Earl Thomas’ absence becoming a bigger issue for the Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks’ comeback attempt in Week 16 fell short as they went down to the Arizona Cardinals 34-31. Pete Carroll’s team is 2-3 in its last five games, and the Seahawks could have to win three games (two on the road) to get back to the Super Bowl.

What are the biggest issues facing this group right now? What’s fixable and what’s not? Here are some thoughts after having reviewed the coach’s film and looked at the numbers.

1. Earl Thomas’ absence showed up in a big way Saturday. The Cardinals ran a double-posts concept in the second quarter. Thomas’ replacement, Steven Terrell, got lured in by the shallow post. That allowed J.J. Nelson to run past Jeremy Lane and get behind Terrell for an 80-yard touchdown on the deep post.

“It was a clear read that it was a post coming to you, and he got caught a little bit,” Carroll said. “This is the stuff that Earl did in his first year too. … You have to learn the hard way sometimes, unfortunately.”

In the fourth quarter, Richard Sherman got turned around on a slant to Nelson. Terrell came charging in to make the tackle, but he took a bad angle, and it turned into a 41-yard gain.

No one was expecting Terrell to play at Thomas’ level, but the emphasis now has to be on stopping the explosive plays.

From 2012 to 2015, the Seahawks allowed opposing quarterbacks to average 9 yards or more per attempt twice in 64 games. But they’ve allowed three such performances in the past seven weeks, including in two of the three games they’ve played without Thomas.

2. The lack of continuity on the offensive line is an issue. The Seahawks preach competition, but shuffling starters late in the season means no five-man unit has been able to build up the preferred familiarity. The current group of starters has played 324 snaps together this season. That’s roughly the equivalent of five games.

George Fant and Mark Glowinski let a defender through unblocked on a key fourth-down play near the Cardinals’ goal line in the first half. The Seahawks had trouble handling stunts and twists all game long. And their combination blocks in the run game were off at times.

It’s one thing to just get outplayed physically, but some of these things simply should not be issues so late in the season.

3. An inconsistent run game has been tough to overcome. David Johnson had three touchdown runs from inside the 2-yard line. The Seahawks, meanwhile, had seven consecutive plays (on two different drives) inside the 10 at one point and failed to get in the end zone. On the season, Thomas Rawls has averaged 1.75 yards before contact, which ranks 38th out of 41 qualifying players.

After the Seahawks’ Week 15 game against the Los Angeles Rams, Carroll said he knew going in they probably weren’t going to be able to run the ball effectively.

Quarterback Russell Wilson still doesn’t have full mobility, although he’s been more of a factor with his legs in the last month or so. Rawls is dealing with another injury (shoulder). C.J. Prosise has been out since Week 11. And the run blocking has not been good. It’s tough to imagine a scenario where the run game suddenly finds consistency in the postseason.

4. The Seahawks missed some opportunities. On the fourth-down play where Wilson got sacked, it looked like Jimmy Graham would have been wide open for a touchdown, but the play never had a chance. And the pressure throughout clearly affected Wilson. The emphasis in the second half was to get the ball out quickly, and the Seahawks used their backs and tight ends more to chip — specifically in the matchup between Fant and Chandler Jones.

With 5:43 left in the fourth quarter, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell dialed up a great call that left the Cardinals confused. The Seahawks had a receiver streaking down the right sideline by himself, but Wilson instead checked the ball down to Alex Collins for a 1-yard gain. It’s hard to play quarterback and let routes develop downfield when you’re constantly being pressured. That’s been a theme all season long.

5. Leftovers: The offensive line’s issues are not just at tackle. The interior linemen have had a tough time the last two weeks especially. …Graham had just two catches for 43 yards, but he drew a 31-yard pass-interference penalty and, as mentioned above, should have had a touchdown. … The Seahawks rank 11th against the pass in Football Outsiders’ DVOA efficiency rankings. They’ve been in the top three for four straight seasons.

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