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O’Neil: Why did the Seahawks’ offense slow down? 3 possible explanations

Did injuries to teammates or a coaching decision slow down Russell Wilson? (Getty)

This Seahawks season has shown us a number of things. DK Metcalf is Seattle’s next star, and the Seahawks made the right call when they didn’t meet Jadeveon Clowney’s asking price and still amassed more sacks than this franchise has had in any season since 2005.

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But there is one enduring question that we’re all struggling to figure out: What happened to Seattle’s offense? The season doesn’t necessarily depend on it – Seattle has won just as many games with its low-octane approach as it did in the first half of the season when the Seahawks scored 30 or more points in seven of its first eight games – but it is a pretty important question.

So instead of choosing three things we’re still trying to figure out, we’re going to three factors that may have played a role in the change in Seattle’s offensive potency.

1. How much does the health of the Seahawks’ offensive line have to do with this?

Seattle’s offensive line has been one biggest surprises this season. In a good way. The Seahawks brought back just two starters from last year’s unit: left tackle Duane Brown and left guard Mike Iupati. Ethan Pocic emerged as the starting center, rookie Damien Lewis started at right guard from Day 1 and Brandon Shell – signed as a free agent from the Jets – has been a huge upgrade from Germain Ifedi. But that group has started together only five games this season: the first four games of the season and then the Week 14 game against the Jets.

The Seahawks are 5-0 in those games, in which they averaged 36.4 points and 2.5 sacks allowed. In the other games, Seattle is 7-5, averaging 25.2 points and 3.4 sacks allowed. It should be encouraging for Seattle that Iupati and Shell are both expected back for Saturday’s playoff game against the Rams after Iupati missed the final two games of the regular season and Shell missed the final three.

2. Is an injury the reason that big plays have started to evaporate from the Seahawks’ offense?

Tyler Lockett suffered a sprained knee in Seattle’s Week 10 loss in Los Angeles against the Rams. He was questionable for the next week’s game but has not missed a game this season. In fact, on first glance, he hasn’t really missed a beat.

He caught 12 passes in Sunday’s regular-season finale, breaking the franchise record for receptions in a season, and in the seven games since suffering the sprained knee has caught 79.2 percent of the passes thrown to him. He has not, however, been the same caliber of deep threat. He averaged 11.7 yards per catch in the nine games up to and including the one in which he suffered the injury. He’s averaged 8.9 yards in the seven games since. That’s reflected in a decline in the number of explosive plays, too. The Seahawks measure an explosive play as a run of 12 or more yards, a pass of 16 or more. In the first nine games, Lockett was on the receiving end of 11 explosive plays and had five catches of more than 30 yards. Over the past seven games? He’s had six explosive plays and his longest catch is for 26. He has had a much harder time getting behind the defense the past couple months.

3. Did Pete Carroll freak out about the turnovers?

The coach seemed fine with Russ cooking, but when the Seahawks started coughing up the ball, the coach got real uncomfortable. Carroll is all about the ball, and Seattle committed 10 turnovers in a four-game span from Week 6 to Week 9 when Russell Wilson was picked off seven times and Seattle went 1-3. The turnovers have certainly been dialed back. Seattle turned the ball over only four times over the final seven games of the regular season, but that has coincided with a drop in scoring, and if this was a conscious decision to dial back the risk-taking on offense, it would stand to reason that has reduced the opportunities for big plays as well.

The Seahawks have been two teams over the course of this season. For the first two months, Seattle’s offense was among the most potent in the league and it looked like the Seahawks’ only hope of compensating for a historically porous defense would be to build a lead too big to lose. Now, Seattle has a better defense and an offense that wades its way into the second half before summoning a closing kick in the fourth quarter. Which of those two Seattle teams we see in the playoffs depends on why the offense changed in the first place, and we’ll just have to wait and see if it starts to bounce back or if what we’ve seen the past six games is the new normal.

Follow Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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