surprise around the league. I came into the season thinking the Rams were the team to beat in the division, and Matthew Stafford’s strong debut in Los Angeles would seem to strengthen that case. But I’m less certain of that prediction now because every team in the division suddenly looks like a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Condotta: Yes it is. Week 1 results are notoriously misleading in the NFL. But the perception already was that the West could be the best division in football. But all four teams winning, three on the road, and all scoring 28 or more points, only reinforced that the West figures to be a battle until the end — and that all four teams really could make the postseason. Which makes it worth remembering Seattle plays four of its six division games in the final eight games of the year.