The Seahawks answered a lot of important questions in Thursday night’s 28-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. But questions do remain.
Here are four big ones in our weekly Four Downs series with Seattle Times Seahawks beat writers Bob Condotta and Adam Jude reviewing the previous day’s game:
1. So, uh, is the Let Russ Cook experiment over already?
Jude: That’s a bit dramatic. Quarterback Russell Wilson will continue to cook … if and when the Seahawks need him to. Because coach Pete Carroll did make it abundantly clear this week that this is how he wants to play football — by bringing down “the hammer,” as he called it. The Seahawks nailed his ideal offensive blueprint Thursday night by running the ball, chewing up clock and taking care of the football. There were whispers over the past week about this Seahawks team being “soft” and “finesse” — about the most disparaging adjectives anyone could use to describe a football team. For Carroll, the remedy for that — a way to be a “tough” team — is to pound the rock, to impose your will on the opponent. It wasn’t a coincidence that Seattle’s defense also played its best game of the season Thursday — it was because Seattle’s offense played complementary football. That, at least, is how Carroll sees it, and just how he wants it. It worked Thursday night, and it’s difficult to envision Carroll stretching too far away from that philosophy again.
Condotta: On the surface, this did look like the Seahawks making Wilson more of a Sous-chef for the night instead of running the whole kitchen. The Seahawks finished with a 31-to-28 run-to-pass ratio, only the second time this year they have run it more than thrown it (30-28 against New England). But a deeper look tells a little different story. Of those runs, seven were scrambles by Wilson off dropbacks (for 43 yards), via Pro Football Focus. Another was a kneel-down. That would make for a 36-to-25 pass-to-run split that would be in keeping with where Seattle has basically been all year. Also, that the Seahawks never trailed played into it — they did not have an offensive possession during which they were ahead the previous two games, inevitably leading to more throwing. But why is Wilson running not considered as letting him cook, anyway? It’s a huge part of his game that also greatly affects the defense in every way. It seemed like Thursday night Wilson was looking to run more and take what was there instead of forcing things — his 10 overall runs were his most this season. So I think Russ was still cooking quite a bit; he just was using a different recipe.
2. The Seahawks held Arizona to season lows in points and yards. How did they do it, and has the defense turned the corner?
Condotta: They played with more discipline and togetherness than we’ve seen all season, which I think led to being more confident. The addition of Carlos Dunlap is paying off more immediately than maybe the team could have hoped — his two sacks and overall rushing presence was a huge difference from the first game against Arizona, before he was acquired. I think the back end, with Jamal Adams having played three consecutive games alongside Quandre Diggs, is getting better. Also, the tackles continue to play well, especially Poona Ford. And Bobby Wagner had his best run-defense game of the year, according to Pro Football Focus, which has him rated No. 1 in the NFL among all linebackers for the season. I certainly think it’s sustainable, especially going against the remaining schedule.
Jude: The Seahawks, so concerned about Kyler Murray’s escapability and running style, sat back and let Murray pick them apart during Arizona’s victory last month. On Thursday the Seahawks were the aggressor, holding Murray to a season-low 15 yards rushing and sacking him three times. Carlos Dunlap has been a godsend for the Seahawks, and credit to Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright for helping right the ship on a team that Carroll says has suffered more injuries than anyone in the NFL. More help is on the way for this defense, with Shaquill Griffin expected be back next week, and Carroll has been giddy about the potential debut of rookie defensive end Darrell Taylor. The Seahawks aren’t suddenly going to be a great defense, but you can see the confidence building — and that’s the biggest reason to believe Thursday’s performance has a chance to be repeated.
3. Any unsung heroes from Thursday night?
Condotta: Wanted to mention two: Nick Bellore, who had two more tackles on coverage and has 10 for the year, which leads the special teams and is second in the NFL according to TeamRankings.com. Seattle’s coverage units have been solid all year and were a key last night with Arizona beginning its four second-half possessions inside its 21-yard line — at the 19 after a kickoff, the 19 (kickoff), 14 (punt) and 21 (kickoff).
And Tre Flowers, who may have gotten too bad of a rap for the obvious missed tackle on a short pass to DeAndre Hopkins that turned into a 23-yard gain late in the third quarter. Other than that play, Hopkins didn’t do a whole lot and finished with 51 yards on five receptions (he is averaging 91.2 yards per game for the year, second in the NFL). According to PFF, Flowers allowed five receptions on seven targets for 56 yards, matched up much of the night on Hopkins. Hard to complain about that too much.
Jude: How about a little love for Ken Norton Jr.? The much-maligned defensive coordinator orchestrated what Carroll called “a remarkable meeting of accountability” Wednesday night, then watched Thursday as his defense executed a smart game plan against one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.
4. Are the Seahawks the best team in the NFC West?
Jude: Not sure we can say that definitively just yet, and certainly not five days after the Seahawks lost to the Rams in an uninspired effort in Los Angeles. We’ll learn more about the Rams when they play Tampa Bay on Monday night. But we can *almost* guarantee that the Seahawks will be in the best position to win the West come late December. Seattle’s next four opponents — the Eagles, Giants, Jets and the Washington, D.C., team — have a combined record of 8-28. Which means the Seahawks should be 11-3 when the Rams come to Seattle for a rematch Dec. 27, a game that could very well decide the NFC West title.
Condotta: As constructed, assuming Chris Carson, Ethan Pocic and Griffin all return as expected for the next game against the Eagles, yes they are. There’s no reason the offense won’t stay among the best in the league. And if the defense can get to being at least a middle-of-the-pack group — there’s no reason they can’t with Dunlap and a healthy Adams — Seattle should be considered the favorite to win the West, especially with the remaining schedule.