The nightmare scenario has happened for the Seahawks.
The thought was, when Russell Wilson triumphantly returned for the Green Bay game, that the Seahawks had to win at least one of their two games against the Packers and Cardinals to keep hope alive.
It didn’t happen. The Seahawks lost both games by a combined 40-13, outgained a combined 806-474 and out first-downed 51-31. In other words, while the Seahawks were within three points at some point in each game, the right team won each team.
So what now for the Seahawks, who at 3-7 have infinitesimal playoff hopes and a long road trip to the Washington Football Team on Monday?
Let’s break it down in our weekly Four Downs feature, with beat writers Adam Jude and Bob Condotta tackling four tough questions about the Seahawks.
1. Let’s start with a big question about the big picture: Are we witnessing the final act of the Pete Carroll-Russell Wilson saga?
Jude: The power dynamics between the coach and the QB were already at the forefront entering the season, after Wilson went public with his frustrations last winter. Those dynamics of course are drawing more scrutiny and creating more speculation now, given how dreadful this season has been. Wilson wants to be considered one of the greatest QBs of all time, and to be in that discussion he needs to win — and to win Super Bowls. Carroll has a history of success — and an earned stubbornness to do things his way. It’s difficult to imagine those outsized egos not clashing again. As things stand, everything is on the table, and each week a breakup of some kind is looking more and more realistic.
Condotta: I’m not willing to go that far just yet. If things turn around some in the last seven games I can see scenarios where everyone involved can be convinced that it makes sense to give it a go for one more year. Carroll will be 71 next year, and the view is he either is here with Wilson and trying to still win it all, or someone else comes in for the rebuild if they decide to start over. Carroll has earned the right to one more year if he wants it, even if this season continues to veer off the rails. But would Wilson want to hang around? That’s the bigger question. He turns 33 next Tuesday, and, if the Seahawks don’t make the playoffs this year, will have won just one playoff game in the last five seasons. They may not be playing for a playoff spot the next seven weeks, but they may be determining the franchise’s future.
2. Wilson promises this offense will be fixed. Why should anyone believe there is hope for a turnaround over the final seven games?
Jude: It starts with Wilson. He has to be better. Bottom line — he has to be way, way better than he has been the past two games. Again, it seems obvious now, but he returned too soon from the injured list. His surgically repair finger could have used an extra week or two to heal, because Wilson hasn’t been right. He refuses to use the finger as an excuse, but it is part of the problem. There are myriad other issues with the offense — from the protection to the inconsistent run game to the feast-or-famine play calls — but it all starts with the QB. And that’s where, if you’re feeling charitable, you can hold onto hope that the offense can flip a switch — because they have Wilson. And he has DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Gerald Everett on stage with him. There is hope — not much of it, mind you, but there is still hope.
Condotta: Agree with all of that. Wilson’s accuracy was better Sunday, but he still seems to maybe be trying too hard. Carroll noted one play where he felt Wilson just needed to take what the defense was giving him — a second-and-6 at the Arizona 9 late in the first half trailing 13-6. Wilson had two receivers open near the first-down marker — DeeJay Dallas and DK Metcalf. With more than a minute left, time was not not a factor and it seemed an easy way to probably get the first down and get a few more shots at the TD. But Wilson attempted a much-tougher throw to Everett in the back of the end zone that fell incomplete and Seattle ultimately settled for a field goal. At 3-7, that temptation to try to make it all up at once may be harder than ever to resist. Also, the Seahawks have to run it more efficiently. Carroll notes they are averaging 4.3 yards per carry, 12th in the NFL. But against a bad run defense Sunday, they were hit or miss.
3. Third down has been a nightmare on both sides of the ball throughout the season. Why?
Jude: Players’ execution on the field is part of it, certainly. But much of it is philosophical. The Seahawks’ bend-but-don’t-break defensive scheme allows opposing offenses to sustain long drives between the 20s. Once in the red zone, the Seahawks hope to hold the opponent to a field goal. That’s oversimplified, but that’s the 2021 Seahawks defense in a nutshell. On offense, the Seahawks have too often been all-or-nothing. They either go three-and-out or they score a quick-strike touchdown. There’s been little in-between, and those two factors have contributed to a lopsided time of possession. Their dismal third-down numbers are a byproduct of a shortsighted approach.
Condotta: This is the area where Wilson has struggled the most. He is completing 74% and 71% of his passes on first and second downs but is at 35.14% on third down, the worst in the NFL, going 13 for 37 for 218 yards, two TDs and one pick (and getting 10 first downs in the process). And it’s not solely a product of a lot of third-and-longs. Wilson is 33% on third downs of four-to-six yards, 28.5% on third and seven-to-nine yards, and 33% on third-and-10 or longer. Having said that, third-and-longs were a definite factor Sunday. The only two third downs they converted were runs on third-and-1. Here are the distances of the Seahawks’ other third downs — 10, 20, 9, 6, 7, 4, 10 and 12. Wilson was 0-5 on those plays with two sacks, the other a run by Travis Homer on third-and-20.
4. Is this the week the Seahawks defense finally stops being so passive?
Jude: Something doesn’t add up with the Seahawks defense. There is a disconnect with what Carroll says he wants his defense to be (in short, aggressive) and what he asks his defense to do (a lot of soft zone coverage). A lot of the same issues that Kirk Cousins killed them with in Minnesota in Week 3 crept up against Colt McCoy in Week 10. Carroll’s priority on defense is to not give up big plays. But a backup like McCoy wasn’t going to throw deep and was content to make the short and intermediate throws that the Seahawks defense seemed content to give him freely. If Carroll hasn’t adjusted that philosophy by now, can should we really expect a change here after Week 11? That’s highly unlikely.
Condotta: As Adam noted, Carroll has a style that he likes — and in his defense, it’s been successful throughout his career. One added issue is the team’s cornerback situation with Tre Brown appearing out for the season with a knee injury and D.J. Reed dealing with knee and groin issues that held him out Sunday. One reason the Seahawks grew more conservative this year were the early struggles at cornerback, which improved greatly by inserting Brown on the left side and moving Reed to the right. An uncertain cornerback situation could make Carroll want to stick with the tried-and-true.