Fate of Seahawks’ season rests with inconsistent offense

_d4s2006

Pete Carroll is the optimist.

Shocker.

“We’ve turned it the last couple of games here,” the Seahawks’ always-sunny-side-up coach said this week, “to put us at 4-4 — which is nothing to be shouting about. But it does put us in a position where we have a second half to really go forward.

“We have all of the matchups in the games that we need to play in the division to settle issues and go for it and take it as far as we can.”

Doug Baldwin is the realist.

“We’ve got a long ways to go,” Seattle’s wide receiver said entering the team’s bye this week.

“We have so much talent. We have so much ability. But we still have a long ways to go.”

The defense is already there. It’s finally whole again with thumping safety Kam Chancellor’s two-game holdout long over and All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner’s return from injury. It hasn’t allowed a touchdown in eight quarters.

Whether the offense gets close to catching up will determine if the two-time defending NFC champions can even get back to the playoffs this season after a 2-4 start, let alone to a third consecutive Super Bowl.

The Seahawks have been winning lately despite their offense, not because of it. The 13-10 win against the Lions (1-7) and the 13-12 victory at Dallas (2-5) make this the first season since 2001 that Seattle has won two games while scoring fewer than 14 points. This is only the fourth time in the franchise’s 40 years that’s happened. The other years — 2001, 1991 and 1990 – were not playoff seasons.

The offensive line that has starters in three new positions has allowed a league-high 31 sacks of Russell Wilson — and that’s after not allowing any last weekend at Dallas. The lack of pass protection with college defensive tackle Drew Nowak and, until he got hurt after his only start last month, 2014 practice-squad pickup Patrick Lewis at center, 2014 rookie right tackle Justin Britt at left guard and college tight end Garry Gilliam at right tackle has affected every aspect of the team. The consistent failures on third down and in the red zone. Being unable to wait for tight end Jimmy Graham to complete his routes down the field. Not stringing together first downs. Putting the defense in bad field position.

Even the run blocking has been spotty, though improving recently. Marshawn Lynch’s average of 3.6 yards per carry this season is 40th in the league. It’s more than a full yard below his mark for 2014. The NFL’s leading rusher and touchdown maker since 2011 isn’t even Seattle’s leading rusher after eight games. That would go to undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls (376 yards). Rawls had two 100-yard games while Lynch had a strained hamstring last month.

Carroll and line coach Tom Cable say a big problem has been aggressors, such as right guard J.R. Sweezy and Britt, have been too eager to go after defenders on pass protection, plowing ahead almost as if run blocking. That impatience has left the line with poor balance and no leverage to combat pass-rush moves past them.

The result: The Seahawks are 25th in the league in points scored per game (20.9) and 32nd (last) in touchdowns scored in the red zone (29 percent) — despite trading specifically for Graham in March to improve last year’s red-zone TD rate of 52 percent. Seattle is also 28th in first downs per game (18.3), 26th in passing yards per game (213.6) and 16th in third-down conversation rate (37.6 percent).

Wilson is defying all the pressure numbers with a completion rate of 68.8 percent that is above his career rate (64.3). But his six interceptions is one fewer than he had over all 16 games of the 2014 regular season. At times the pressure has led to uncharacteristically poor decisions of forcing low-percentage throws into heavy coverage.

Even Carroll acknowledges all is not sunny on offense.

“We haven’t been that consistent at times,” he said.

WE HAVE SO MUCH TALENT. WE HAVE SO MUCH ABILITY. BUT WE STILL HAVE A LONG WAYS TO GO.
Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin

Gilliam and his fellow blockers were roaring in the locker room immediately after last weekend’s win against the Cowboys with shouts of “No sacks!” It was the first time Seattle had kept Wilson from going down since the Super Bowl win over Denver at the end of the 2013 season.

But the Cowboys erred tactically. Dallas has one of the lowest blitz rates in the league this season. Still, it blitzed Seattle just nine percent of the time. That’s about 90 percent less than the Cowboys should have blitzed.

The Seahawks’ line has gotten run over by teams that have swarmed all gaps and both edges. Any foe that doesn’t blitz is doing the Seahawks a huge favor.

The Seahawks’ top threats to dethrone them in the NFC West know better than Dallas did. St. Louis (4-3) blitzed incessantly to an upset win in the opener. And Arizona (6-2) next week isn’t going to blitz Wilson nine percent of the time at CenturyLink Field. That game that will show whether the Seahawks will overtake or even push Cardinals for the division title.

Cable knows until his linemen prove they can stop the blitz consistently, the Seahawks’ last eight opponents are coming at his blockers. Hard.

“Yeah, until we stop getting our quarterback hit, that’s the world we live in,” the veteran line coach said before the Dallas game. “So it’s up to us to do something about it.”

This is the month to do it. After this week off, Seattle will have played once in 23 days. Then they get the chance to get back in the division race when they host Arizona and San Francisco (2-6) and then Pittsburgh (4-4), which won’t have 2014 AFC rushing leader Le’Veon Bell, who is injured.

If the Seahawks aren’t 7-4 entering December they will have only themselves — and likely their sputtering offense — to blame.

“It’s huge going into the bye week knowing that we are 4-4,” kicker Steven Hauschka said. “We’ve got a few home games coming up. We’re playing some good football. It’s one of those things where we’ve been in the same situation several times now.”

Normally kickers aren’t quoted in a detailing of the offense. But Hauschka has been Seattle’s most consistent — if not best — weapon.

He’s had to be.

As the offense has stalled inside the 20 yard line time and again, Hauschka has salvaged three points time and again. A blocked kick by Dallas last weekend is his only miss in the past 11 months. He’s 18 for 19 on field goals this season.

His harkening to last season is a tale well-told by now: The Seahawks were at .500 (3-3) in October during the 2014 season and three games out of the division lead as late as Thanksgiving. They then won eight in a row to get to another Super Bowl.

Right now they are at .500. They are two games behind Arizona for the division lead. But this time a whole half of the regular season remains — though the Seahawks can’t count on the Cardinals to have a third-string quarterback start against them this season.

Time for the man for whom the glass is always half full.

“We made it back to even. I don’t think it feels much different than it did last year; it was very similar,” Carroll said. “It’s unfortunate that it takes us a while. We’re working our way through it. If we’re able to put the second half together like we plan on, then we’ll be really proud of that.

“Where we are right now, I feel like we’re OK. I know nobody else probably does, but I feel like we’re OK right now. And we’re ready to go to work.”

Fate of Seahawks’ season rests with inconsistent offense