By the only number that really matters — wins — the first quarter of the Seahawks’ season was a resounding success.
Seattle is 4-0 for just the second time in franchise history (the 2013 Super Bowl winners were the other) with a chance to get to 5-0 for the first time ever Sunday night against visiting Minnesota (the 2013 team lost its fifth game at Indianapolis before ripping off seven straight wins).
But before the Seahawks enter the second quarter of the season, let’s review what’s happened so far, dishing out some grades and handing out some awards.
Comment: The Seahawks are not only second in the NFL in scoring at 35.5 points per game but are on pace to shatter the team’s record for points in a season. At its current rate Seattle would finish with 568 points — the team record is 452 in 2005.
Of course, there’s some context worth noting here that points are up throughout the league for a variety of reasons (including that officials seem to really be swallowing their whistles when it comes to offensive holding). As the NFL’s research account tweeted this week, there have been 3,151 points scored in the first four weeks of the season, 121 more than have ever been scored to this point.
But there’s no questioning the efficiency and consistency of Seattle’s offense as the Seahawks have scored 31 or more points in every game. If Seattle wins Sunday and scores 30 points, it would be just the fifth time in NFL history a team started 5-0 scoring 30 or more in each game.
Comment: OK, I can already hear the calls (or, these days, read the tweets) that such a grade is too high for a unit allowing the most yards in the NFL at 476.5 per game.
But the defense did come up with huge plays at the end of the Seahawks’ two down-to-the-wire games to preserve each and has forced some key turnovers along the way.
Also, the run defense has been far better this year, holding teams to 3.4 yards per attempt, third best in the NFL.
As noted, points and yards are up throughout the league, so all numbers for basically every team are tilted toward the offense.
And there’s some truth in Pete Carroll’s assertion that a lot of damage has come with teams trailing — of Seattle’s 109 points allowed, 11th most, a whopping 46 have come in the fourth quarter, the third most.
But suffice to say Seattle won’t be able to realize its Super Bowl dreams without a better and more consistent defense.
Special teams: A
Comment: The Seahawks have yet to have any real negative special-teams plays and have gotten great punting from Michael Dickson, solid coverage and a few decent returns. Overall, much better than at this point a year ago.
With the gradebook filled out, let’s turn to some awards:
Offense: Russell Wilson. Among a bevy of many just startling numbers, Wilson is on pace for 64 passing touchdowns — the NFL record is 55 by Peyton Manning in 2013. Goes without saying the odds aren’t real high he’ll keep that up. But right now, Wilson seems capable of just about anything.
Defense: KJ Wright/Bobby Wagner. Had Jamal Adams stayed healthy, this would have gone to him as he was making a significant impact before hurting his groin in Week 3 against Dallas. Instead we’ll split this between the two veteran linebackers who have been a big reason for the improved run defense — which it’s worth remembering Carroll regards as the primary goal of a defense. Each has also had some good moments in pass coverage. Wagner has allowed just nine completions on 17 targets, via Pro Football Reference, for a passer rating of just 66.1, while Wright keyed the Miami win with three pass breakups.
Special teams: Michael Dickson. All the rage at this point two years ago, Dickson is almost kicking better now than he did then if getting far less attention for it. Dickson is fourth in the NFL in both gross yards per punt (50.9) and net (45.5) while having 10 downed inside the 20, tied for the most in the league but doing so on two fewer punts than co-leader Cameron Johnston of Philadelphia.
Most underrated player: Duane Brown. Can the third-highest-paid player on the team really be underrated? Well it’s always too easy to overlook the impact of offensive linemen. But left tackle Duane Brown shouldn’t be taken for granted. Despite battling a sore knee that limits him in practice, he has missed only eight snaps and has done so playing really well — he’s rated the seventh-best tackle in the league by Pro Football Focus with the 12th-best pass-block grade and the eighth-best run-block grade.
Biggest surprise: Ethan Pocic. The other key to a vastly improved offensive line has been the emergence of Pocic as the starting center after he played guard and tackle his first three seasons with the Seahawks. Pocic was primarily a center at Louisiana State but the Seahawks had Justin Britt manning that spot his first three years so they used Pocic where they had needs. With Britt gone, they threw Pocic at center and he has made it his home so far after beating out free-agent signee B.J. Finney in camp — the only position where the backup going in won the job — playing every snap so far and rated 14th of 35 centers this week by PFF. A very honorable mention to Ugo Amadi, who so far has more than ably handled the nickel corner spot after the loss for the season of Marquise Blair (Amadi is Seattle’s highest-rated corner via PFF at 17th out of 112 in the NFL).
Key stat: First-down passing. Maybe the simplest way to illustrate how the Seahawks have Let Russ Cook (which is also unquestionably the winner of the Phrase of the First Quarter of the season) is how often the Seahawks are passing on first down. Two years ago, Seattle ranked last in the NFL in passing on first down at just 47.65%. So far this year, Seattle is 12th at 62.37%. Wilson has thrived throwing on first down with six of his 16 touchdowns — two more than anyone else in the NFL on first down — and 50 of 62 completions for 597 yards and a passer rating of 132.3 Take out the interception that went off Greg Olsen’s hands and that rating improves to 139.05.
Biggest disappointment: Injuries to the first two draft picks — Jordyn Brooks and Darrell Taylor. Seattle’s 2020 draft class is showing lots of promise: Third-rounder Damien Lewis is starting at right guard, receiver Freddie Swain has become a consistent contributor, end Alton Robinson has made a few nice plays and running back DeeJay Dallas impressed in his first action last week. That makes it all the more disappointing that Brooks, the Seahawks’ first-round pick, has played just 29 snaps so far, first being eased into action and then hurting his knee against Dallas, and that second-round pick Darrell Taylor has yet to do anything while on the non-football injury list, with his leg injury from college and subsequent surgery still lingering. Brooks appears likely back sooner than later but it’s unclear when Taylor will contribute. Seattle hopes maybe each can be a big boost to the stretch run.
Runner-up: Defensive injuries in general. The angst about the defense is understandable. But it’s worth remembering that almost all of the team’s significant injury issues have come on defense. While the offense hasn’t lost any starter to injury for even one game, the defense has seen five key players miss time, including losing Blair and end Bruce Irvin for the season, as well as Adams for one game and part of another, and cornerback Quinton Dunbar for two. The bye week appears to come at a good time for Seattle to get Adams, Dunbar and end Rasheem Green back to full health.
What to watch in the second quarter of season
Can the Seahawks repeat their undefeated first quarter in the second? On paper, it appears a much tougher task.
None of the four teams Seattle has beaten so far has a winning record (though this early in the season, the fact Seattle beat them factors heavily into that) with only New England at .500 at 2-2. The combined record of the four teams Seattle has beaten so far is 4-12.
That contrasts to 9-7 for the next four teams, all of whom are .500 or better other than the 1-3 Vikings (whose three losses are to teams that are a combined 10-1).
After playing Minnesota and then getting their bye, Seattle will play at 2-2 Arizona and host 2-2 San Francisco (which may be a lot healthier by then) before traveling to 4-0 Buffalo, a game that somewhat unexpectedly suddenly looms as one of the more interesting of the NFL season.
What appears certain given how the first quarter of the season went is that it’s sure to be entertaining.