By Danny O’Neil
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Seattle’s offense showed its best side in Arizona even as it revealed its worst.
The Seahawks needed five plays to drive the length of the field on their first possession in a touchdown drive that showcased their strength, but it took only two plays to hand the Cardinals a pair of scoring chances that led to 10 points.
Quarterback Russell Wilson was incredible, but he was also vulnerable in Seattle’s 34-22 victory that was remarkably lopsided given how much the Seahawks hurt themselves.
But to say this offense has a split personality would be a misdiagnosis because these are two sides of the same sword. Seattle has put the offense into Wilson’s hands in a way that it never did a year ago. Not during the 5-0 run through December. Not even during the second half of that playoff game in Atlanta when he threw for a rookie postseason record of 385 yards.
Wilson is holding the ball longer, he is improvising more and he is performing like an escape artist in those instances when he’s not rendered a piñata by Seattle’s sub-standard pass protection.
But as well as Wilson has played – and he was nothing short of remarkable while passing for 235 yards and three touchdowns against Arizona – there’s at least a little reason to worry because of the magnitude of some of the mistakes Seattle is making.
“We don’t feel like we’re playing as clean as we want,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We just have not had the kind of across-the-board clean game that we’re looking for.”
For the previous two games, special teams was Seattle’s albatross. The Seahawks had a blocked field-goal attempt returned for a touchdown in Indianapolis, and a botched kick ran back by Tennessee.
This week it was the offense, specifically Wilson fumbling twice on sacks that not only cost Seattle the possession, but gave the ball to Arizona inside the Seahawks’ 20. It was unbelievably generous, completely regrettable and totally avoidable, according to Wilson.
“Got to get rid of that,” Wilson said. “Got to find a way or something. That’s on me.”
Wilson was sacked three times Thursday, twice losing fumbles in Seattle’s territory that set up Arizona scores. (AP)
It’s nice of him to say that. Accountable, even. But is it realistic given the way the Seahawks are playing?
Carroll has staked out the goal that Seattle will be the best scrambling team in the league, believing that will cater to Wilson’s uncanny ability to escape pressure as well as his ability to improvise efficiently.
The results have often been thrilling like that 31-yard pass to Sidney Rice for the game’s first touchdown, Wilson scrambling to his right and seeing Rice react to safety Yeremiah Bell coming forward to stop Wilson. As soon as Rice saw that, he turned upfield and Wilson threw to him for a touchdown that was as impressive as it was easy.
But there’s a risk that’s inherent with Seattle’s approach, too, a reality that is currently accentuated by the fact Seattle is playing with a pair of backup offensive tackles. What happens when Wilson isn’t able to escape the pressure or worse yet doesn’t sense it coming? The fact the he is holding the ball longer, trying to do more, is now an integral part of not only Seattle’s offense, but its identity.
“We would be a different team without it,” Carroll said. “I don’t know how you could measure it at this point. It’s just such a natural part of our game and he has become such a special aspect to our team, I don’t know what it would be like to be without it. It’s instrumental to everything we’re doing.”
While it would be unfair to be too critical of an offense that made enough plays to win by double digits on the road against that Cardinals defense, it would be naïve to overlook the mistakes that allowed Arizona to be closer than it had any business being in this game where it rushed for 30 yards.
This was a game that showcased Seattle’s ideal template for a victory, jumping out to an early lead and then letting loose the hounds of an improved pass rush. The result was Carson Palmer getting sacked seven times, most by Seattle in its past 18 regular-season games.
“We have enough firepower in a lot of areas to overcome the things that are going in the wrong direction,” Carroll said.
That was true on Thursday in Arizona just as it has been true for all but one of these first seven games. But as Seattle nears the halfway point of this season, it’s worth wondering how good the Seahawks could be if they iron out those mistakes and worrying what will happen if they don’t.