Carroll: “We have a chance” to be his best Seahawks team yet

rm2_8799Pete Carroll has coached two of the best teams the Seahawks have ever had. He’s coached the best one, the 2013 team that won the franchise’s only Super Bowl.

He says this year’s team could be better.

“There’s a chance. … I think we have a chance to (be), because of the experience and the great leadership that we have, the development and kind of coming of age of the quarterback,” Carroll said Monday.

It was one day after Russell Wilson’s wondrous 309-yard passing day with three touchdowns on zero healthy legs led Seattle (3-1) to its second consecutive win on the road at the New York Jets.

“I’ve loved this team all along,” Carroll said. “I could see it coming, just the way that we’ve gone about our work. We have a chance to be really good. We just got to go out there and keep doing it, get it one day at a time, one week at a time, and see where that leaves us.

“That’s nothing to project what’s going to happen at the end of the year. I don’t know that. But I do know what these guys have put into it and how they are approaching it and how determined they are, and how they practice and how they’ve applied themselves … it’s everything that we are looking for.”

It was striking to hear Carroll issue such a gushing projection. He’s normally an in-the-moment assessor who eschews big-picture proclamations so as to not distract from the week’s task.

But this week’s task is to take stock. It’s the bye week.

For the last two games the offense has played to its expected level: 64 points and 772 yards with the quarterback playing hurt and the expected lead back (Thomas Rawls) plus third-down back (C.J. Prosise) out injured. The offense is showing at least hints approaching sustained excellence.

The defense? That’s pretty much been the same it was the last four seasons, when it led the league in points allowed each year.

With Pro Bowl end Michael Bennett fast with the rest of the line off the ball, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner fast everywhere and Sherman usually shutting down a third of the field, the Seahawks are third in the NFL in points allowed (13.5 per game). That’s better than the 14.4 points per game the 2013 team surrendered en route to winning Super Bowl 48.

These Seahawks are still ticked at the two late rushing touchdowns it allowed the 49ers after taking a 37-3 lead two weeks ago. Sherman stomped out of the CenturyLink Field locker room without talking after that lapse.

“I think we’re seeing the consistency on our defense that we really can count on,” Carroll said.

“We have our kicking game in order. … There are a lot of good phases of our team that we can count on.”

Carroll’s main point of optimism is what he and the team see as their rapidly improving offensive line.

“Pass protection is a big deal to us right now, and we’ll grow in the running game,” Carroll said.

“At this time last year, which isn’t a great marker, this time last year we gave up 18 sacks. We’re at nine right now. And kind of coincidentally we were at six sacks on the other side of the ball and we’ve got 12 now.”

New center Justin Britt, the former right tackle and then left guard his first two seasons, has become a standout and leader on the line. It needed one — it has new starters this season at four of the five positions.

First-round draft pick Germain Ifedi made his regular-season debut on Sunday against the Jets after missing the first three games with a high-ankle sprain. The rookie brings a toughness and brute strength that many athletically demanding zone-blocking schemes like Seattle’s often lack.

“We are thrilled to get him out,” Carroll said. “Since the day we saw him on the practice field we realized this is something really special. He’s been here one game so far, but if you watch him in the game he moves people. He makes the line of scrimmage move and he takes up a ton of space in pass protection.

“We’re going to be better with him in there.”

The offense isn’t as proven in the running game as that 2013 team was. That team was getting a 1,200-yard rushing season from Marshawn Lynch.

This team is going to be missing Rawls for four to six more weeks, Carroll said. Rawls has a cracked fibula and has missed the last 2 1/2 games. Christine Michael (290 yards with his first two NFL touchdowns this season) will be the featured back again following the bye, for the Oct. 16 home game against Atlanta. Suddenly relevant-again C.J. Spiller is already contributing behind Michael just days after signing.

Where this season’s offense is starting to surpass the ’13 team’s is in featuring what that one lacked — heck, what most teams in the world lack: a 6-foot-7 former college basketball player as a game-breaker at receiver.

Tight end Jimmy Graham’s consecutive 100-yard receiving games will increase Wilson’s confidence in throwing to him in one-on-one matchups. Those two appear to be cementing the lethal rapport the Seahawks hoped they’d find last season, before Graham ruptured his patellar knee tendon in November.

So at 3-1, the lone loss a 9-3 debacle at Los Angeles (3-1) when Wilson could barely move on his freshly sprained ankle, the Seahawks are pretty much where they need to be. They are taking advantage of a softer early schedule before it intensifies in November and December. Last year, when they began 0-2, they ended up on the road for the playoffs: at minus-25 degrees in Minnesota, then a buzzsaw at Carolina.

It’s early, but they are on track to avoid that this season. A reminder: the only three times the Seahawks have reached the Super Bowl was in seasons they earned the home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

“We’re excited about turning the corner and go to the second quarter (of the 16-game season),” Carroll said.

“We’re ready to do this.”

Carroll: “We have a chance” to be his best Seahawks team yet