Gallant: Are the Seahawks’ problems worse than their competition in NFC?

Dec 11, 2019, 1:43 AM
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson...
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has had trouble avoiding sacks in recent weeks. (Getty)

Achilles was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of Greek Mythology. The son of a goddess who shot down the advances of both Zeus and Poseidon (probably the two most powerful gods), this super soldier was the forerunner to Arnold’s John Matrix in Commando. We can only imagine the kind of one-liners old Achilles was dropping in Homer’s The Iliad.

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Achilles was supposedly immortal. But he had a problem – his heel. Maybe it was because his mom tried to make him immortal by dipping him in the river Styx by said heel. Or maybe it was after mommy tried to burn away his mortality in a hearth fire, also while holding him by a heel. Classic moms, always holding babies by the heel. Whatever the case, the story goes that this actual juggernaut got sniped in the heel by an arrow. POOF. He gone.

“We get it PAWL. You can make references. Dated ones. And you somehow outdid yourself. Hear my eyes roll and get to the point!”

In Sunday night’s loss to the Rams, we saw that the Seahawks might have two Achilles heels:

1. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson getting sacked.

That happened five times on Sunday and is up to 18 over the last four games. Part of this is on the offensive line. Part of this is on Russell Wilson holding the ball too long. And part of this was on the game getting out of hand quickly. The sum of those parts saw the Seahawks’ offense go touchdown-less for the first time since Week 1 of 2017. Having Russell is like having a cheat code. No matter how big of a hole the Hawks fall into, Wilson can typically will a listless offense back to life for the final frame.

2. A Seahawks pass rush that reverted to early-season form.

The Seahawks’ defense recorded no sacks and just four QB hurries against the Rams. Pete Carroll has told us that’s largely due to offenses getting the ball out quickly, but it was alarming to see the lack of push from the Seahawks after watching the Cardinals at least make things difficult for Rams quarterback Jared Goff the week before. Sure, things could get better with Ziggy Ansah or Mychal Kendricks actually playing. But how close to 100% will they be when they get back? And how probable is it that Jadeveon Clowney – who’s been dealing with a core injury since setting the 49ers on fire a month ago – can get back to that form? Bottom line: The Seahawks – who certainly have some recognizable names in their front seven – have just 23 sacks. That’s tied for 29th in the league, only ahead of the combined 4-22 Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins.

“Sure, PAWL. But no NFL team is perfect. I’m sure some of the other NFC contenders are dealing with problems too!”

OK, let’s run through the biggest weaknesses of the other NFC contenders.

1. San Francisco 49ers

Is Jimmy Garoppolo the quarterback that we saw struggle against the Seahawks a month ago? Or is he the quarterback that’s helped San Francisco average 34.5 points per game over the last four? Now that he’s got a healthy George Kittle, arguably the best tight end in the league, you’re currently reaching calling Jimmy G a problem.

It’s hard to poke holes in that defense, but having a mobile quarterback helps. Over a combined four games against San Francisco, Wilson, Arizona’s Kyler Murray and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson ran the ball a total of 35 times for 255 yards and two TDs.

The 49ers have suffered a lot of injuries and will be hard pressed to win out with the suddenly hot Rams and a road game in Seattle still left on the docket. But those boo-boos haven’t been a problem thus far.

Bigger problems than the Hawks?: This is the toughest team in the NFC, and those injuries have yet to hold them back.

2. Green Bay Packers

When you think of the Packers, you think of Aaron Rodgers. And when you think of Rodgers, you think of dominant offense. That hasn’t been the case for Green Bay, at least from a statistical perspective. Yards are an overrated statistic, but it’s still shocking that Rodgers has thrown for less than 250 yards in nine of Green Bay’s 13 games.

The Pack doesn’t really have any identity right now. The defense started off the season strong but has fallen off a cliff to 20th in DVOA. The running game (fourth in DVOA) has been effective. Still, I don’t think teams need to gameplan to stop Aaron Jones.

That might be due to Matt Lafleur. He deserves credit for getting the Packers to 10 wins. But he’s clearly an afterthought when compared to the top coaches in conference: Sean Payton, Kyle Shanahan, Pete Carroll, and Sean McVay. It’s hard to imagine him faring well as a first-time playoff head coach.

Bigger problems than the Hawks?: The Packers are hard to buy into, but they don’t appear crippled by any of their problems either. So for now, I say no.

3. New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees did not look like the Drew Brees of old during last year’s stretch run. His yards per attempt were down, and he seemed less willing to test his arm strength. That’s unsurprising for a quarterback who turned 40 in last year’s playoffs, but he sure looked fine against the 49ers Sunday. Will it last?

Talent-wise, Alvin Kamara is arguably the best multi-purpose back in the NFL. Unfortunately he missed a month this season with ankle and knee injuries and hasn’t been as dominant. Michael Thomas has been incredible for New Orleans. But if someone can take him out of a game – a big if – will 2019 Kamara be able to pick up the slack?

Bigger problems than the Hawks?: No, unless the referees actually have it out for the Seahawks.

4. Dallas Cowboys

This offense is LOADED with talent. Ezekiel Elliott. Amari Cooper. Michael Gallup. Randall Cobb. An offensive line featuring three former first-round picks. And from a fantasy football perspective, Dak Prescott is setting the world on fire. The Cowboys looked like the best offense in the league the first three weeks of the season. So why does that seem so long ago?

The defense just made Mitchell Trubisky look competent.

Jason. Garrett.

Bigger problems than the Hawks?: Jason Garrett. OF COURSE, YES.

5. Minnesota Vikings

Kirk Cousins has a lot of jokes made at his expense, but considering the weapons he could have if they were both healthy at the same time (Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs), shouldn’t Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer open up the offense for him? They were way over-conservative against the Seahawks a couple of weeks ago and seemed scared to stretch the field.

Dalvin Cook began the year playing like the best running back in the NFL. I’m skeptical he’ll be that guy come playoff time after he hurt his shoulder against the Seahawks. No matter how tough you are, that’s a really tough injury to play through both physically and mentally, let alone be dominant through.

Bigger problems than the Hawks?: Coaching matters in this league. Like Lafleur, Zimmer can’t cut it. Yup.

6. Los Angeles Rams

Is the offense really back? Or did it just take advantage of a bad Cardinals defense, and follow that up by resuming daddy duties against their favorite matchup, the Seahawks?

Seriously, are they back? Jared Goff has been incredibly efficient over the last two weeks. Todd Gurley hasn’t looked as explosive, but he’s running hard. We’ll learn a lot about their legitimacy in a little under two weeks when they play the 49ers.

Everything they’re doing offensively – the screens, the jet sweeps, the pre-snap motion – seem gimmicky. Like things you’d do to work around a bad offensive line. And yet they kept Goff clean against Seattle.

Bigger problems than the Hawks?: With the way they’ve played the last two weeks, not really. Their biggest problem is being on the outside of the playoffs looking in and needing someone to take care of Minnesota.

7. Philadelphia Eagles

They’re actually out of wide receivers now that Alshon Jeffery has been shelved for the season.

Carson Wentz has the talent, but he hasn’t been the same player since suffering a torn ACL in 2017 that paved the way for Nick Foles’ improbable Super Bowl run.

Their fans boo them. Sad!


8. Chicago Trubiskys

Trubisky. Trusbisky Mitchell, Trubisky? Trubisky. Trusbisky. TruBISKy!

Bigger problems than the Hawks?: Trubisky.

I don’t think that the Seahawks are significantly worse than any of the NFC’s playoff contenders. But unlike the 49ers, Saints and even Packers, their biggest problems aren’t based on doubts. Their shaky pass protection and lack of a pass rush have been a visible limp, foreshadowing an Old Yeller-style putdown in the playoffs. And I’m having a hard time seeing that limp fixed without major offseason surgery. Like… Achilles surgery.

See what I did there? Get it? We just came full circ-


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Gallant: Are the Seahawks’ problems worse than their competition in NFC?