What We Learned: Russell Wilson’s mobility is back, but the Seahawks’ offense may not be
That felt like a show we’d all seen before, right?
Week 2 in Los Angeles when the Seahawks scored just three points, turning the ball over on their final possession in the Rams’ half of the field. Or Week 7 in Arizona when Seattle scored three points in the first 60 minutes while gaining 130 yards of total offense.
Except this one was at the end of November, causing a little extra concern. Let’s sort through the things we learned and what we’re still trying to figure out from Seattle’s 14-5 loss to Tampa Bay.
Three things we learned:
1. “Fixed” isn’t an adjective we should apply to Seattle’s offense this year.
It started out bad with the Seahawks scoring one touchdown over the first two games. Then it got better as Seattle scored 20 or more in three straight wins. Then it was bad again. One offensive touchdown over the span of two games as Seattle tied Arizona and lost to New Orleans. Then it was better again. Oops. Guess what? It was bad again, which means two things: 1) Don’t be surprised if Seattle’s offense scores just one touchdown against Carolina. That seems to the trend; 2) We shouldn’t ever think that Seattle has turned the corner on offense this season. A team capable of leaving that stinker in Tampa is not to be trusted.
2. Is Seattle’s offensive line going to be more dependable going forward?
It wasn’t just the total of six sacks the Seahawks allowed that was concerning. It was the timing: Seattle is usually better than that this time this time of year. In fact, it’s become kind of a trend where the offensive line can look like a hot mess for the first half of the schedule but then is pretty much whipped into shape by the second half. Seattle gave up 31 sacks in the first seven games last year, but only 15 in the nine after that. The year before, it was the run game that found traction as Seattle went from averaging 148.5 yards rushing over the first eight game in 2014 to 196.8 over the second eight games. Getting center Justin Britt back should help. He has been Seattle’s most consistent offensive lineman this season, and his absence on Sunday in Tampa left the Seahawks starting three rookies. Still, it’s kind of alarming if Seattle’s functionality along the line depends so much on a guy who is in his first year at his current position.
3. Russell Wilson has got his wheels back.
Twice he pulled off the 270-degree spin to escape the pass rush, a move that’s like his escape hatch when pressure is closing in. And after rushing for 79 yards in the first 10 games combined, he had 80 yards on the ground against Tampa Bay. The read-option is the one component in Seattle’s offense that actually worked on Sunday, though to be fair that may have had more to do with Tampa Bay’s adamant refusal to defend it. Wilson may not be at full speed yet, but he looked as agile as ever.
Three things we’re still trying to figure out:
1. Was that loss really out of the blue?
How many times have we watched the Seahawks futz around for an entire half, looking totally inept, before pulling a victory seemingly out of nowhere in the second half? There was the overtime win at Houston in October of 2013. Then the Monday night game at St. Louis later that same season. There was a 13-9 win in Carolina in 2014 and that 13-12 victory in Dallas last season wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty. The point is that as disappointing as Sunday’s loss was, the Seahawks have come close to laying similarly dispiriting eggs in other season. Then when you consider that three of Seattle’s four drives into Tampa Bay territory ended with turnovers, that makes you wonder how close the Seahawks were to pulling out a victory and having everyone praise them for being able to win on the road even while playing one of their worst games.
2. Why has Garry Gilliam seemingly backslid so much this year?
People have said things about the lack of a mean streak. That he’s not as physical as Seattle wants its linemen to be. The coaches haven’t said anything more concrete than how they want competition, but it’s clear that Gilliam has taken a step backward, which is disappointing. You can make a pretty compelling argument that he was the single most surprising player for Seattle in 2015, playing his way into the starting lineup in training camp. In fact, he played so well that heading into this season, the expectation was that Gilliam would be the starting left tackle. A week into training camp, he was back at right tackle following a knee injury to J’Marcus Webb. On Sunday in Tampa, he was benched for Bradley Sowell. We’ve seen Seattle fall out of love with players on the offensive line before. Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey both come to mind. We’ll see what happens with Gilliam.
3. Why Jermaine Kearse has become so villainized?
This is admittedly based in large part on the reaction during games on Twitter, which shouldn’t be taken as some random sampling of Seahawks fans. Still, when Seattle’s offense is struggling, the only person criticized more than Kearse is offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. If the Seahawks are throwing in Kearse’s direction, it’s considered to be a waste of an opportunity. If the Seahawks aren’t throwing in his direction, it’s because he’s not getting separation. There’s no sympathy for the fact that he has been called for five offensive pass-interference penalties this season, which is more than most NFL teams. Kearse has had some of the most important, most impressive catches in Seahawks’ history. He is not making big-budget receiver money. If you’re advocating for him to get fewer opportunities, you’re essentially arguing that Paul Richardson should get more, in which case you should be referred to the interception at the end of the first half on Sunday when he didn’t bend his route in, making it possible for Tampa Bay’s cornerback to pick off Wilson’s pass. This is not to say that Seattle should throw the ball to Kearse any more, just that he’s not among the top 10 issues on this offense.