For this week’s Getting to Know the Seahawks segment, we turned to Seattle Times beat writer Bob Condotta …
MC: In 11 games, the Seahawks have had three two-game winning streaks and two two-game losing streaks. What would you say are the top two reasons for such an up-and-down year from a team that was so consistently dominant the past two seasons?
BC: “It has been a weird year for the Seahawks that way. But I think a lot of it is due to practical reasons as much as anything else. The Seahawks played the first two on the road and without Kam Chancellor, each games that went down to the wire at St. Louis (which has been a tough venue for the Seahawks the last four years) and Green Bay. Chancellor returned and then they were heavily favored at home to beat Chicago and Detroit, and they did.
Then they faced two undefeated teams in Cincinnati and Carolina and lost two games in either overtime or the final minute. Seattle blew fourth-quarter leads in each. Then came two more games against struggling teams that they were able to beat — the 49ers and Dallas. Then came three in a row at home, two against really good offenses in Arizona and Pittsburgh, games that again each went down to the final few minutes. I think the streaks mostly show that the Seahawks are a little more vulnerable defensively this year — the secondary has had some uncharacteristic breakdowns — and still searching to find itself on offense (especially up front).”
MC: Russell Wilson is coming off a career-high five touchdown passes and his second-best passer rating of 147.9 in a 39-30 win over Pittsburgh. The Steelers’ game plan seemed to be geared around keeping Wilson in the pocket, yet he looked very good as a pocket passer. Does he typically look this good staying in the pocket – a league-high 37 sacks would suggest he doesn’t — and what has been the most consistent defensive approach that has been successful against Wilson?
BC: “Certainly, he seems more and more to disprove the idea that he can’t be effective out of the pocket. Seattle coaches have always said they don’t doubt his ability in that regard, that that is a perception held by others. One key against the Steelers is that the Seahawks have gone to more of a quick passing game the last few weeks. The line really struggled early to protect Wilson so they reconfigured some things to allow him to get rid of the ball more quickly and decisively. He has always performed pretty well when the Seahawks go to that kind of a look. But that will be more of a challenge this week against a good Minnesota secondary — the Steelers have allowed the third-most passing yards in the NFL this year and the Seahawks were able to take advantage of that last week.”
MC: What have been the key issues with the pass protection and the offensive line, and what effect will losing a big target like Jimmy Graham have on Wilson’s ability to get rid of the ball on time?
BC: “Like all NFL teams, the Seahawks have had to make some decisions in the off-season to make things work cap-wise. and the last few years they have tended to pay money elsewhere at the expense of the line. Three starters in the Super Bowl are now gone, two who signed elsewhere and the other — center Max Unger — traded for Graham.That had Seattle with three players who were either new starters or new to their position on the line when the season began, and it took a while for the line to come together. Seattle also ended up making a change at center with Patrick Lewis replacing Drew Nowak. But with Lewis now in there and the other four starters appearing to hit their stride, the line has played better over the last month.
“As for Graham, that’s a good question and not sure we have enough data yet to know for sure. The good news for Seattle is that they have an experienced backup in Luke Willson, who started most of last season after Zach Miller was lost after the third game and has played regularly as a second tight end. Willson is one of the faster TEs in the NFL and regarded as a vastly improved blocker. I think they’ll fit him into Graham’s roles pretty easily. The bigger question could be the ripple effect. Seattle likes to use two tight ends so third-teamer Cooper Helfet, who has not played much this season, will now take on a bigger role.”
MC: Before the Super Bowl, we all were talking about this being one of the great defenses of all-time. Most of the starters have returned, but we’ve now seen Arizona and Pittsburgh go into Seattle and score a combined 69 points in two of the past three weeks. Has this defense slipped and, if so, what are the key reasons?
BC: “It’s impossible to say that the defense hasn’t slipped some. Throw in the St.Louis game and three teams have scored 30 or more points on the Seahawks this season — that’s a total the Seahawks had allowed only three times the last three seasons combined.
Two things stick out — the secondary has undergone some change with Cary Williams taking over or Byron Maxwell at the right corner spot and also new faces at nickel; and the defensive line isn’t as deep as it was in the 2013 season, in particular. Seattle gets a great rush from its starting unit but there has been a dropoff when the Seahawks get into their rotation. And Williams has struggled enough that he was benched two games ago with DeShawn Shead taking over. The safeties — Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas — have also each had some moments not quite up to their usual standard.”
MC: Did you notice a Super Bowl hangover, so to speak, from the team, and how would you say Darrell Bevell handled the fallout from that last play call in the Super Bowl and how has he rebounded as a coach/play-caller this season?
BC: “I never noticed a hangover, really. I think the struggles this team has had are mostly due to personnel changes and things like that. While every team can play the game of saying that if you turn just a few plays around they could have a much better record, that has really been true of the Seahawks, who are 2-3 in games decided by four points or less and 0-2 in overtime games. In 2013 Seattle was 2-0 in overtime games, each in the first nine games of the season. This team is not as deep as the 2013 team from roster spot 1-53 and that shows up most in some of the closer games.
“As for Bevell, I have never noticed that he has seemed affected by that play. He hasn’t spoken of it much other than to say he understands criticism comes with the territory and as a coach there is no choice but to move on to the next play/game/season. The Seahawks had some issues with their offense earlier in the season but suddenly are No. 8 in both total offense and points per game and are averaging 5.9 yards per play, which would be an all-time franchise record if they continue that pace through the entire season.”