Clayton: 5 concerns as Seahawks teeter on brink of missing playoffs

Dec 20, 2017, 7:35 AM | Updated: 10:32 am
The Seahawks' aging defense may look considerably different next season. (AP)...
The Seahawks' aging defense may look considerably different next season. (AP)

As you look back on the Seahawks’ 42-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, you could see where things could go so bad.

A team can only go so long with so many things working against it. The Seahawks have been the most penalized team in football. The running game has been missing all year. Everything offensively is in the hands of Russell Wilson. Injuries took the Seahawks’ defense to the breaking point.

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Just a couple weeks ago, things looked so optimistic after the Seahawks beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football. The defense was focused. The closing schedule was tough, but as long as the Seahawks won their home games, the playoffs and maybe an 11-win season was in sight.

Now, the Seahawks are nearly out of the playoff mix. Certain combinations of losses by teams in the NFC South have to break right for the Seahawks to make the playoffs, and they still have to win their final two games for it to matter.

Here are the five concerns that have appeared for the Seahawks.

Age and health of the defense. The Seahawks are no longer a young defense. While no one expected to see 42 points scored on the Seahawks, we probably should have seen that eventually things were going to catch up to the defense. Once the Seahawks were missing K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner in the second half of the loss to Jacksonville, the defense was down to three Pro Bowl starters from eight at the beginning of the season. Wagner came back to play in the Rams game but he didn’t have the speed to come close to his Defensive MVP efforts. In the past six quarters, the Seahawks have given up 69 points and 5.9 yards a play. In six quarters, the pass defense has given up 296 yards. Early in the season, the age of the defense started to creep up when it was asked to be on the field for 70 to 80 plays in a game. Fatigue would set in. When the defense was kept fresh, it played great. The Seahawks need to close the season with two strong showings.

Will there be a major breakup of this defense after the season? If the Seahawks don’t make the playoffs, there could be a bunch of changes on the defense. Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril might not be able to play again because of their neck injuries, and the team will have to decide if it can keep with Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Earl Thomas with their salaries. As long as Pete Carroll stays on as the coach, he will find a way to fit enough good pieces on defense to be respectable. They need to continue to build around Russell Wilson, who is among the top five quarterbacks in football.

The lack of a running attack finally caught up with the Seahawks. Not only that, it pulled the entire team down. As has been the case for several weeks, the Seahawks tried to fix their slow starts on offense by coming out with a passing attack to set up the run. Tanner McEvoy’s fumble on the opening drive started the downhill cycle for the offense and the team. After that, everything went wrong. The Seahawks had six penalties for 118 yards. The defense gave up too many big plays. When the team fell behind, they couldn’t even think about going to the running attack. They were handcuffed as an offense and one-dimensional, resulting in Mike Davis and J.D. McKissic combining for just 39 yards on 12 carries.

Russell Wilson finally looked like he’s human. Face it: Wilson had a bad game. He completed only 14 of 30 passes for 142 yards. For months, everyone said the lack of a running game and shaky pass blocking would eventually catch up with Wilson. On Sunday, it did. Several throws were off. Seven times he was sacked, and the Seahawks netted only 71 yards in the passing game. Bad day.

Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham are wearing down. Baldwin and Graham have been Wilson’s main targets for the past couple of years. Baldwin developed into a Pro Bowl talent and one of the best slot receivers in the league. Graham has been a Pro Bowler and he finally is getting better work for touchdowns in the red zone. Over the past couple of weeks, though, things have been tough. In his last five games, Baldwin has only 14 catches for 233 yards, and he’s been targeted 26 times. Compare that to five times this year he’s been targeted nine or more times in a game. Baldwin has fought through some injuries, so it wouldn’t be surprising if some of those injuries have affected him. Graham, meanwhile, has one catch for minus-1 yard in the past two games and has only seven catches for 59 yards in the past four games. He’s been targeted 15 times in the past four games. Wilson needs big games from Baldwin and Graham to win.

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