The Seahawks finished the first quarter of the season with a flourish. But for much of the first four games their play only raised concerns.
Just a good half against a bad team or a sign of things to come?
As might be expected, coach Pete Carroll thinks the breakout in the final to quarters against the Colts Sunday shows the Seahawks are finally becoming who he thought they were all along.
“I like where we jumped to this last week,’’ Carroll said Monday. “We have been close to doing a lot of good stuff, it just hasn’t clicked like we like it.’’
No doubt. For three-and-a-half games of the first quarter of this season all the Seahawks did was raise a lot of questions about where everything was headed.
Then came a second half against the Colts that looked straight out of the innocent climb days of December 2012.
Now to see if the about-face is lasting Sunday against the resurgent Rams in Los Angeles, a game in which the Seahawks can show that the NFC West title still goes through Seattle.
Until then, let’s review the first quarter of the season, handing out a few awards and grades along the way.
MVP: QB Russell Wilson. While Wilson has had a few shaky moments with his throws, many of his overall numbers are on pace for what are his usual career numbers. He’s on pace for 28 touchdowns, which would be the second-best of his career, and 4,096 yards, which would also be second. He’s also on pace for 552 yards rushing, which would be third. His yards per carry of 5.5 is right in line with his career average of 5.6 and far above the 3.6 of last year’s injury-plagued campaign — you need no more proof than the TD run that sparked the comeback against the Colts to know what a difference healthy legs are making for Wilson this season. He remains the most vital player on the team.
Runner-up: RB Chris Carson. Few would have figured when he was taken in the seventh round in April that he’d emerge as the team’s primary running back to open the year. Sadly, his season is halted for now.
Unsung hero: WR Doug Baldwin. Okay, so Baldwin is far from an unknown. But it may be easy to have escaped notice that even despite being limited Sunday against the Colts he is on pace for 92 receptions — two off the franchise record he tied last season — and 988 yards. A close second in this category is tight end Luke Willson, on pace for a career-high 28 catches and tied for the team lead with two touchdown receptions.
Key stat: 5.5 yards per play. To the Seahawks there may be no more important stat than yards per play on each side of the ball. This early in the season one game can greatly influence things, and so it is with YPP. Seattle was averaging just 4.9 through the first three games before getting 7.7 per play against the Colts, which brought the season number up to 5.5, 14th in the NFL and in line with the 5.6 of last season, though still off from the 5.88 and 5.85 that were franchise records in 2014 and 2015. The task for the Seahawks now is to keep it at 5.5 or better.
Key question: Can the offensive line continue to improve enough to allow the skill guys to flourish? After the struggles of the first two games the Seahawks replaced Mark Glowinski with Oday Aboushi at right guard, giving Seattle a line it appears set to stick with for now (though we’ll see if left tackle Rees Odhiambo will be able to recover from a sternum injury to play Sunday against the Rams).
Grade: C. Most of the first two-and-a-half games were a slog and the first half against the Colts simply a disaster. But the second halves the last two weeks have been encouraging as has the way Wilson has appeared more aggressive running. And you might not believe it, but Seattle’s yards-per-game average of 361.8 is ninth in the NFL.
MVP: MLB Bobby Wagner. Wagner not only leads the team in tackles with 33 — which you would expect given his position and role — but he also leads the team in passes defensed with three and is tied for second in quarterback hits with three. He also has been part of two of the team’s four turnovers — an interception against the 49ers and the fumble recovery rumble for a touchdown that helped turn the Colts’ game into a rout.
Runner-up: CB Richard Sherman. Sherman has quickly dispelled any concerns about how he’d play this year after an off-season of trade rumors. Sure, he had a couple bad moments against the Titans. But for the season he is allowing a passer rating of just 63.9 when targeted, according to Pro Football Focus. And cutting off one side of the field is more important than ever with Jeremy Lane basically not playing in two of four games and Seattle going with rookie Shaquill Griffin and newly-acquired Justin Coleman as its other cornerbacks. Sherman was a quiet star of the win over the Colts helping limit Indy standout WR T.Y. Hilton to 30 yards on three receptions.
Unsung hero: CB Justin Coleman. Coleman’s acquisition almost seemed like an afterthought coming as it did on the same day Seattle traded for Sheldon Richardson. But getting Coleman for just a seventh-round pick suddenly seems like a steal. Frank Clark also deserves a mention for playing through a bevy of aches and pains.
Key stat: 5.0 rushing yards allowed. True, Seattle’s uncharacteristic run defense numbers can be largely attributed to a few big plays. Still, those count, and nothing has raised more of en eyebrow the first half of the season than Seattle’s rushing yards allowed per attempt, which this week is at 5.0, 30th in the NFL. Seattle looked back to its old self against the Colts in allowing just 3.9 per play. But the Colts are also the second-worst rushing team in the NFL at 3.0 per attempt. The Rams and Todd Gurley Sunday will be a much better indicator of if the early run defense numbers were a fluke or a concern.
Key question: Can the vets hold up for 11 games in 11 weeks to end the season? The Seahawks have one of the earlier byes coming next week following the fifth game. That means Seattle then has 11 games in 11 weeks to close things out. Seattle already has dealt with some injuries – Lane and Cliff Avril sidelined against the Colts with it uncertain when either will return; Sherman battling groin and hamstring issues; Earl Thomas a knee. The now-veteran core of the defense remains the key to the team’s long-term success and keeping everyone upright is as important as anything the rest of the way.
Grade: B-minus. While there have been some extenuating circumstances, none of the Seahawks’ defensive stats are quite to the team’s usual level — Seattle is 16th in total defense at 318.8 yards per game and has already played what are statistically the two worst offenses on its schedule, the Colts and 49ers, and has played none that rank in the top 12. But five of the next 10 games are against teams that rank in the top eight offensively, so we’ll find out soon the true measure of the Seattle defense. The Seahawks also have had a few uncharacteristic breakdowns leading to big plays, which have to be limited going forward.
MVP: P Jon Ryan. Eight of 22’s punts have been downed inside the 20 and field position was especially key to pulling out the win against the 49ers when well-placed punts forced San Francisco to start three drives inside its 13.
Runner-up: S Bradley McDougald. McDougald leads the Seahawks with six special teams tackles, five solo, and also has played a team-high 100 special teams snaps.
Unsung hero: FB Tre Madden. Madden has played just 27 snaps at fullback as Seattle has not made as much use of that position as in past years. But he’s played 79 special teams snaps, second to McDougald, helping fill in the gaps with guys like Dewey McDonald and Neiko Thorpe being injured.
Key stat: 18.1 yards allowed per kickoff return. That number, on 10 kickoffs, is fifth-best in the NFL and on pace to be the lowest of the Carroll era.
Key question: Is there any reason to worry about Blair Walsh? Walsh has overall been just what Seattle hoped for — he’s made 6-7 field goals, 8-9 point afters and the kickoff return stat indicates he’s executing those assignments well enough. But his two misses came at key times — a PAT that left the 49ers within a field goal in the fourth quarter and a 37-yard field goal at the end of the half against the Colts when Seattle appeared to be reeling. Walsh was available because he missed a few key kicks with the Vikings, and fair or not that puts an extra microscope on how he handles the more timely kicks going forward.
Grade: B. The special teams have overall been fine if as yet having really been in position to make a real game-deciding play.