Rost: The 3 things the Seahawks need to do to turn things around

Nov 10, 2021, 12:58 AM
Seahawks Russell Wilson Bobby Wagner...
Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner react after a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 19. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seahawks picked up some momentum from a win before the bye week and will head into a game against Green Bay on Sunday with fresh legs and fresh perspective.

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What did Pete Carroll say the team spent quite a bit of time focusing on during the bye? It’s one of the three key goals for Seattle in the second half of the season.

Improve on third down

Sustain drives on offense and get off the field on defense – they might be basic football concepts, but that doesn’t keep teams from struggling on third (and fourth) down. And through eight weeks, Seattle has struggled more than almost any other team.

The Seahawks rank 31st when it comes to converting on third down on offense (31.3%), ahead of only the Jacksonville Jaguars. Perhaps a bigger issue is that it’s part of a larger trend; the team ranked 27th in 2020 (38.4%) despite a stellar first half on offense. At the end of last year, Carroll stressed the importance of improvement there, but that offseason focus hasn’t translated to the field.

Defensively, they’ve taken a step forward. Seattle is limiting opponents to 33.9% on third down this year, which is sixth in the league. They’ve been fourth overall since Week 6 (29.2%).

Like any big issue, the reasons behind this problem are multifaceted. There are obvious errors that can fix themselves, like the fact that the Seahawks have been without their starting quarterback for a few weeks. Getting an extra weapon or two certainly wouldn’t hurt, and running back Chris Carson (neck) and rookie wide receiver Dee Eskridge (concussion) have a chance to practice this week.

Carroll said he and his staff spent the bye closely examining some of the team’s biggest issues on third down.

“We spent a lot of time on this,” Carroll said. “We got some real good info and direction that we’re heading. It’s amazing the difference when you get 10 shots on third down … between being the best and being down at the bottom of it is, like, two conversions a game. So, we’ve got to pick up our wins and that comes from the quarterback, of course, protection is a big deal. But we’ve got to find our guys that are going to make our plays in those situations. We need Tyler (Lockett), we need DK (Metcalf), we need Gerald (Everett), those guys to really help us convert, too, and everybody work together. It’s an all-on effort. We’ve got some concepts that we’re going to look at during this week in particular and as we get started, and some ways we play our guys. There’s a lot going on. So, we have to get better here to improve as a team. We need to stay on the field. And, so, that’s the way to do it.”

That’s a lot, but it appears Carroll is saying the 3-5 Seahawks have the ability and gameplan on offense to be much better on third down than they are on paper – that there are just a handful of missed opportunities here and there where the quarterback didn’t spot an open receiver, or where the quarterback was sacked too soon – and they have some ideas about how to correct that. The good news is they could see the return of major contributors, most notably Russell Wilson. The bad news is that they’ll need to test those ideas against the Packers (7-2) and Cardinals (8-1) in back-to-back weeks.

Get to the quarterback

The Seahawks improved here in the second half of last season and finished seventh overall in sacks. Even better, they entered 2021 with many of those key contributors, plus a veteran addition in free agency (Kerry Hyder Jr., who tallied 8.5 sacks with San Francisco last season) and a promising young player (second-round pick Darrell Taylor).

Through eight weeks, though, the pass rush has yet to hit its stride. The Seahawks have 14 sacks, more than only the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons. They’re 15th in total pressures and 22nd in quarterback hits.

Defensive performance is hard to predict year over year and Seattle faced a slate of easier offenses in late 2020. But while Darrell Taylor’s team-high four sacks are a pleasant surprise, a more unpleasant surprise is that those sacks are coming from a player who played his first NFL snaps a few months ago, rather than from defensive end Carlos Dunlap or last year’s sacks leader, safety Jamal Adams.

The keys to a better second half? Hope improvements in coverage buy pass rushers a bit more time, and find some creative ways to use Adams.

Find rhythm in the run

Seattle’s best weapons are in its pass game: Wilson, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. The team shouldn’t shy away from taking advantage of that trio, but the offense would be more dynamic with a better run game, and they’ve struggled to tap into it consistently.

It’s not just Seattle: any one-dimensional offense will make life easier on opposing defenses. You’ve seen it happen to the Bills in recent losses to Tennessee and Jacksonville, and you’ve seen it with the Chiefs, particularly now that there are few weapons to draw attention away from Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.

Through the first half of the season, the Seahawks rank 21st in rushing yards per game and 23rd in total rush yards.

A return of Carson can be the boost Seattle needs, but fans will have to wait until later this week to see whether it’ll happen against Green Bay.

“What I was told is that Wednesday he’ll be on the field,” Carroll said. “One day at a time.”

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