The Seahawks go roaring into their bye having won three of their last four behind a strong running game and defense. Beat writer Bob Condotta takes an in-depth look at the win and where the Hawks are at entering the bye week.
LONDON — The Seahawks aren’t yet at the halfway point of the season, six games into a 16-game schedule.
But the bye week provides a literal break in the proceedings and an obvious chance to reflect.
And while there might still be questions about where their season is headed as they take a week off — one they asked the NFL for following the long trip — it’s clear they are becoming the team Pete Carroll envisioned when he spearheaded an offseason of dramatic change in both the coaching staff and roster.
Carroll wanted to make the running game again a significant factor. That has happened, as Seattle ranks ninth in the NFL in rushing at 127.8 yards per game and has averaged 157.25 yards over the past four games, which for the season would top the 154.3 of the league-leading Rams.
He also wanted a running game that could take some pressure off the passing game, which could then be used more to attack than out of necessity.
That also has happened as Russell Wilson has 13 touchdown passes — ranking Seattle seventh in that category and on pace to tie his career-high of 34 — while averaging 7.9 yards per pass attempt, ninth in the NFL and almost a yard better than the 7.2 of last season. But unlike last year, when 19 of Wilson’s 34 touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter — many in desperate times — this year nine of his 13 have come in the first three quarters.
Carroll also wanted the defense to again be a hard-hitting, ball-hawking group despite the massive turnover in personnel — for the past two weeks, Bobby Wagner has been the only defensive holdover from Seattle’s last Super Bowl team.
That, too, has happened as Seattle has a plus-seven turnover margin, tied for the best in the NFL, while allowing just 6.8 yards per pass, which is fifth in the NFL, and an opponent passer rating of 79.9, which is third.
“I’m just really pleased where we are right now taking up to this break,’’ Carroll said after the 27-3 victory Sunday over the Raiders. “We’ve put together really four weeks of pretty good football here and I like the way that we’re playing, the style that we’re playing with, how physical we’re playing.’’
Despite seeming like they’ve been on the road all season, the Seahawks still will have three of the first five games following the bye away from home. But if they get through that in playoff position, then comes a mostly favorable December featuring four home games.
Now let’s review what I thought might happen against the Raiders and what did.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
WHAT I SAID: Marshawn Lynch vs. the Seahawks run defense.
WHAT HAPPENED: Lynch was his usual active self, but his impact on the game was fairly muted by a Seattle defensive front seven that dominated a beat-up and young Oakland front. And if you’re questioning how much the victory Sunday means, that’s the big asterisk — there might be no more depleted offensive line in the NFL right now than Oakland’s. But Seattle took advantage, in the process limiting Lynch to just 45 mostly meaningless yards. And while Seattle has given up some rushing yards this season, it also has held Lynch to 3.5 yards per carry, Todd Gurley to 3.5 and David Johnson to 3.2 the past three weeks.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Seattle DE Frank Clark vs. Oakland LT Kolton Miller.
Maybe we should have seen Clark’s dominance coming against the Oakland rookie who was playing on a sore knee. Still, Clark’s game Sunday night was one for the ages with a career-high 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, all only further strengthening Clark’s case for a new contract from the Seahawks sooner rather than later.
PLAYER TO WATCH
WHAT I SAID: Right guard D.J. Fluker.
WHAT HAPPENED: Fluker and the line had another solid game, paving the way for 155 rushing yards, with Wilson sacked just once. Four games of this is starting to be more than a small sample size.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Receiver Doug Baldwin.
Baldwin bristled a little bit last week at questions about his lack of receptions the previous Sunday against the Rams, when he had one catch for 1 yard on one target. He was quiet again early Sunday with two catches for 8 yards in the first half. Baldwin even drew a penalty when he spiked the ball in frustration after falling just short of a first down on a third-down reception late in the second quarter, which occurred two plays after Wilson just missed him on a potential 49-yard touchdown. Along the way, Baldwin switched from molded to detachable cleats to get better footing, while also getting his elbow wrapped though he declined to detail the injury. He then looked like his old self in the second half, with four catches for 83 yards. What changed? “We threw the ball in my direction,’’ he said. “That’s really what it was.’’
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
WHAT I SAID: Will the Seahawks stick with their liberal use of the zone read?
WHAT HAPPENED: Yep, the Seahawks did, using it throughout a 14-play drive that resulted in Seattle’s first opening-drive touchdown since Sept. 25, 2016. Sunday, the Seahawks used a three-headed rushing attack of Chris Carson (14 carries, 59 yards), Rashaad Penny (nine carries, 43 yards) and Mike Davis (six carries, 21 yards) to bludgeon the Raiders.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Will Oakland defer if it wins the toss?
In an easy victory devoid of drama, there wasn’t much to second-guess later. Maybe it didn’t matter that Oakland won the toss and deferred — the way things were going, the Raiders likely would have gone just three-and-out. But with a pro-Seahawks crowd roaring from well before kickoff, the game felt over once Seattle took a 7-0 lead.
WHAT I SAID: Jet lag and an early start.
WHAT HAPPENED: The Seahawks flew out Wednesday and arrived a day earlier than the Raiders. Seattle appeared to be the fresher, faster team from the start. Maybe they were just better and that’s all that really mattered.
As would be expected, while some Seahawks (such as Quinton Jefferson) said they never felt any jet lag, others (such as Tyler Lockett) said they never really felt time-adjusted. But the 10 a.m. Seattle time start was mitigated by the 6 p.m. local start, and everything the Seahawks did ultimately worked.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: The overwhelmingly pro-Seahawks crowd.
It was technically a Raiders home game. But it was evident as blue and green filled the seats well before kickoff who the real home team was. “Amazing,’’ Lockett said. “Never knew we had a lot of Seahawks fans out here.’’
WILD CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
WHAT I SAID: Sebastian Janikowski.
WHAT HAPPENED: Janikowski hit his only two attempts, each well after it felt like the issue had been decided.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Tight end Tyrone Swoopes. OK, so there was no real way to know what kind of role Swoopes was going to have as he didn’t rejoin the team until this week and wasn’t activated to the 53-man roster until Saturday. Seattle opened in a two-tight end set and Swoopes officially got the start. After not being on an NFL roster the first five weeks of the season, Swoopes played 26 snaps and also made the first catch of his career, a 23-yarder that sparked the first touchdown drive. Darrell Daniels also played 33 snaps, and the two subs ably replaced the injured Nick Vannett, Will Dissly and Ed Dickson at tight end. Vannett and Dickson might be back for Seattle’s next game Oct. 28 at Detroit.
WHAT I SAID: Plus-six, minus-four, the turnover margins for Seattle and Oakland, respectively.
WHAT HAPPENED: The Seahawks won the turnover margin for the fourth time this season — gaining two fumbles while losing one interception — and have yet to lose it in a game this season, standing at plus-seven overall. Seattle had turnover ratios of plus-eight and plus-one the past two seasons.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: 316, Oakland’s average yardage per game passing, which ranked sixth in the NFL coming into the game.
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Remember all the “Legion of Whom?’’ talk at the beginning of the season? The worry two weeks ago about Tedric Thompson taking over for Earl Thomas at free safety?
Sunday, a casual fan might hardly have known that wasn’t the original Legion of Boom out there as Seattle held Derek Carr to 142 passing yards on 31 attempts while also dishing out hard hits reminiscent of the LOB in its prime. Sure, the suffocating pass rush helped greatly. But even when Carr had time there was rarely anyone open downfield — according to Matt Harmon of Yahoo Sports, Carr so often was forced to go to his checkdown receivers that he averaged just 0.1 yards in the air on his 21 completed passes.
Seattle has allowed 200 or less gross passing yards in four of the past five games and 180 or less in three of the past four, while playing with one rookie at right cornerback (Tre Flowers) and two second-year players starting at left cornerback (Shaquill Griffin) and free safety (Thompson).
No one will ever deny the talent of the individual members of the original LOB. But Carroll appears to be showing again his ability to build and mold a secondary.
THE FINAL WORD
WHAT I SAID: Seahawks 27, Raiders 21
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: So for a second consecutive week I had a direct hit on the points scored by the winning team. But boy did I overrate the ability of the Raiders to score on the Seahawks. We’ll find out as the weeks go on if that says more about the Seahawks, or about an Oakland team that is 1-5 and appears to be facing a massive rebuild that might take all 10 years of Jon Gruden’s contract. But Seattle is establishing some positive trends that are hard to ignore.