For the second week in a row, the game Sunday ended at CenturyLink Field with the Seahawks defense whooping and hollering as a huge play staved off a diabolical defeat.
Don’t be fooled, however.
As cathartically appealing as it has been for fans to see disaster averted, that only happened after disaster had been cordially invited in. Rising to the occasion in crunch time is great, but it doesn’t hide the fact that the Seahawks have a major problem brewing on one side of the ball.
It’s officially time to worry about the Seattle defense — and if you want to substitute “panic” for “worry,” well, that would be premature. But mainly because the Seahawks offense keeps bailing them out. And also because the defense, warts and all, has been able to dig the deepest in the final critical seconds. That’s what they did Sunday, when practice-squad graduate Ryan Neal, of all people, intercepted a Dak Prescott pass to preserve a 38-31 Seahawks victory.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll kept interjecting one word during his postgame interview, in the midst of discussing their coverage woes: “Wins.” And it’s true — 3-0 does whitewash a lot of woes.
But just imagine if Cam Newton had navigated that final yard last week, and Prescott had connected on that final play as he had been doing all game. The Seahawks are fully aware that giving up 506, 464 and 522 total yards in successive weeks is not the formula for sustained success — no matter how much Russ is cooking.
Bobby Wagner certainly knows it. The veteran linebacker said the defensive stand at the end of the game — which came after Prescott had crisply moved the Cowboys from the Dallas 25 to the Seahawks’ 22 — was cool and fun and all, “but we shouldn’t have been in that situation.”
Shaquill Griffin knows, too. The cornerback said the Seahawks can’t continue to be gashed and gouged after racking up double-digit leads, because eventually they’ll run into teams who make them pay.
“It’s always good to come up with the ‘W,’ but I feel like we shouldn’t have to finish like that every single game,’’ Griffin said. “Especially with the offense giving us couple-score leads. We need to figure out how to keep it, or make the lead even bigger.”
And Carroll knows, too, though he wasn’t in much of a mood to dwell on troubling defensive issues after seeing his team reach 3-0 for the first time since the Super Bowl-winning 2013 season.
“I know this is exactly what you guys need to ask, but I’m not spending lot of time there,’’ he said.
To be fair, the Seahawks have a lot of injury issues to deal with that have tested their depth, but that’s de rigueur in the NFL, especially this year. They lost Bruce Irvin and Marquise Blair for the season last week, had to scratch Quinton Dunbar, Lano Hill and Neiko Thorpe before this game, then watched Jamal Adams and Jordyn Brooks suffer injuries during the game. Defensive end Rasheem Green has been out since the opener. There’s no doubt the absences have contributed to their problems.
You also can’t ignore that the Seahawks had a lot of positive, impactful defensive plays Sunday, even before Neal’s interception (which was set up by a near-sack by Benson Mayowa that had Prescott stumbling and off-balance).
There was the safety in the first quarter when Bryan Mone tackled Ezekiel Elliott in the end zone, the PAT blocked by Tre Flowers, the interception by Griffin that set up one of Wilson’s five touchdown passes, and the fumble recovery by Mayowa off a Jarran Reed hit on Prescott that set up another Wilson TD strike.
But the explosive plays by Dallas were too frequent, as had been the case the previous week against New England, and even to a certain extent against Atlanta in the opener. The Cowboys had a three-play, 94-yard drive that took 39 seconds, and a three-play, 75-yard drive that took 48 seconds.
That’s an honors course in how to make double-digit leads evaporate, which was never a part of the Seattle curriculum during their best years. Certainly not the last time they went 3-0.
“It’s not something I am accustomed to,’’ Wagner said. “It is not something I want to be accustomed to. We’ll make the changes. We just need to get off the field. We need to make our plays. I think that’s really it. We need to be a little more locked-in, a little more sound, and make our plays when they come to us and get off the field. I think we are hurting ourselves in a lot of facets, and we have to get that out of our ball.”
Though rookie Alton Robinson had a huge sack on the final drive, and Mayowa barely missed another, for too much of the game the Seahawks had, to borrow the vivid phrasing of ESPN’s Mina Kimes, “less pressure than a hotel shower” with their pass rush.
Carroll pointed out that defense in the NFL is symbiotic — a fierce pass rush aids pass coverage, while tight coverage allows more time to reach the quarterback.
“It’s just too loose,’’ he said. “It’s working together with rush, with coverage, to make our plays.”
The Seahawks allowed receptions of 52 and 42 yards, as well as three of 28 yards. And once again they had trouble getting off the field on third down, allowing Dallas seven conversions out of 15 (as well as 2 of 2 on fourth down).
The Seahawks held Dallas to just 61 rushing yards, but Wagner said, “I think a little bit of that, too, is offenses are starting to change their play-calling and starting to call more pass plays. We have to do good at something, so it’s good to hold teams under 50 yards or 75 yards rushing, but when we’re still giving up as many yards as we’re giving up, it doesn’t matter.”
The obvious question was put to Carroll: Can the Seahawks work their way out of this defensive malaise with the players they have, or do they need outside reinforcements? Veteran defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison, a free agent, is reportedly visiting Seattle this coming week.
“We’ll figure that out,’’ Carroll replied. “I don’t know the answer to that right now. We’re always looking. We’re always looking. I really feel like we can get a lot better, we can get a lot cleaner with what we’re doing.
“He threw 57 times today. That’s a lot of passes in one game, but this is kind of what the thing has been like the first three weeks. Wins. If you don’t run the football, it’s really hard to win. So, sometimes it takes a little bit more, and you have to live with a little bit of it. Wins.”
So far, anyway.