By Danny O’Neil
The tallest receiver on the Seahawks’ roster stands out as the most readily available remedy to the team’s increasingly problematic field-goal habit.
Except right now, he’s not the answer so much as a question: Sidney Rice? Where’s he been?
He’s been out there this season, started every game for the team and even has a couple of touchdowns, but last week in Indianapolis, he finished with a single catch for the second consecutive game.
Sidney Rice showed the type of red-zone threat he can be in Week 3, when he caught a pair of passes in the end zone for his only two touchdowns of the year. (AP)
Now, that’s not altogether shocking considering that Rice plays wide receiver on a team that ran the ball more often than anyone in the NFL in 2012. Not only that, but this team was missing three starting offensive linemen – including its two Pro Bowlers – not to mention its starting tight end, which left quarterback Russell Wilson without enough time to look downfield, let alone wait for a receiver to run there.
But last week in Indianapolis, as Seattle had drive after drive stall out in the Colts’ half of the field, Rice’s absence from the stat sheet grew more and more glaring. When Seattle finished with twice as many field goals (four) as touchdowns (two) it was impossible not to wonder whether Rice could have solved it either single handedly or with both of his mitts.
After all, he should be this team’s top red-zone target. He’s 6 feet 4 with arms that go on forever and a sticky-fingered propensity to catch any pass in the immediate vicinity.
He is a top-shelf receiver in this league, which is the reason Seattle signed him in 2011 to a contract that averages $8.5 million annually. That ranks 15th among all receivers, yet after five games there are 130 different players who have more than the 10 catches Rice has accumulated so far this season.
Now, let’s pause there to stop any finger pointing before it starts. This is not to say that Rice is overpaid or to infer that Seattle once again poured free-agent dollars into a receiver whose catches never matched up with the cash.
Rice was the team’s leading receiver last year, playing in all 16 regular-season games for the second time in his career. Not only that, but he caught a pair of touchdown passes against Jacksonville in Week 3 and looked like he was emerging as a unique scoring threat.
But then center Max Unger and right tackle Breno Giacomini were out in Week 4, tight end Zach Miller was sidelined the following week and all of a sudden Seattle’s pass protection bordered on being an oxymoron.
As the Seahawks get healthier up front and prepare to welcome Percy Harvin into the offense, the question of Rice’s role is going to become more of a focus.
Can the Seahawks find a way to utilize his talents? Because there’s no one on this team to rival Rice’s qualifications as a red-zone scoring threat. Not Harvin nor Golden Tate, who are shorter and excel at running after the catch. Not Doug Baldwin, who has been excellent on third down. Not Jermaine Kearse, who has been exceptional on go routes but doesn’t have Rice’s track record of going up to get balls over the middle.
And when Harvin returns, no one stands to benefit more than Rice, not because he’ll get more plays per se, but because Harvin will demand more attention. He is going to stretch the defense laterally, forcing opponents to consider the possibility that Seattle will throw to him at or near the line of scrimmage. That should open up opportunities on the outside.
But then, there has never been a doubt about what Rice is capable of. The question is whether we’re going to see it. After Seattle settled for five field-goal attempts last week, the Seahawks need that to be sooner rather than later.