The Seahawks’ offense is unable to run out the clock in the fourth quarter, and the defense had trouble with another tight end, this time Carolina’s Greg Olsen. Meantime, tight end Jimmy Graham was effective for most of the game.
Three observations after the Seahawks fell to the Panthers, 27-23, at home on Sunday:
1. offense had problems late — again
That’s two weeks in a row in which the Seahawks had an opportunity to hold on to the ball, drain the clock and end the game. And that’s weeks in a row in which they couldn’t do it.
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The Seahawks picked up just two first downs on their final three drives, which came one week after they picked up only three first downs on their final six drives in a loss to Cincinnati.
It stands at odds with what the Seahawks have been about offensively. They prided themselves on being a team that could run the ball and wear teams out, and usually they could. But on their final two drives with the lead against Carolina, the Seahawks ran the ball twice for 5 yards (both carries by Marshawn Lynch) and dropped back to pass four times.
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“Very frustrating, very disappointing,” offensive tackle Russell Okung said. “Finishing is part of our identity.”
The other problem has surfaced all season: The Seahawks couldn’t maximize their trips to the red zone. The Seahawks scored just one touchdown on their three visits to the red zone and settled for two field goals.
The numbers are alarming. The Seahawks entered Sunday’s game averaging 3.82 points per red zone trip, which ranked 31st in the NFL according to Pro Football Outsiders.
And they entered scoring touchdowns on only 27 percent of their red zone trips, which was last in the NFL according to teamrankings.com. They scored touchdowns 52 percent of the time last season.
“We moved the ball and got down there,” offensive tackle Garry Gilliam. “But when you get to the red zone you have to put touchdowns up. The defense got turnovers, and we’ve got to capitalize on them.”
2. There was tight end Jimmy Graham
The Seahawks have struggled to get Graham the ball, but against the Panthers he caught eight passes for 140 yards on 12 targets.
Put another way: In his first five games in Seattle, Graham had 21 catches for 204 yards. The numbers are one thing, but just as important is the way Graham was used.
The Seahawks hit him down the middle and in the seams, the parts of the field where he was effective in New Orleans. They faked handoffs to Lynch and found Graham open down the middle, the scenario so many envisioned when the Seahawks traded for Graham this offseason. And he caught a tough pass in traffic for 27 yards on third-and-14.
“That’s the tremendous player that he is,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Graham also caught a couple of long passes, including a season-long 45-yarder, from Wilson on scramble plays. Graham thought he would have no problem adjusting to Wilson’s free styling, but he and Wilson had yet to connect in those moments.
“The really encouraging thing is that that’s the first time we’ve really seen Jimmy in the scramble situations really come to life,” Carroll said.
Graham played against the Panthers twice a season while he was in New Orleans, and he spent most of Sunday contentiously locked up with Carolina defenders. Afterward, Panthers linebacker Thomas David told the Charlotte Observer: “I don’t even know what to call him. He’s out there talking trash. He’s probably one of those guys who is excited about his production and not worried about his team losing.”
3. The Seahawks struggled against another tight end
Carroll doesn’t see the Seahawks having a tight end problem. “I don’t know that,” he said. “I don’t see it that way.”
But the numbers tell a different story. Carolina tight end Greg Olsen had seven catches for 131 yards and the game-winning touchdown, just one week after Cincinnati tight end Tyler Eifert had eight catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns.
In their four losses this season, that’s been a common problem. Green Bay tight end Richard Rodgers had just three catches for 23 yards but caught the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. And in the season opener, tight end Jared Cook led the Rams with five catches for 85 yards (In their two wins, Seattle didn’t allow tight ends more than 22 yards).
Olsen picked apart a number of Seattle defenders. But he caught a couple of big passes against second-year linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, who was starting because Bobby Wagner was out with an injury.
“I’m a tough critic on myself,” Pierre-Louis said. “I thought on a positive note, I made some good plays. And on the other side, there were some big plays that I gave up. I’m excited to learn from them. I definitely think I need to do a lot better.”
Pierre-Louis pointed to a 22-yard Olsen catch in the third quarter that set up a touchdown.
“It was one of those instances where my eyes were in the wrong spot,” he said. “When Cam (Newton) had kept the ball earlier in the game and I didn’t hold my leverage on the outside, I was worried too much and not really focusing and locked in on the next play so he was able to get away from me a little bit.”
Again, it wasn’t just Pierre-Louis, but it’s a problem that has hurt the Seahawks.