Sunday was a defining day for the NFC West.
With their 16-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, the Seahawks re-established that they are the team to beat in the division. The Rams, however, jumped to a 10-0 start and showed they are the main challenger to that title this year and in the future, particularly with Arizona Cardinals losing by 27 points to the Philadelphia Eagles and being off to an unimpressive 2-3 start.
The early bye week comes for the Seahawks at a good time, allowing them a chance to recover from some key injuries and reflect from their 3-2 start.
Let’s look back at some of the things learned in Week 5.
Five games into the Seahawks season, the Seahawks are getting back to the normal flow of the season. The big thing Sunday was not giving up points. The Rams entered the game with an offensive that was scoring 35.5 points a game, a quarterback (Jared Goff) who was playing at a high level and a great running back in Todd Gurley. One of Pete Carroll’s staples as a successful coach is making sure the Seahawks are among the best teams in football in fewest points allowed. Even though the defense gave up 375 yards and 10 plays of 16 yards or more, the Seahawks only surrendered 10 points. That puts them at fourth place for fewest points allowed, at 17.4. Over the last five years, the Seahawks have allowed between 14.4 to 18.3 points a game, but the number has been trending up each season from 14.4 in 2013 to 18.3 last year. A favorable closing schedule and good depth on defense should give the Seahawks a chance to stay lower than 18.3 for the entire season.
The defense was also able to get a glimpse of the future in some areas. Many of the core group starters on defense are between the ages of 28 and 31, and the Seahawks entered the season with the third-oldest starting group in the league (27.82). Carroll needs to look to the future for some of the replacements. Frank Clark, filling in at defensive end for injured Cliff Avril, had his second-consecutive great game and looks like a star starter of the future. He beat Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth for a sack and a forced fumble and had one of his best games in run stopping. Shaquill Griffin continues to grow as a future star at cornerback. Opposing quarterbacks are barely throwing more than three passes a game to Richard Sherman’s side, and Griffin (starting for injured Jeremy Lane) held up well against the pass. Another plus is how well he does coming up and helping on running plays.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell finally found some better ways of using tight end Jimmy Graham. According to Pro Football Focus, 28 of 31 Graham’s routes were run either in the slot or out wide — only three routes were run from the normal tight end position next to a tackle. At 6-7, Graham is a matchup nightmare. Russell Wilson completed six-of-eight attempts to Graham for 37 yards, including a perfect red zone touchdown pass from the wide left side of the field. For the season, Graham’s yard-per-catch stats are down from 14.2 to 8.5, so you can see the use of Graham is still a work in progress. He’s on pace for a 67-catch season, and bigger things should be ahead.
Left guard Luke Joeckel is expected to undergo arthroscopic surgery later this week, so changes are coming along the offensive line. Joeckel has arguably been the team’s second-best offensive linemen behind center Justin Britt. He may only miss a game or two, but Tom Cable has to make some decisions for a temporary replacement. Having veterans such as Joeckel and Oday Aboushi at guard has helped the communications with the Seahawks young tackles. A simple move would be putting Matt Tobin at left guard. They could also move Rees Odhiambo to guard and put Tobin at left tackle against the New York Giants on Oct. 22. The Seahawks also looked at free agent Brandon Albert.
Yes, the running game remains a mess. Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy did not come close to the play of Chris Carson, who is in on injured reserve. But Carroll brought up an interesting stat Monday. He noted the Seahawks combined number of completions and rushing attempts was 49, one shy of where it needs to be to have a successful offense. He thought the stat of 50 combined rushes and completions goes back to the Vince Lombardi days. Actually, it was called the Theory of 49. The number should probably in the fifties now because teams are passing more and getting more short completions. The Seahawks are averaging 27 rushes and 22.2 completions a game, and the only game they didn’t hit 49 or more is the loss to the Green Bay Packers. They are on pace for a 432-carry season, but clearly the running game needs dramatic improvement.