On Sunday afternoon, the Seattle Seahawks hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at CenturyLink Field. After four full quarters of football, the score was tied, but in overtime, the Hawks scored and secured a 40-34 win sending them to 7-2 on the season and forcing the 2-6 Bucs to fly home in the shadow of loss.
Despite the day ultimately ending in victory, there was plenty to suggest that it wasn’t the Seahawks’ best game of 2019. In fact, in some respects, it was one of their worst–and that includes the two games they’ve lost this year. But as I like to say, a win is a win, and you can’t underestimate the value and impact of winning.
Let’s dig in a little deeper.
THE GOOD: OFFENSE
Coming into the contest, the Buccaneers had the #1 ranked running defense in the NFL, both in rushing yards allowed per game (68.6) and in yards per carry allowed (3.0), presenting a significant obstacle for the usually-run-heavy Seahawks to overcome. The obvious solution was Russell Wilson and the passing attack, but could an entire offensive approach pivot so significantly while staying true to themselves? As is often the case, if you’re talking about Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’
On the first possession, already trailing seven points behind the Buccaneers, who scored on the first drive of the first quarter, there was only one running play called third among six before the Hawks scored and tied the game. On their next drive, the hawks called only passing plays before punting.
Over the course of the day, Wilson completed 29 of 43 passes for 378 yards and 5 touchdowns, good enough for a 133.7 passer rating. In an MVP-caliber season, Wilson looked calm, collected, and driven to win at all costs. For anyone not paying attention to his incredible year, both his performance during regulation and his game-winning touchdown drive in overtime certainly cemented some new supporters to his cause.
Both Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf had phenomenal days as pass-catchers. Lockett continued to display his almost-psychic connection with Wilson and had the best single game of his career, finishing with 13 catches for 152 yards and 2 touchdowns. The rookie Metcalf also had a big day, finishing with 6 catches for a career-high 123 yards – including a 53-yard touchdown that put the Hawks ahead on the scoreboard.
But the team success wasn’t only found through the air. Chris Carson defied the odds by gaining 105 yards on 16 carries, the most success any running back has had against the Bucs this season. Unfortunately, Carson’s day also included a fumble (or should we say, yet another fumble) that set up the Bucs on the 45-yard line, but they too turned the ball over shortly after, which the Hawks converted into points.
Overall, the Seahawks played up to their offensive ceiling, turning into a high-scoring machine with Wilson at the controls. Sometimes, it can feel like the Hawks’ play-calling is underwhelming, maybe even limiting to Wilson’s potential, but this week revealed an entirely different style of football—one that not only worked but worked well. Personally, I hope we’ll continue to see the team utilize its greatest strength and current MVP frontrunner to his greatest ability. If they do, who knows how high these Hawks can fly.
THE BAD: DEFENSE
OK, let’s get the brutal truth out in the open: The Seahawks defense isn’t very good.
I’m not emotionally capable of calling them bad, but they’re not good.
Now, to be fair, the Seattle defense is stocked with mostly young players who haven’t had the years needed to gain critical experience. And they’ve had to endure injuries to key contributors.
Both injuries and inexperience have conspired to hold back the team’s holistic chemistry that I believe is coming but hasn’t materialized.
Sadly, they’re in the bottom third of all NFL teams in yards allowed per game and yards allowed per play. Furthermore, they’ve given up 230 points this season, which is 5th in the league–that’s 11 points more than the 1-8 Washington Redskins.
So, how exactly have the Hawks managed to win games when they’re not statistically stopping opponents from scoring? With offense. Wilson, Lockett, Metcalf, Carson, and now, JOSH GORDON have accounted for any shortcomings from the defense with surprising success, but it’s not sustainable. In the ultra-competitive NFL, good coaching will catch-up to any one-dimensional team and force them to win another way.
The challenge for the Hawks moving forward is to step up their defensive efforts and slow down opponents more. I don’t expect them to vault into the top 10 team defenses, because that would be nearly impossible. But if the Seahawks can limit 3rd down conversions, clean up open-field tackles, and apply greater pressure on the opposing quarterbacks even a little, the resulting differentials with this offense will be profound.
If they can’t, and things stay as they have been, Wilson may be forced to attempt an unfathomable step up from “mistake-free and elite” to “risky and desperate.” And that may just be Wilson’s kryptonite. Let’s hope we don’t find out.
THE UGLY: SPECIAL TEAMS
Oh man, poor Jason Myers. After missing two of his field goals, as well as one of his extra points, Myers couldn’t have felt worse about his performance on the grassy field.
In my opinion, the professional stress load of an NFL kicker is the highest in sports, except for maybe a high-leverage closer in baseball. But certainly, within the world of football, where every single player’s actions affect someone else’s actions, and faulting one generally faults others–can you blame a quarterback for a bad throw without considering the intended receiver or offensive line?
In the NFL, no single player is more isolated with a singular outcome ultimately determining his success or failure than the kicker. After the game, Seahawks head coach, Pete Carrol, was asked about his kicker. “He’s our kicker. It didn’t go right today for him,” he said, per Liz Matthews of Seahawks Wire. “But it’s gonna.
“We’re counting on him to come right back next week and kick the winners and do all the things we need to do. He’s got magnificent talent and today got hard and didn’t work outright. But we won anyway, and our guys won for him.”
It’s worth saying that, despite Myers’ bad day, there were other special teams moments that really stood out. Punter Michael Dickson was solid. He’s been a little shaky lately and it was great to see his kicks not stand out in any particular way. Also, the Hawks’ kickoff coverage team was good, with even a few flashes of excellence.
My one existing gripe with the Seahawks’ return game is using Lockett as our returner. I don’t mean to say he’s bad at the job—in fact, he makes smart decisions, holds on to the ball, and generally creates positive yards when they’re available. My problem with him doing it is my fear of injuries.
The mind-meld that Lockett and Wilson share in the passing game is exceptional, making an injury to him significantly more damaging to the team’s success than almost anyone else. My hope is that with Gordon joining the offense as the #2 or #3 passing option, an early-season receiving standout, like Jaron Brown, could take over the role for Lockett, still utilizing his speed to help the team win the field position battles.
On that point, it’ll be fascinating to see how the Hawks incorporate Gordon’s unique talents into the offense. As a well-established speedster, he’ll instantly become an excellent addition to the deep passing game while also helping grab the attention of opposing defenses currently focused on Lockett and Metcalf. Additionally, teams hoping to stack the box against Carson are going to get shredded if they don’t focus on the enhanced passing game. Try to stop either the passing or running game and Wilson and these Hawks will beat you another way.
Next up for the Seahawks is a road game to face the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football. It’s an incredible primetime matchup of two former division rivals–one built on stout defense and the other on efficient offense–both vying to prove to the league and world beyond that they are the team to beat in the NFC West.
The 49ers are undefeated, the Hawks are on a hot streak, and something’s gotta give.
Obviously, my money is on MVP Wilson. He has thrown 22 touchdowns and only 1 interception this season, which are the best in the league and tied for best in the league, respectively. He’s playing at the most special and elite level of his career.
This year, the Seahawks complimented Wilson with high-end weapons like Lockett, Metcalf, and Carson (no disrespect to my main man, Doug Baldwin), completing a remarkable team renovation from dominant defense to elite offense.
If nothing else, that alone is worthy of celebration. Go Hawks.