JOHN CLAYTON

Clayton: What the Seahawks can’t afford if they’re going to keep their playoffs hopes alive

Dec 13, 2017, 7:30 AM | Updated: 11:02 am
Russell Wilson threw three picks as the Seahawks lost the turnover battle to the Jaguars. (AP)...
Russell Wilson threw three picks as the Seahawks lost the turnover battle to the Jaguars. (AP)
(AP)

The unnerving part of the Seahawks’ 30-24 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars is how quickly a game – and a season – can slip away from a team.

In their defeat in Jacksonville, the Seahawks checked all of the same boxes of things that cost them games earlier this season. And it’s put the team in a position where it must win Sunday’s game against the NFC West-leading Los Angeles Rams.

Wyman’s Football 101: Seahawks can’t stop Jags on crucial third down

If the Seahawks don’t win, they will be on the verge of losing the division to the Rams. Their chances of making the playoffs will also become more remote because they might not do well in tie-breakers for a wild card spot against the vast number of teams trying to get to 10 wins.

Let’s review the things that the Seahawks need to avoid if they wish to continue their playoff run and get back to the Super Bowl.

Costly penalties. These self-inflicted wounds have nagged the team all season. The Seahawks lead the league 149 penalties called against them. The next closest team is the San Francisco 49ers with 124. Four offensive linemen logged penalties against the Jaguars, including Germain Ifedi with three. Ifedi leagues the NFL with 17 penalties called against him and he’s heading to a possible NFL record. With such a limited rushing attack, the Seahawks’ margin of error for mistakes, penalties, turnovers and blunders is slim. The Seahawks need to play a clean game of football to be able to win against a good team. The Jaguars have a great defense, so gaining yards wasn’t going to easy. Surrendering yards and plays simply can’t happen anymore if the Seahawks want to make the playoffs.

Can’t get picky. Russell Wilson had a rare game in which he threw three interceptions. Even though his ability to convert deep chances worked out with long touchdown throws in the fourth quarterback to Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett, the risk that comes with those kind of throws also resulted in the turnovers. Wilson has 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season, and the 11 ties a career high set last year. He can be excused for losing the turnover battle because he’s so good at keeping the team in games. Throughout his career, Wilson has been able to stay within one drive of winning a game in the fourth quarter. But while he may have 17 fourth-quarter touchdown passes this season to set an NFL record, the one thing the Seahawks can’t afford to do against a good team is lose the turnover battle.

Most valuable defender. The Seahawks learned how valuable free safety Earl Thomas was last year when the defense gave up 284 yards per game passing in the final four games he missed. On Sunday, the Seahawks learned how valuable Bobby Wagner is. Wagner has been one of the leading candidates for Defensive Player of the Year, but trainers took him off the field at the beginning of the second half because of a hamstring injury. What was a three-point game quickly turned into a 30-point game. With Wagner, the Seahawks held the Jaguars to 163 yards and three points in the first half. Minus Wagner and then later K.J. Wright, the Jaguars gained 262 yards and scored 27 points in the second half. The Jaguars did a nice job of working crossing routes for completions. The run-stopping wasn’t the same for Seattle without Wagner, either. The Jags finished with 157 yards rushing, 90 in the second half.

Allowing too many explosive plays. After the first three games, the Seahawks fixed an early problem of giving up a few too many explosive plays. That problem reappeared as the Jaguars had 14 plays that went for 14 yards or longer, including five of 23 yards or longer. Seattle also gave up a 72-yard punt return to former Husky Jaydon Mickens.

Injuries have caught up to the Seahawks. The Seahawks started the season with eight Pro Bowlers on defense. The losses of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril dropped them to five. When Wagner and Wright went out in the second half, the Seahawks were down to three: Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson and Thomas. No team can be dominate on either side of the ball losing that many key players.

Running back carousel. On offense, everyone knows how thin the Seahawks are for production from the backfield. Eddie Lacy was inactive in Jacksonville. The team rarely puts Thomas Rawls on the field. That leaves the Seahawks with one early down option – Mike Davis – and J.D. McKissic on passing downs. Davis did well, rushing for a career-high 66 yards on 15 carries, but when he suffered a rib injury and was done for the game, the Seahawks were down to nothing again in the backfield.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out the latest episode of his “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.

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