O’Neil: Even after dominating Cowboys, questions remain about the future of the Seahawks’ defense

Dec 24, 2017, 6:54 PM
The Seahawks' defense almost single-handedly beatt Dallas on Sunday. (AP)...
The Seahawks' defense almost single-handedly beatt Dallas on Sunday. (AP)

ARLINGTON, Texas – The fear before Sunday’s game was that Seattle’s defense was old and washed up.

The worry afterward was that All-World safety Earl Thomas would rather be in Dallas.

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Somewhere in between that, the Seahawks’ defense scored more touchdowns than it allowed during a 21-12 victory at Dallas, which ended the Cowboys’ playoff hopes and showed that Seattle isn’t necessarily finished. Not with this season. Not with this defense.

“Yeah, we’re not done yet,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Doubters, we’re still here just to let you know.”

How long the Seahawks will stay around remains a question. They need the Panthers to beat the Falcons next week just to have a chance to make the playoffs and Thomas’ visit to the Cowboys locker room showed that there are some questions about the future that this team is going to have to answer sooner rather than later.

But before we get to that, let’s pause and acknowledge the effort of a defense that dug in its heels against the Cowboys and especially their running back Ezekiel Elliott. He was returning from a six-game suspension, and when he rushed for 51 yards in the first quarter it seemed like the Cowboys could win the game without throwing a pass.

Given the fact that Dallas passes led to two interceptions and one lost fumble, the Cowboys might have been better off had they not thrown a pass, though the declining effectiveness of Elliott gave them little choice.

Elliott rushed for 22 yards in the second quarter, 15 in the third and nine in the fourth. He didn’t have a run longer than 9 yards in the game.

It wasn’t quite redemption for getting run over by the Rams last week, but it did show the Seahawks hadn’t reached a breaking point.

“We wanted to come back from last week and really have a dominant performance,” Wagner said, “and click on all cylinders and we felt like we did that.”

The Seahawks won in spite of the offense finishing with 136 net yards, Seattle’s fewest in any game since October 2013. The Cowboys had the ball inside the Seattle 20 only twice all in the game. They ran exactly one play from inside the Seattle 10-yard line.

“We’re all really proud of that win,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.

They should be.

It said a lot not just about this team’s pride, but the defense’s ability to be formidable in spite of both injuries and age.

And that brings us to Thomas and his visit to the Cowboys’ locker room, which put out in the open a question that was lurking in the background.

What are the Seahawks going to do with their free safety, who will enter the final year of his contract in 2018? That is precisely the point at which Seattle has previously extended players whether it was Marshawn Lynch in 2015 or teammate Kam Chancellor before this season.

Thomas said after Chancellor’s deal that he was watching Seattle’s negotiations with his fellow Legion of Boom member closely, not because it foretold an immediate extension for him, but whether the team’s decision to draft defensive backs like Delano Hill and Tedric Thompson in 2017 was a sign that Seattle was planning for life after its current Pro Bowl safeties.

And when Thomas told Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, “If y’all have the chance, come and get me,” he was saying that if Seattle decided to go in a different direction, he would want to play for the team he grew up cheering for.

“I don’t literally mean, ‘Come get me now,’” Thomas said. “I’m still in the prime of my career. I’m still going to be here. But when Seattle kicks me to the curb, ‘Please, the Cowboys come get me.’”

As for the question of whether Seattle would move on, the four quarters that this Seahawks defense played in Dallas with Thomas in center field showed they might still be a long way from being done.

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