STACY ROST

Rost: The tough realities the Seahawks are facing after 1-2 start

Sep 27, 2021, 8:27 AM
Seahawks Russell Wilson...
Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks calls a play at the line during the second half against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
(Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Once again, the Seahawks got off to a quick start on offense. And once again, the team slowed in the second half and allowed their opponent to run up several unanswered scores as they lost to the Vikings 30-17 on Sunday.

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The Seahawks struck first with a well-balanced drive that was everything head coach Pete Carroll would seem to want. Seattle opened the drive with a 17-yard pass to DK Metcalf, rattled off four plays with running back Chris Carson – three carries and a five-yard pass – before finding Metcalf again for an explosive 27-yard gain. Quarterback Russell Wilson had just one incompletion, a throwaway on first-and-10 in the red zone, before finding Metcalf for a 10-yard touchdown.

Importantly, the drive established two goals stemming from last week’s loss: the offense converted twice on third down, and it strung together a sustained drive over the course of several plays to avoid scoring too quickly.

One thing became clear from Minnesota’s responding drive, though: this had the potential to be a shootout.

The Vikings were 0-2 heading into Sunday’s meeting, but that record wasn’t the result of bad quarterback play from Kirk Cousins, who had completed over 70 percent of his pass attempts with five touchdowns on the season. His command of the offense was clear early. The Vikings picked up a combined 27 yards from backup running back Alexander Mattison on their first two plays from scrimmage before Cousins found tight end Tyler Conklin for a 17-yard gain. Second-year wide receiver Justin Jefferson picked up 18 yards on two catches, and Cousins found Conklin again deep in Seattle territory, this time for a touchdown.

Minnesota never saw a third down on the 70-yard drive.

Both offenses started out with strong, balanced attacks, but like last week, Seattle’s struggled to stay on the field in the second half. Russell Wilson and company converted their first three third down attempts but were 0 for 5 after that. There were a few more fireworks, including a trio of big completions to DK Metcalf and tight end Will Dissly plus a 30-yard touchdown run by Carson, but Seattle couldn’t capitalize on limited opportunities.

“Already we’re starting to tear it apart (and) it’s just a play here and a play there,” Carroll said postgame when asked what didn’t work on offense in the second half. “We had a couple screens we didn’t convert on our end of it and those offset the sequence of the drive. And then we need to get a big third down win and we didn’t get it a couple times. But the offense functioned well in this game. We ran the ball efficiently, particularly in the first half of the game, and then we just didn’t get enough run opportunities because we didn’t get the first downs. We felt like we could run the ball and we did, Chris had a really nice day, but we weren’t able to get back to it. But we’ve got to get off the field on defense so the offense can have their shots. It all works together.”

Carroll didn’t identify the third down misses, but an incomplete pass on third-and-3 in the second quarter, a sack for a loss of 9 yards on second-and-10 in the third, and a key miss by Wilson over the middle to wide receiver Freddie Swain on third-and-7 early in the fourth quarter figure to be a few of those.

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For all of the offensive faults in the second half of both of Seattle’s past two losses, the defense has also boasted its own woes, and they were evident perhaps worst of all in Week 3 – a surprising observation, given that they surrendered over 530 yards to the Titans in Week 2. But at least the Titans had Derrick Henry and a handful of penalties working for them.

The Vikings’ offense worked its way down the field with ease. Mattison, starting in place of an injured Dalvin Cook, finished with 112 yards on the ground and another 59 yards on six catches. Cousins was surgical, completing nearly 80% of his 38 pass attempts for 328 yards and three touchdowns. He found wide open receivers for explosive plays all day, including a 28-yarder and a 26-yarder to Jefferson, both on scoring drives. Minnesota converted a whopping 64 percent of its third downs (9 of 14), made six trips inside the red zone, and picked up 28 total first downs on the day. They dominated time of possession, 35:53 to 24:07.

The pass rush got to Cousins just once and the defense couldn’t turn the ball over to gift Seattle’s offense an extra possession. If this is going to be a playoff team, those are the kinds of plays they’ll need to make on defense.

A visibly frustrated Carroll made it clear during his press conference that the team is willing to consider many changes – including personnel – though he didn’t specify what those changes would be.

“We’ll take a look at everything,” Carroll said. “We’ll look at everything. We’ve just got to get better, and we’ll utilize all the ways we can go about that.”

That might include starting recent trade acquisition Sidney Jones at cornerback, something Carroll said he nearly considered doing Sunday.

But it’s unclear whether bigger changes are in store, and that’s in part because of another constant: the Seahawks, with very few exceptions, have always been a playoff team. This is a club that has posted a winning record in each of Russell Wilson’s first nine seasons, and double-digit wins in all but one of those seasons. While we’re on the theme of déjà vu, the Seahawks have been in a similar spot before. In 2018, they started the season 1-2 after back-to-back losses to Denver and Chicago. That team finished 10-6 and qualified for the postseason as a wild card before losing to the Dallas Cowboys.

It’s why Carroll’s postgame message to the team makes sense. Seattle’s head coach reportedly encouraged the team to “stay together” following these back-to-back upsets.

“It’s a long season,” Carroll told reporters. “We don’t know how the stories are going to be written right now. You guys will go off and try to figure it out, but you don’t know. We don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what’s going to happen with other teams and all of that. And we have to just keep staying together and stay connected and keep giving ourselves the opportunity to have a great season, and the only way to do that is to hang. Here we go, we’re on the road again next week. We’ve got to get through this start and get rolling.”

And he’s right. No one knows what’s in store for the rest of the NFL this year. If you want to look back at past trends, you could look at the improvements for Seattle’s defense in the second half of last season and assume that Carlos Dunlap and Jamal Adams can provide a similar boost for the pass rush again this year. You could look back to that 2018 season and remember how Seattle won six of its last seven to lift itself out of a losing record.

But the reality is that there’s just as much an impetus for Seattle to improve as there is plain hope that they do so. The last struggling defense to make it to a Super Bowl belonged to the 2018 Kansas City Chiefs, a group that allowed over 400 yards per game and a 42% third down conversion rate from opposing offenses, and they needed their offense to put up a league-leading 34 points per game and 45% third down conversion rate to provide a margin for error (that point total remains the highest mark over the last several seasons). Seattle’s offense is nowhere near that right now.

Another reality? The rest of the NFC West is quickly pulling ahead. The Arizona Cardinals (seventh on third downs and second in points per game) and Los Angeles Rams (eighth on third down and fifth in points per game) both improved to 3-0 over the weekend. The Seahawks will be looking to make up ground with a gauntlet ahead of them. In order, they’ll face the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday, the Rams four days later in a Thursday night game, the Steelers on the road, and then the Saints.

Perhaps everything falls into place for Seattle this year regardless of its slow start, just as it always has. But this year’s team isn’t putting up the same numbers of those past squads, and if the Seahawks want to repeat their trend of success, they might need to buck another trend of standing pat.

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