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O’Neil: Seahawks’ momentum hiding one big problem

Seattle is giving up 5.28 yards per rush this season, most of any team in the league. (AP)

I think the Seahawks are about to take off.

I say this based upon a favorable schedule, the comebacks they have posted in their past two victories and the memory of what happened to this team back in 2012 when it turned the corner and went from being a 6-5 squad that had an uphill path to the playoffs to being the hottest team in the league when it entered the postseason.

O’Neil: Will Sherman get the last word in his return to Seattle?

Those are just three of the things that I think Richard Sherman’s return to Seattle will be rendered an unimportant footnote as the Seahawks blow out the 49ers by a final score of 35-13.

But that prediction is an act of faith at this point. An admittedly optimistic assessment for a team that has given up a galling number of yards over the past four weeks and is facing a San Francisco team that is much more competent and competitive than its 2-9 record would suggest.

While this matchup wasn’t exciting enough for the prime-time slot it initially held, it’s impossible to overstate its importance to Seattle’s season. It is the first of four home games the Seahawks have over the next five weeks and it’s coming against a 49ers team that is on its third different starting quarterback this season.

The Seahawks need to win this game otherwise all that momentum they gathered up with last week’s win in Carolina will dissipate real quick and we’ll be right back to wondering whether this team is anything better than mediocre.

I think they are better than that. I think they’re good enough to be in the playoffs, maybe even win a game on the road.

I’m not certain about that, though, and anyone who tells you they’re sure Seattle is that good is probably trying to sell you something because there’s an alarming fact that has been covered up by the Seahawks most recent pair of victories: This team is giving up big, fat, alarming chunks of yardage.

The Panthers gained an average of 8.5 yards per offensive snap, and seven of Carolina’s nine possessions reached inside the Seattle 20. That was the most extreme example of a recent trend as each of Seattle’s past four opponents has averaged more than 7 yards per offensive play. Now, the Seahawks have faced four of the league’s very best quarterbacks in those four games, but that doesn’t excuse that. You need to look farther back to find the proper reference point because from 2013 through 2017, a Seahawks’ opponent averaged more than 7 yards per offensive snap exactly twice.

So while no one expected Seattle’s defense to be as stout this season as it was five years ago, you can’t give up the chunks of yardage the Seahawks have surrendered recently and expect to make the playoffs, either. Seattle is giving up 5.28 yards per rush this season, most of any team in the league, and the one thing that San Francisco does competently is run the ball. The 49ers rank fourth in the league in rushing yardage.

And in spite of all those worries, this is a game the Seahawks should win. They should win it not just because they’re playing at home against an opponent whose season capsized when their starting quarterback blew out his knee the first month of the season. The Seahawks should win this game because they’re a good team headed to the postseason. At least I think they are.