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Clayton: Even after Seahawks’ win over Cards, their margin of error takes a hit

The loss of Richard Sherman only makes things harder on Pete Carroll's Seahawks. (AP)

It may take the 10 days off between the Seahawks’ game against Arizona and their next, a Monday night battle against Atlanta, to sort out the thoughts from Seattle’s 22-16 victory over the Cardinals.

For the second straight game, the Seahawks’ road to the playoffs and Super Bowl grew more difficult. The loss last Sunday to the Washington Redskins shortened the Seahawks’ margin of error, giving them a third loss. No team has made the Super Bowl with less than 11 wins over the past four seasons, and the Seahawks are just two losses away from making 11 their highest possible win total.

O’Neil: Wilson’s play stands out in Seahawks’ injury-riddled win

As the Seahawks have learned, dropping from a 13- or 12-win team to a 10-win team usually forces it to play road games in the postseason to get to the Super Bowl. Odds are understandably tougher against that type of success. Thus, the Seahawks have to focus on getting to at least 11 wins and make sure it wins the NFC West over the Los Angeles Rams.

Going back to last year, had the Seahawks beaten the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16, they would have ended up 11-4-1 and their playoff game against the Falcons would have been in Seattle as opposed to Atlanta. A Seahawks victory would have given them home-field advantage in the NFC Championship, too, against a Green Bay team with three injured receivers.

Despite the win over Arizona on Thursday night, it cost them cornerback Richard Sherman for the season, which will only make things tougher on the defense as Seattle tries to get to 11 wins.

Let look back and see what we learned on Thursday.

The loss of Richard Sherman. Minus Sherman, the Seahawks will be without their shutdown cornerback. As a rookie, Sherman took over for an injured Marcus Trufant and established himself as one of the hardest cornerbacks to complete a pass against. Can Shaquill Griffin follow in Sherman’s footsteps? Are the Seahawks good enough with Griffin, Justin Coleman and Jeremy Lane as their main corners? Is DeShawn Shead close to enough to return from injury to offer hope? I think the Seahawks need to get an insurance policy and sign Byron Maxwell, who is being paid $8.5 million by the Miami Dolphins to sit after they cut him last month. He could be signed for the minimum and give the Seahawks one more outside cornerback. Without Sherman, the Seahawks might have to consider adjusting their plans of being a Cover One, Cover Three team. It’s hard to replace one of the best corners in the NFL.

The improved depth at safety. Last year, the Seahawks secondary had a dramatic breakdown minus Earl Thomas. This year, Bradley McDougald has shown during Thomas’ two-game absence because of a hamstring injury that Seattle has significantly improved its depth at the free safety position. Until the final two completions by Kirk Cousins in the Redskins’ comeback victory, the Redskins were limited to only 124 net passing yards. On Thursday, Arizona’s Drew Stanton had only 130 passing yards through three quarters. McDougald is good enough in coverage to come near the line of scrimmage and match up against tight ends and receivers or play back as a single safety deep in coverage to let Kam Chancellor patrol near the line of scrimmage. So far, he’s been the perfect signing to back up Thomas, who should be back for the Falcons game.

Jimmy Graham is finally being used as he should in the offense. Graham had two touchdown catches against the Cardinals. His six TDs for the season ties his most as a Seahawk, and he has seven games remaining this year. Slipping Graham to an outside position in the red zone creates a matchup nightmare for the opposing corner, safety or linebacker who has to cover him. Graham’s yards per catch average is down to 9.1 from 14.2 last year, but his ability to turn field goal drives into touchdown drives is huge and much more important. He is on pace for a 69-catch season, which would be his best as a Seahawk.

Two major problems remain. Once again, the Seahawks showed they can’t run the ball. If that doesn’t get fixed, the Seahawks aren’t going to the Super Bowl. Seattle’s running backs rushed for 56 yards on 18 carries in Arizona. Take away the 23-yard run by Thomas Rawls and the 17-yarder by J.D. McKissic and that’s just 16 yards on 16 carries. That creates too many second-and-longs and third-and longs. Plus, C.J. Prosise went out after three carries with another ankle injury. The Seahawks have to figure out some way to get a running attack going.

Dion Jordan’s debut. You can never have enough pass-rushers, so adding Dion Jordan to the mix at defensive end is a pleasant addition. Jordan had not played since 2014, but he had a sack and three hits on the quarterbacks. Dwight Freeney continued to be a great addition playing in his third game with Seattle, as well. Adding Freeney and Jordan to the mix helps the depth at defensive end, although you still would like to see Michael Bennett get a break. He had 92 percent of the snaps Thursday night.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out the latest episode of his “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.

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