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Rost: 3 concerns about the Seahawks despite their 5-1 start

Can the Seahawks win if Russel Wilson doesn't play at his best? (Getty)

The Seahawks are 5-1 for just the third time ever, yet there are still some big questions about Seattle that you wouldn’t expect from a team off one of the best starts in franchise history.

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Are there actually reasons to be concerned despite the Seahawks’ strong record? Let’s look at some things that still need to be answered.

Where’s the pass rush?

The Seahawks have just 10 sacks this season, tied with the Detroit Lions for 26th out of the NFL’s 32 teams. Five of Seattle’s sacks came in Week 1, and of the five teams that have registered fewer sacks than the Seahawks, three have played one fewer game than Seattle: The Oakland Raiders (3-2 record), New York Jets (1-4) and Miami Dolphins (0-5). Granted, sacks aren’t the only measure of an effective pass rush, but the Seahawks are keeping company with a group of five teams that have a combined five wins.

It’s a puzzling development because it’s not as though Seattle hasn’t taken steps to boost its defensive line. While the team traded Frank Clark prior to the NFL Draft in April, it signed defensive end Ziggy Ansah in May and acquired pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney in September. The front seven also features one of the league’s best – if not the top – linebacker trio in Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks. Second-year defensive tackle Poona Ford also earned himself a starting role as one of the team’s most promising defensive players, and fellow DT Quinton Jefferson is having his best season in his fourth year as a pro.

But the defense registered neither a sack nor a hit of Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield, who prior to Sunday had been sacked 16 times this season and who a week prior failed to do much against a stifling San Francisco 49ers front seven. So what gives?

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Head coach Pete Carroll believes the return of defensive tackle Jarran Reed could help, for one. Reed was reactivated this week after serving a six-game suspension. Carroll said that in Reed’s absence the team has asked defensive tackles Ford and Al Woods to veer away from their own strengths – stopping the run – to aid the pass rush, which is admittedly not their strengths.

“There’s no question that when he’s back to full speed playing, whenever that happens, (he can make a difference),” Carroll said of Reed on Monday. “If that’s now, it would be welcomed. He’s a big factor. He’s a big factor. The spacing that happens with a guy that causes problems there, in the sets that happen to take care of him, open up areas and spaces for the other guys.

“We’ve been rushing with Al as a nose tackle playing a three technique. You’ve seen us with Poona, too. Those guys are nose tackles types and that’s not their strong point. They’re run defenders and terrific run defenders at that. When we mix it up now and we get Quinton Jefferson in there and J Reed, it’s going to be a better look for us. It’s going to be more of a problem for our opponent. Hopefully, that’ll open up things for everybody.”

The addition of Reed might also free up Clowney and Ansah.

Whether it comes through more playing time together or simply with the return of Reed, the Seahawks need to figure out a way to bring more pressure on opposing passers. Because another one of this week’s big questions depends on it.

What are the Seahawks without Russell Wilson at his best?

Russell Wilson is playing his best football and may well be on the way to his first ever league MVP award. He’s completed 72.5% of his pass attempts for 1,704 yards and 14 touchdowns (plus another three rushing scores). He remains the only regular starting QB in the league to have not thrown an interception. He’s led three fourth-quarter comebacks. He’s finished with a passer rating of at least 100 in every game this season, and his 124.7 average rating leads all quarterbacks. He’s even the 2-1 MVP favorite in Vegas, just ahead of Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.

Only three other quarterbacks in NFL history have posted a passer rating of 100 or higher in each of their team’s first six games: Carson Palmer did it for six games in 2005, Tom Brady kept that rating through eight games in 2007 (and was named MVP), and Aaron Rodgers did it through 12 games in 2011 (also an MVP season).

Wilson has proven not just through his six phenomenal outings this season but over the course of his eight-year career that he’s a top-tier talent. But everybody makes mistakes – even league MVPs. Just as there was for Palmer, Brady and Rodgers, there will inevitably be an outing this season where Wilson is intercepted or makes a couple poor throws he’d like to take back.

Question is, what will this team look like without Wilson at his best?

Can running back Chris Carson and the offensive line make up for it on the ground? Can Seattle’s defense keep opponents off the scoreboard?

Seattle is just under a month away from facing one of the league’s best defensive fronts on the road in San Francisco. Sooner still is Sunday’s game against the Ravens, who have a quarterback in Lamar Jackson who can make plays happen with his legs if the passing game is shut down. For instance, Jackson passed for 236 yards and rushed for 152 in a win over the Bengals last week.

If Wilson can’t make the plays he usually does, the defense will need to take some away from opponents.

How serious are injuries to Brown, Fluker and Penny?

Right now it doesn’t appear that any of the injuries to left tackle Duane Brown (bicep), right guard D.J. Fluker (hamstring) and running back Rashaad Penny (hamstring) are too serious. For that reason, better questions might be: A) Can Jamarco Jones and George Fant continue to hold their own filling in for starters along the offensive line; and B) Can Penny take a step forward in his development when he returns?

But let’s get to the injury updates.

Carroll said Penny, who has missed three games this season with a hamstring injury, should practice on Wednesday. Brown and Fluker are both day-to-day, but it sounds as though Brown is a bit closer to a possible return this week. In any case, Carroll said if Brown doesn’t return for Sunday’s game against the Ravens he’ll be back for the following Week 8 road game in Atlanta.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Stacy Rost on Twitter.

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