Is the sky falling after the Seahawks’ first loss of the year, a 27-7 defeat against the 49ers in Santa Clara that didn’t really feel that close? Are the problems fixable?
Here are Seahawks beat writers Bob Condotta and Adam Jude addressing some of the big questions left over from Sunday’s game in this week’s Four Downs.
1. There were myriad issues against the 49ers. What’s the first thing the Seahawks must address this week?
Jude: On offense, it all starts with the run game. When given a sliver of space, Rashaad Penny can be one of the most productive running backs in the NFL, as he proved at the end of last season. But he had just six carries (for 15 yards) Sunday, and Seahawks running backs had just 12 carries in all — for a measly 34 yards. It felt like the Seahawks were in third-and-long on virtually every possession, which is a big reason they were just 2 for 7 on third downs and ran just 47 total plays. As Pete Carroll said after the game, the Seahawks lost Sunday’s game at the line of scrimmage — they couldn’t block on offense and they couldn’t tackle on defense — and it’s really not much more complicated than that.
Condotta: I agree with Adam that the running game on offense has to get a lot better and fast. But sadly, the Seahawks had issues all over the place Sunday — they had 10 penalties and now have 183 penalty yards for the season, second most in the NFL. And they are allowing 4.5 yards per rush on defense after finishing second last season at 3.8. Here’s another way of stating it — Seattle has scored on just 17.6% of drives, second worst in the NFL, while allowing opponents to score on 50% of drives, the second-highest. The Seahawks were simply subpar in every area Sunday. The hope is that the Seahawks were just sleepwalking following the win over Denver six days before.
2. How do you assess Geno Smith through two games?
Condotta: The quarterback is always the easy target when an offense struggles. But I don’t believe the Seahawks think Smith is the issue. “He is handling everything fine,” Carroll said on his radio show on Seattle Sports on 710 Monday. “He’s fine.” Smith has completed 47 of 58 passes, 81%, which is second in the NFL before the games of Monday night, behind only Buffalo’s Josh Allen. And while Smith threw an interception Sunday, Carroll indicated on his radio show that not all the receivers did the right thing on that play. What Seattle obviously needs Smith to do — and as Carroll said Monday — is throw the ball downfield more and create more explosive plays. But those require time to throw and more open receivers. Until those things happen more consistently it’s hard to really judge Smith much.
Jude: Geno has been fine. He’s doing what he’s been asked to do, for the most part. He’s managing the game with a lot of low-risk throws. At some point, of course, you’d like to see him be more dynamic, but he was also under pressure too often Sunday — sacked twice (hello, Nick Bosa) and hit nine times. That’s too much for any QB.
3. Why does it continue to be so difficult to get the ball to DK Metcalf?
Condotta: The Seahawks ARE actually getting the ball to him — his 5.5 catches per game is higher than any season in his career (on pace for 94, his career best is 83 in 2020) and his targets per game is down just one per game from last year. What they aren’t doing is getting him the ball downfield enough. According to Pro Football Reference, Seattle is averaging just 6.3 average depth of target yards on throws to Metcalf (meaning, how far downfield the pass is thrown), less than half of any other season in his career (he averaged 12.7 last season). Smith said Sunday that Seattle’s two foes so far have double-covered Metcalf regularly, attempting to take away his big plays. But the Seahawks are either going to have to get more creative to get him open deep, or simply force the issue at times and see what happens to have any chance to get the offense going more.
Jude: This isn’t a new problem. We were asking the same question at times last season. It just seems so obvious, right? Metcalf is one of the best receivers in the NFL, particularly on deep passing plays. Just throw it up to him, right? It’s not quite that simple, and it certainly goes back to the root of the Seahawks’ offensive issues — the run game. It is a double-edged sword for Seattle. It’s more challenging to get Metcalf the ball against the “two high” safety scheme the Seahawks are regularly facing, and the best way to get defenses out of that is to run the ball effectively — and thus force them to bring a safety into the box (and ideally freeing up a receiver like Metcalf in more one-on-one matchups). But when the Seahawks can’t run the ball, there is no reason for defenses to change — and less room for Metcalf to break free.
4. How does the Seahawks defense go about fixing its tackling issues?
Jude: The tackling has been, in a word, atrocious. It’s about as bad as I can recall ever seeing from an NFL defense. According to Pro Football Focus, the Seahawks have 27 missed tackles through two games. It’s early in the season, sure. And, yes, the Seahawks are relying on a lot of young, inexperienced players. You would expect the tackling to improve as the season goes along — and, man, it needs to improve in a hurry.
Condotta: When the Seahawks struggled with tackling in the preseason Carroll noted that many of the misses were by younger and newer players — and, by implication, players who wouldn’t be around when the regular season began. But that isn’t an explanation anymore. Still, it’s true that some players who are new, or in new roles with the Seahawks, have been some of the biggest offenders. According to PFF, Josh Jones — thrust into the starting strong safety job with Jamal Adams out — leads the Seahawks with six missed tackles, while rookie cornerback Coby Bryant is second with four and cornerback Michael Jackson, who has made the first starts of his career the past two weeks, is next with three. That all three are players who often find themselves having to make tackles in open space might also be part of the issue, Carroll said. “We need more guys around the ball so that guys don’t get stuck one-on-one so much,” he said. “We just have to do better.”