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O’Neil: Seahawks finishing kick is gone, and their young players are why

The Seahawks' defense is an area of need after a rough 2019 season. (Getty)

The Seahawks won 50 regular-season games in Pete Carroll’s first five years as head coach and made the playoffs in four of those five seasons.

They won 50 regular-season games in Carroll’s last five years as head coach and made the playoffs four times as well.

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The results may look similar, but the routes were totally different. The Seahawks, who used to be known for their finishing kick, have become a team that tends to flail down the stretch. Instead of streaking through December, the Seahawks seem more likely to sputter.

In 2012, Seattle won its final five regular-season games and came within a minute of reaching the NFC Championship Game. In 2017, the Seahawks lost three of their final four regular-season games and missed the playoffs entirely.

In 2014, Seattle won its last six games to claim the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs for the second consecutive season. This year, the Seahawks were 2-3 in December and went from being a potential No. 1 seed to making the playoffs as a wild-card.

From 2010 through 2014, Seattle was a good team that finished great, going 33-23 (.589) in regular-season games played in September through November and then 17-7 (.708) in regular-season games played after Dec. 1.

Now, Seattle is more like a great team for three months that winds up being merely good. From 2015 through this season, they’ve gone 35-19-1 (.645) the first three months of the season and 15-10 (.600) after that.

Injuries played a part in 2019. The Seahawks lost each of their top three running backs over the final month of play, its starting left tackle underwent knee surgery and there were injuries to starters like Jadeveon Clowney and Quandre Diggs.

But there’s something more going on here, too, which I think relates to the team’s willingness to play rookies, especially on defense. It used to be the Seahawks believed in getting young players on the field whether it was high draft picks like Earl Thomas and Bobby Wagner starting from Week 1 of their rookie season to having both K.J. Wright and Richard Sherman in the lineup by the midway point of their rookie seasons.

Those players made strides over the course of the season and by the time they reached December, they weren’t playing like rookies any more.

Seattle’s defense hasn’t gotten the same impact from its younger players over the past five years. Some of that is because it was tougher for rookies to crack the lineup with all those veterans. Some of it may have been because the younger players haven’t arrived as ready to contribute.

But after a season in which Seattle’s defense reached a low point in Carroll’s tenure in Seattle, it’s time for the Seahawks to start looking to their younger players in the hopes that they can find a way to finish as strong as they’ve been starting.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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