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Clayton: What went missing from the Seahawks’ winning formula in disappointing 9-7 season

The Seahawks' defense allowed 20.8 points per game to Seattle's opponents in 2017. (AP)

In some ways, it was fitting the way the Seahawks’ season ended Sunday.

Blair Walsh’s missed field goal with five seconds left illustrated how close the Seahawks were to winning. In fact, they were close to winning every game of the season except the blowout loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15. Yet every problem that led to the 9-7 season surfaced again in the 26-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

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It would have been a historic accomplishment had the Seahawks locked up their sixth consecutive season of 10 wins or more. As he had done so many times this season, Russell Wilson brought the team back from behind to be in position to get that game-winning field-goal attempt.

But it also shows how much the margin of success has fallen. Held back by age, injury and mistakes, the Seahawks trailed a good portion of the game against an Arizona team with Drew Stanton at quarterback.

As Pete Carroll was summing up the season, he mentioned the team’s formula for winning. Let’s look back at the Cardinals game and see the parts of the formula that were missing.

The ability to run the football. The Seahawks learned that it’s great to have a quarterback who can run the ball, but he must be supported by good production from the running backs. It didn’t happen in 2017. Wilson led the way with 586 rushing yards, the first quarterback to lead his team in that category since 1990. Mike Davis finished second with 240. Carroll stressed the importance of having a balance between the run and the pass. Wilson had 23.2 percent of the rushing attempts with 95 rushes. Eddie Lacy was next with 69. Davis had 68. In the Cardinals game, Davis had 10 carries for 48 yards. Wilson is usually only going to get six or seven carries a game, and to not have a back who can average anywhere close to that on a 16-game schedule leads to the slow start. Next season the Seahawks will have Chris Carson and Mike Davis, but they have to have a feature back they can count on.

Penalties. The margin of success drops when a team becomes its own worst enemy. Penalties plagued the Seahawks all season and they challenged an NFL record by racking up 1,342 yards lost in penalties, with Germain Ifedi being called for 20 penalties himself. Thomas Rawls’ personal foul for taunting after a 12-yard run probably cost the Seahawks a field goal drive against Arizona. Two roughing-the-passer penalties in the fourth quarter gave the Cardinals the chance to get out of bad down-and-distance situations. The Seahawks aren’t the dominant team that they were in 2013 and 2014, making it harder for them to win games. They should have learned that by making these types of mistakes, they would beat themselves.

The home-field edge. Before his final game as coach, Arizona’s Bruce Arians said games at CenturyLink Field are like Cardinals home games. What’s become true is that while the crowd remains loud and loyal in, visiting teams don’t have the same fear factor when coming to Seattle. The Seahawks finished a stunning 4-4 at home. Even worse, only one of the four losses were against a winning team: the Atlanta Falcons, who picked up a tiebreaker advantage by virtue of that win that would have sent them to the playoffs over Seattle even if the Seahawks had beat Arizona. Going 7-1 or 8-0 at home is part of the winning formula. That part was broken this season.

Kicking and special teams. Blair Walsh wasn’t the reason the Seahawks dropped to 9-7, but missed field goals in three home games were significant. He missed three against Washington in a three-point loss. He missed one in a three-point loss to the Falcons. And his last-second miss against the Cardinals turned a possible win into defeat. The one-year experiment with Walsh didn’t work out. His 21 field goals in 29 attempts offered one of the worst percentages (72.7) in football. Meanwhile, former Seahawks kicker Stephen Hauschka made 29 of 33 for 87.9 percent for Buffalo. The Seahawks couldn’t afford Hauschka’s salary for 2017, but going cheaper on Walsh didn’t work out.

Winning on defense. Injuries and age caught up to the Seahawks’ defense. Carroll’s formula for winning is to win the turnover battle and hold opponents to 17 points or less. The Seahawks started 2017 with eight starters who had been to the Pro Bowl on defense, but by Week 11 they had lost Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor all for the season. Bobby Wagner fought a hamstring injury the second half of the season, and K.J. Wright missed a game with a concussion as well. In the end, the Seahawks’ defense gave up 20.8 points a game, and opponents gained 232.2 yards per game, ranking 11th best in football. Even though the Cardinals finished the season with one of the worst rushing teams in football, they had 116 yards on Sunday. The dominance on defense was missing.

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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