It’s time again for Four Downs, our weekly look at four pressing questions from the previous day’s Seahawks game, in this case a 23-16 road loss against the Los Angeles Rams.
Answering four questions are Seattle Times Seahawks beat writers Adam Jude and Bob Condotta:
1. What’s going on with Russell Wilson?
Jude: He’s not right. He’s just not right. What exactly is wrong? We can only speculate. Wilson has been asked multiple times over the past two weeks if he feels he’s been pressing — if he feels like he has to do more, to the everything, for this team. Because of Seattle’s defensive issues, Wilson has at times had to play an almost perfect game for the Seahawks to have a chance to win. Even in the good times (see: September), the margin for error was extremely thin for this team.
Wilson, for the record, has shaken off those “trying to do too much” suggestions. If it’s not that, then what has happened the past couple weeks? Well, he has been under a different kind of pressure — from the opposing pass rush. He’s been sacked 11 times and hit 23 times combined in losses to the Bills and Rams. Which begs the question: How healthy is he? Wilson has been remarkably durable in his NFL career, but at some point, and at some level, all those hits take a toll. Perhaps that’s a factor in his diminished play of late.
Condotta: As Pete Carroll said on his radio show Monday, this is definitely an “out-of-character’’ stretch for Wilson, with 10 turnovers in the past four games, all coming in the three defeats in that time. Seven of those are interceptions. The only comparable stretch in his career was late in the 2016 season when he had eight interceptions in a three-game span, and nine over four, which included a five-interception game at Green Bay. But that was the year Wilson was playing with ankle and knee injuries, and the running back situation was sort of a mess.
I don’t think Wilson is hurt now — or if he is, no one has let on. But the fact that he ran for 60 yards Sunday indicates he’s OK. I think opponent has played a role — all the games were on the road against what are better defenses than the likes of Dallas and Atlanta, which Seattle torched earlier in the year. Situation has also played a role — all seven of his turnovers in the past two games came when Seattle was behind and Wilson seemed to be trying maybe just a bit too hard to make something happen (the bad snap that led to a fumble is much more excusable, but even there it was third down and Wilson knew if he simply fell on the ball Seattle would have to punt).
Schematically, teams do seem to be blitzing the Seahawks a bit more. I think that may be exposing Seattle’s lack of a dynamic third receiver some and playing into Wilson’s struggles a little bit. Even the greatest athletes go through slumps. But my hunch is that in a few weeks, after Seattle has played the Giants and Jets, we’ll be writing about how Wilson has turned things around.
2. The Cardinals and Rams are the only teams this season that have effectively shut down DK Metcalf. Have they found the DK Antidote, and how concerned should the Seahawks be about that?
Condotta: I think most of it is going against two really good corners in Patrick Peterson and Jalen Ramsey, and what are overall pretty good secondaries — Arizona and the Rams each rank in the top 10 in Football Outsiders pass defense ratings, and are the two highest-rated pass defenses Seattle has faced other than Miami (Metcalf went 4-106 against the Dolphins).
Carroll said Metcalf was open a few times other than the four targets he received, which all came in the final 16 minutes of the game, but that the ball just didn’t go his way. And indeed, the TV broadcast focused a couple of times on showing Metcalf open and wondering why he wasn’t getting the ball. One thought is that maybe Wilson just sort of assumed it would be a tough day for Metcalf, as it was against Arizona, and maybe going in just thought he’d look a little more to other receivers first to take advantage, and then maybe just missed Metcalf a few times.
Jude: We saw our first real hints of frustration from Metcalf late in Sunday’s loss to the Rams. Metcalf had finally broken free from Ramsey downfield, but Wilson’s pass went in another direction on the play. You can understand why Metcalf was upset, and no doubt every Seahawks fan felt the same. Metcalf wasn’t even targeted until the final moments of the third quarter and was essentially a nonfactor Sunday. Last month, Peterson shadowed Metcalf on 42 of his 49 routes in the Cardinals’ overtime victory in Arizona, holding Metcalf to two catches for 23 yards.
It seems obvious, but still must be said: The Seahawks have to make Metcalf a focal point of this offense in these divisional games. That means scheming up new ways to get him open, and that means Wilson has to give him a chance on some 50-50 throws. They have to give him a chance.
3. Believe it or not, the Seahawks played well defensively in the second half against the Rams. Was that an encouraging step forward? Or do the larger defensive issues still outweigh that progress?
Condotta: Statistically, it was better for sure. But reviewing the Rams’ possessions, I’m not sure I’d agree there was some quantum leap taken. The Rams’ first possession came after Carroll’s controversial decision to punt from Seattle’s 42 (which turned into the 38 after a delay penalty, a decision he stood by on his radio show Monday). The Rams then drove 88 yards for a touchdown that made it 23-13. The next possession, Josh Reynolds simply dropped a pass while wide open on the first play that would have gone for a big gain. The Rams got a first down anyway, but then were stopped by two of Seattle’s best plays of the day — Ugo Amadi reading a receiver screen for a 3-yard loss and a Poona Ford sack. Those were two good plays. But if Reynolds makes a simple catch the Rams would have been in business. The next time the Rams got the ball was with 13:35 left, still up 10. On third down, tight end Tyler Higbee broke wide open behind K.J. Wright but Jared Goff simply overthrew it. It would have been a big gain inside Seattle’s 10 or so. That’s just two Rams screw-ups that each might have resulted in points. The next drive started with 7:48 left at Seattle’s 45 and the Rams were in clear run-some-clock mode, which they were able to do with four runs getting a first down, Goff sneaking to pick up a yard on fourth down. Jordyn Brooks made a really nice play to break up a third-down pass, but Los Angeles ran 4:19 off the clock and then pinned Seattle at its own 5 with 3:29 left. So Seattle did force three straight punts after it was 23-13, but I think circumstance played a significant role, as well.
Jude: With this defense, the Seahawks have to pump up any hint of positivity they can. So, yes, forcing the Rams to punt on three consecutive drives is at least a small step forward. Then again, the passing defense remains a major question mark, especially with Seattle’s debilitating injuries at cornerback. And here’s a new concern coming out of Sunday: Jamal Adams’ shoulder. Adams left the field early to have his shoulder checked. He reemerged from the locker room shortly after that and played the rest of the game “with one arm,” as he put it afterward. Adams said he absolutely plans to play Thursday, but his injury sort of sums up the state of this defense — they’re playing with only half their arsenal right now.
4. Given what we saw Sunday, do you give the Seahawks much of a chance against Arizona with a quick turnaround on Thursday?
Jude: It would certainly help the Seahawks’ case if Chris Carson was able to come back from his foot injury. As we write this Monday morning, that seems likely but still no sure thing. Carson is a difference-maker for this offense. On the flip side, with Arizona coming off a once-in-a-lifetime-type victory over Buffalo, I would not want to be the defensive coordinator trying to scheme a way to slow down Kyler Murray with only a few days to prepare.
Condotta: Sure. This is the NFL and teams are never really as good as they look when they win or as bad as they look when they lose. In that 2016 stretch when Wilson struggled, they lost at Tampa Bay 14-5, came home to beat Carolina 40-7, lost at Green Bay 38-10, then came home to beat the Rams on a Thursday night 24-3. That defense, to be sure, was a lot better. But it’s not as if Seattle couldn’t have pretty easily won the first game between the two. I expect another shootout and I will likely pick the Seahawks to win, with the caveat that I want to wait to get a little clearer idea of the injury situation first.