Russell Wilson's TD percentage and Seattle's red zone defense among the topics examined in our weekly review of the game that was.
No, you’re not wrong in thinking this Seahawks season has been just a little different in the number of close games.
Seattle’s 30-27 victory at Carolina on Sunday was the fifth Seahawks game this year that was decided by three points or less.
That ties the most for the season of any year in the Pete Carroll era — Seattle also had five in 2011, 2016 and 2017 — with five games remaining.
The good news is that the Seahawks now are on the plus side of the win-loss ledger in the close calls at 3-2.
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Here’s our weekly recap of the game Sunday, reviewing what I thought might happen and what did.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
WHAT I SAID: Carolina QB Cam Newton vs. Seattle linebackers Bobby Wagner and Austin Calitro.
WHAT HAPPENED: Well, the Seahawks hardly stopped Newton. He completed all 14 passes in the first half, and as I suspected might happen, he was more aggressive running than he had been the previous two games. After rushing just twice in each of Carolina’s previous two games, Newton ran it on two of Carolina’s first four plays Sunday, for gains of 10 and 12 yards, and finished with 63 yards on eight carries. But the Seahawks also got a few critical stops on Newton when they really needed to, notably the early fourth-and-2 to prevent a touchdown. So call this a push.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Seattle receivers vs. Carolina secondary.
This appeared as if it might be a favorable matchup for the Seahawks going into the game with the Panthers ranking 21st in the NFL in pass defense. It became even more of one when starting cornerback Donte Jackson left with an injury suffered on Seattle’s first offensive play, never to return. That left backup Corn Elder, who had just 117 snaps entering the game, teaming with struggling James Bradberry as the starters and Captain Munnerlyn as a backup. It took Seattle a little while to really take advantage of the thin secondary, but eventually the Seahawks did. David Moore beat Bradberry for a 54-yard gain on a third-and-12 in the third quarter that got the Seattle offense going and later beat Elder for the touchdown that tied the game in the fourth quarter. And Tyler Lockett beat Munnerlyn for the long gain that set up the winning field goal. Asked Monday if the Seahawks specifically sought out the backups once Jackson was hurt, Carroll said, “Yep.’’
PLAYER TO WATCH
WHAT I SAID: Cornerback Shaquill Griffin.
WHAT HAPPENED: Griffin had a mixed day, being called for a pass-interference penalty that set up a Carolina touchdown late in the third quarter and also was beaten by Curtis Samuel for a 7-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Griffin ranked tied for 41st of 76 graded cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus this week after having also been beaten for long gains at critical times in two of the previous three games. A lot was asked of Griffin this year to replace Richard Sherman. It’s not unfair to say he still isn’t quite to a Sherman-esque level.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Receiver Tyler Lockett.
Just another week when Lockett proved the worth of the three-year extension he signed prior to the season. Lockett caught another touchdown pass and now has eight for the year, on pace for 12, which would be tied for the third-most in team history. And he had a season-high 107 receiving yards, which gave him 661 yards for the season, only 3 yards off his career high of 664 when he was a rookie in 2015. And after averaging 21.4 yards per reception, his second-best mark this season, he is up to 15.4 for the season, also a career high.
WHAT I SAID: Zero, which was the number of turnovers the Seahawks had forced in the past three games.
WHAT HAPPENED: Seattle forced only one, but it was a huge one: Bradley McDougald’s third-quarter interception in the end zone. “Oh my gosh, what a big play,’’ Carroll said, something he could also have said about six other plays. More to the point was Seattle not committing any turnovers and Seattle ending up plus-one in turnovers. As noted here often, there is no more predicative stat in the Carroll era than turnovers — Seattle now is 55-12 under Carroll when winning the turnover battle and 5-1 this season.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Red-zone defense.
McDougald’s interception was emblematic of what might have been the biggest key to the game — Seattle’s red-zone defense. Carolina scored touchdowns on just three of seven trips inside the 20 and got only 13 points out of its first five, coming away empty-handed twice. Seattle had kept teams from scoring points on only three of 29 trips inside the 20 before Sunday and had allowed touchdowns on 17 of those.
WILD-CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
WHAT I SAID: Receiver Jaron Brown.
WHAT HAPPENED: I thought maybe Brown would benefit from more playing time due to the uncertainty over Doug Baldwin’s status. Brown, though, played just 13 snaps and didn’t have a catch — he has just two since the third game of the season. He did get one target, on a play right before David Moore’s touchdown that tied the game.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Defensive tackle Nazair Jones and wide receiver Malik Turner.
Jones, a third-round draft choice last season, had just two tackles this season before Sunday. But he was active for just the sixth time and played 19 snaps and had one of the game’s biggest plays, tackling Christian McCaffrey for a 3-yard loss on third-and-two at the 4 in the first quarter, forcing a Carolina field goal. Turner, playing just the third game of his career after being signed to the active roster earlier this month, had a 19-yard catch to spark Seattle’s first scoring drive. Turner, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Illinois, was one of the standouts of the preseason and a player the Seahawks seem to have high hopes for.
WHAT I SAID: 155.
WHAT HAPPENED: Seattle had rushed for 155 or more yards in each of the past seven games before heading to Carolina, the best stretch in franchise history. I thought that might come to a halt against a good Carolina defensive front, and wondered how Seattle would respond. I was right on the first count as the Panthers loaded up to stop the run and held Seattle to 75 rushing yards on 28 carries, Seattle’s third-lowest total of the season. The 2.7 average, though, was the lowest as Seattle’s other low-yardage games came in the first two games before the Seahawks had committed to running the ball a ton no matter what. But Seattle responded just fine, turning to the pass with Russell Wilson throwing for 221 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: 8.1.
Speaking of Wilson, he threw two more touchdown passes and now has 25 for the season. More telling, he has thrown a touchdown on 8.1 percent of his passes this season, which is by far the best of his career — his previous high was 7.0 in 2015 when he threw 34 for touchdowns, setting a team record he then tied last season. The 8.1 percent number currently ties Wilson for second in the NFL with Drew Brees behind the 9.5 of Patrick Mahomes. And it would set a team record. David Krieg currently holds the record at 7.89 in 1988 when he tossed 18 touchdowns in 228 attempts.
THE FINAL WORD
WHAT I SAID: Seahawks 27, Panthers 24.
WHAT HAPPENED: Well, almost exactly that! No one could have predicted the twists and turns that the game would take — though if you’d paid attention to this series at all through the years you knew there’d be some. And given the history of the series — Seattle wins by five points or less every year from 2012-14 — you had to figure the Seahawks would find a way.