This is starting to have that old-timey Seahawks feel, isn’t it? Call it deja blue.
The late-season surge. The big-play defense. The punishing rushing attack. And the wild card that is quarterback Russell Wilson.
It’s a formula that brought the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. And you can see the blueprint coalescing again in 2019, right along with the ever-growing confidence in the locker room.
“It feels good. It’s the perfect time, too,” veteran linebacker K.J. Wright said after the Seahawks’ 37-30 Monday night win over the Vikings.
“It’s where you start separating yourself, in December. Teams start falling by the wayside. We look tremendous with the run game. Defense getting all those turnovers. Looking fantastic. We’re gelling. We’re vibing together really well.”
It’s not perfect, mind you. Seattle did give up 30 points, including two late touchdowns that let the Vikings back in a game the Seahawks thought they had put away. The offense gifted the Vikings a touchdown, a category in which they lead the NFL.
But as linebacker Bobby Wagner said, “We still have room to improve on, which is the scary thing, because we can still get better.”
With a 10-2 record and five consecutive victories, the Seahawks are not just well-positioned in the standings for a playoff run. They are slowly but inexorably forming in the image of coach Pete Carroll’s desired model of sustained success.
That means a physical, ball-hawking defense. The Seahawks have 27 quarterback hits in the past three games. That goes with 11 turnovers in that span, with the win over San Francisco — and the insertion of Quandre Diggs at free safety — standing as a line of demarcation for a revitalized defense.
Diggs’ ferocious hit on Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. in the second quarter seemed to galvanize the Seattle defense.
“Once I see something like that, I want to hit somebody, too,” strong safety Bradley McDougald said. “We all thrive off each other and push each other. … But you need playmakers to do that. You can’t just have a competition going and nobody’s making plays.”
Making plays is the raison d’être of the Seahawks defense, said Jadeveon Clowney (although not exactly in those words). That was epitomized in a play in which he raced down field and punched a ball loose for a fumble the Vikings recovered.
“That’s how we all are trained, that’s how we practice. That’s the mindset of this team. That’s what we do — chase the ball, and nobody quits on a play.”
The Seahawks racked up a season-high 218 yards on the ground. Part of that was because the Vikings were geared up to stop Seattle’s passing game. But just as much was because of a stout effort from the offensive line and hard-nosed running from Chris Carson (102 yards) and Rashaad Penny (74 yards).
This is the two-headed monster at running back that Carroll has envisioned all along. And that’s on the heels of rushing for 174 yards against the Eagles, and 147 against the 49ers. All three of those opponents ranked in the top five in rush defense.
Penny made the point that he “was told” that opponents get worn down as the season progresses and “don’t like stopping the run. … I try to bring a spark.”
Carroll makes no secret of his belief that winning football is predicated on a strong running game, going against the grain of the current analytic school of thought. But since the heyday of Marshawn Lynch, it has worked for the Seahawks.
“That’s the foundation of what we’re built on,” offensive lineman Duane Brown said. “A staple of our offense is our running game, playing physical, the backs playing behind their pads, getting north and south, running tough.
“We were able to wear them down some and break open some big runs. We got there in the fourth quarter and knew we had to run the ball to run the time down, and we were able to do that. Everyone knew we were going to run the ball; they knew we were going to run the ball. They kind of knew where the ball was going, but that’s just the kind of guys we have up front. I’m proud of our guys up front for answering that call and running the clock out.”
At its optimal functioning, there’s a synergy to the Seahawks’ success that McDougald summed up.
“Defense has to do its job, and our job is to get the ball back to Russ, and Russ is going to do his magic.”
There was some dark magic from Wilson on Monday with a bizarre pick-six when he batted a previously batted ball straight into the arms of a Vikings defender. But there were also two touchdown passes in the second half, giving Wilson 26 for the year, most in the NFL. They also are third in rushing yards per game, which may actually disappoint Carroll, because he wants to be No. 1.
Wilson, too, is starting to sense the Seahawks are being formed in Carroll’s image. And with nine of their 10 wins by a margin of eight points or fewer, they also possess what Wilson calls “the clutch gene.”
“I think we have everything we need,” he said, “and I think we have everything that we want.”
Deja blue, all over again.