The Seahawks did what they had to do Sunday on the road to beat Washington 20-15 and clinch a playoff berth.
Better yet, as the Seahawks made their cross-country flight home Sunday afternoon, they got to watch the New York Jets pull off the upset of the year in shocking the Los Angeles Rams. That left Seattle alone atop the NFC West and makes the Seahawks-Rams rematch this Sunday the de facto divisional championship game.
Here in our weekly Four Downs series with Seahawks beat writers Bob Condotta and Adam Jude, we tackle four key questions facing the Seahawks this week:
1. What’s one adjustment the Seahawks must make from their loss in L.A.?
Jude: Get the ball to DK Metcalf. It’s not that simple … but, wait, maybe it is that simple! We don’t know, because the Seahawks acted as if Metcalf didn’t exist in their 23-16 defeat against the Rams on Nov. 15. Metcalf had just two catches, on four targets, for 28 yards — all season lows — while being covered by All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Not coincidentally, Russell Wilson also had his worst game of the season against the Rams, with a season-low passer rating of 57.0 and a season-high six sacks. It should absolutely help, too, that Chris Carson — out because of a foot injury for the first meeting — is back and seemingly at 100% health now. The Seahawks don’t have any excuses not to have a better offensive plan this time.
Condotta: Get some stops on third down. That might seem a little too broad, maybe. A lot of specific things go into getting third-down stops — getting a pass rush on third-and-long or winning battles up front on short-yardage plays. But it continues to be a problem for the Seahawks, who have allowed 90 of 189 third downs to be converted this year, 47.62%, which ranks 27th in the NFL. It was a particular problem in the first Rams game, as L.A. converted nine of 15, including nine of 12 in taking a 23-13 lead after three quarters. Among the most pivotal was hitting on a third-and-nine from the Seattle 36 that sparked one touchdown drive. Seattle has allowed 31 of 43 third downs of 2 or fewer yards to be converted, the kind of short-yardage plays that usually are the key to any long drives. The Seahawks will have to get a few stops in those situations Sunday.
2. What did you make of Russell Wilson’s performance Sunday?
Condotta: I think it looks better on Monday than it might have on Sunday. There were none of the big passing plays we’ve grown so accustomed to — it’s amazing to think Seattle could win a game when its longest pass of the game was 15 yards (Seattle had a long pass of at least 20 in every other game this season). Only one other time in Wilson’s career had his longest pass of the game been shorter — 14 yards in a weird game against the Vikings two years ago that Seattle won 21-7 despite Wilson throwing for just 72 yards. But the short, quick passing game was Seattle’s plan to try to deflate Washington’s pass rush (and also in reaction to how well the Giants had defended Seattle two weeks ago), and Wilson was doing what he was told (coach Pete Carroll said Monday “that was the plan.”). Wilson made one big play with his legs, the 38-yard run that set up one of Seattle’s two touchdowns, and aside from the interception, didn’t make any mistakes (and even that was mostly a good play by the defense). In one sense, Seattle winning with Wilson throwing for just 121 yards showed that the Seahawks can win in a number of ways.
Jude: He did what was asked of him against Washington. He managed the game, and that’s not meant as a slight. That’s the kind of performance this matchup called for against a top-five defense, and perhaps the kind of performance that will give the Seahawks the best chance to advance in the playoffs. Pete Carroll’s offensive philosophy — you can call it antiquated, but you can’t call it ineffective — makes him an easy target for fan backlash. But for Carroll it’s as much about his defense as it is his offense — and the way things were going on defense the first half of the season was not a sustainable winning formula. Something had to change, and for Carroll this type of “balance” — his favorite word — of complementary offense-defense is a sustainable formula for success. For Wilson, that means taking what’s available and taking care of the football. It’s not always as entertaining or as fun as the “Let Russ Cook” experiment, and you could argue this strategy leaves less margin for error, but for Carroll it gives his team — his “whole” team — the best chance to win.
3. Can this defense lead the Seahawks deep into the playoffs?
Condotta: I think I still need to see a really good performance against an obviously good quarterback before being convinced this team could go on the road and get the defense it needs to beat someone such as the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers — which is probably what it would take to get to the Super Bowl. But I get a little more convinced each week. True, things got a little hairy Sunday when Seattle again seemed to get conservative with a lead, hoping to run the clock out, and it almost backfired. But as Carroll noted, at least Seattle was able to dial up the pass rush when it was really needed. That’s a big step in the right direction from where the Seahawks were earlier in the year. And the additions of players such as Carlos Dunlap, D.J. Reed and Damon Harrison (all since mid-October) and the return to health of Jamal Adams have made this a deeper, more athletic and more talented team. I still don’t think this is an elite defense by Carroll-era standards. But I think given Seattle’s offense and special teams, I think it’s getting to be close enough to be what the Seahawks need to make a legit Super Bowl run.
Jude: Yes. Coupled with Seattle’s opportunistic offense, this defense is good enough to keep the Seahawks, at the very least, within striking distance in every game. Better than that, the defense has a proven flair for the dramatic — closing out games against New England, Dallas and Minnesota early in the season, and then doing so again Sunday in shutting down Washington on its final drive. The pass rush has done a complete 180, and the back end has transformed with a healthy Jamal Adams and the emergence of D.J. Reed. Yes, this defense is capable — and it’s even capable of being dangerous.
4. What are realistic expectations for Josh Gordon in his return from a yearlong suspension?
Condotta: Yep, it’s going to be worth remembering that Gordon hasn’t played since last Dec. 15. Gordon is practicing for the first time this week, which means he’ll have three days of on-field work before the game. But unlike a year ago when he arrived at midseason, he already knows the playbook. And he has been able to attend meetings the past two weeks. Gordon played between 20 and 37 snaps in his five games with Seattle last year, usually in the 33-37 range. He might get a little less than that right out of the gate, but I think getting 15 to 20 snaps would put him in position to make a big play or two. And suddenly, Seattle can use all of those it can get in its passing game.
Jude: Adding another big target could be a good thing for the Seahawks offense. You can never have too many 6-foot-3 receivers. Maybe Gordon makes that third-down catch that David Moore dropped Sunday, and maybe he can come through in other key situations like he did on several occasions in 2019. But, then it’s only fair to assume Gordon will be rusty after such a long suspension. The Seahawks won’t ask him to do much, at least not right away, and as such expectations should be tempered.