Unmitigated disaster. The loss to the Arizona Cardinals in week six hurt. It rattled the Seattle Seahawks, who were previously perched atop the NFC West. They were shaken, but in week seven the Hawks rebounded with a defense-powered divisional win over the San Francisco 49ers. And for a minute, it seemed like the Hawks had figured it out.
And then wheels fell off…
First, in week eight, the Seahawks flew across the country only to be demolished by the Buffalo Bills. The Seattle defense looked slow, confused, and amateur while quarterback, Russell Wilson’s out-of-sync offense seemed to be forcing plays that just weren’t there and causing turnovers instead. It was ugly and the Seahawks just got outplayed.
But then in week nine, the Hawks handed a depressing 16-23 victory to the Los Angeles Rams. Standing apart from the Bills loss, this game was more of our team being outcoached than the players being overmatched, but there were still blunders on the field too. Like three more turnovers from Wilson, the unforgivably-worst of which was on a scramble just outside the Rams red-zone.
With nobody open and the pocket collapsing, Wilson escaped to the right and had nothing but empty green field in front of him. As he ran forward, quickly approaching the line of scrimmage, Wilson had to make a decision about keeping the ball and running forward or throwing the ball, which he couldn’t do once he crossed the line.
From the Fox television broadcast, we all saw what Wilson saw if he kept running; a gimmie first-down at worst and a nifty-juke touchdown at best. But what we didn’t see on the TV, and what Wilson chose to do instead, was throw across the field to tight end Will Dissly in the opposite corner of the End Zone. Unfortunately, one of the multiple defenders covering the Seahawks jumped into the air and intercepted the ball.
That decision from Russell Wilson was shockingly bad. That’s just not the caliber of decision-making we’re used to seeing from him. I can’t remember ever watching him make such a poor choice when presented with such a transparently better one.
Instead of taking what the defense was giving him, he was trying to go for it all. And he missed.
Losing back-to-back to the Bills and Rams threw the whole season into question. It jeopardized the Seahawks command over the division and brought up new concerns about whether they should’ve done more before the trade deadline to sure up their weakest spots, like the d-line and secondary.
But there was more going awry than just a limited pass rush and hapless pass defenders…
Football is a complicated game, but there is a simple formula to winning most of the time: have your defense stop your opponent’s best attack and have your offense be so balanced, that even if your opponent stops your best attack, your others are effective.
After week five, when the Hawks were still undefeated and the #LetRussCook experience was full steam ahead, our opponents took notice. They started to pressure Wilson in the pocket and push their defenders back to take away the deep pass options. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but with both primary running backs, Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde injured, the offense needed to adjust.
But Wilson and the Hawks coaching staff didn’t respond quickly enough, and a few more losses stacked up as a result. But after the demoralizing loss to the Rams, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. called an all-defense accountability meeting.
The night before the Cardinals, fresh off their splashy #HailMurray win, came to town for a Thursday Night showdown, the Hawks weren’t talking about them… But rather, about themselves.
Head coach, Pete Carroll said it was in this meeting that things changed for the Seahawks.
“It was Wednesday night and Kenny had a meeting where the players all go through their own position and what they have to do in some of our base calls, and it was one of the most remarkable defensive meetings I’ve ever been in. Every single guy just riffed on what he’s supposed to do, who he’s supposed to communicate with, how it’s supposed to work out, what you can count on coming from me. And then the next guy and the next guy, one after another after another.”
One constant with the Carroll era in Seattle is that whether the team starts hot or cold, they always get stronger as the season progresses. After Norton Jr. felt his meeting was done, Carroll (a defensive coach in his own right) added a bit more to the conversation.
“I said something when we met as a team after that. I said something to the whole team of ‘Something just happened here’ and we’ve kind of evolved to the point where now we can go play. I thought it was just the first illustration of we’ll go play better now. We’ll get better than what we looked like the other night and we’ll continue to improve. It’s really exciting because it’s been a long haul and guys have had to go through a lot to get there. It’s a big step for us and I know everyone’s excited about that and I certainly am, too.”
And less than 24 hours later, we witnessed the Hawk’s defense rebound with a great night of winning football in week ten. Oh, and the offense was pretty good too.
Offensively, the Hawks unleashed a more balanced attack on the Cardinals. Hyde, in his first game back, provided a powerful rushing game that forced the Cards to defend up-front. With the rest of the field more available, Wilson threw touchdowns to both his star wideouts, D.K. Metcalf (dropped a second TD) and Tyler Lockett. Moreover, Wilson made much better decisions and took the yards—by passing, handing off, or running himself—that the Cardinals gave him.
There’s a terrific irony in the most pass-happy offense in the NFL needing a healthy running game to function, but that’s the reality of this team. If they want to throw, they need to run.
And defensively, the Hawks played their best game of the year. They succeeded in getting pressure on Kyler Murray, the nimble quarterback of the Cardinals. When he tried to run (which he’s very good at), he was mostly contained, if not brought down altogether. In fact, early in the game Murray tried to rush from a collapsing pocket only to have defensive linemen, CJ Collier and Carlos Dunlap grab him and drop their combined 550+ pounds on his slight frame, compromising his throwing shoulder for the rest of the night.
Carroll seemed to confirm the lag in the team all coming together until now, perhaps as a result from the shortened preseason.
“Our guys, really, they’ve been together enough now. I’ve been saying it’s going to take a while because it’s just felt like that there’s too any loose ends that haven’t been cleaned up and the guys tightened everything down.”
And in the final moments of the game, with the Hawks leading by 7 points and the Cardinals racing against the clock to try and score, it was again, Dunlap who came up with a game-ending sack on the second year QB.
Carroll summarized the game perfectly for 12’s around the Northwest. “It was really fun to watch happen.”
The defense wasn’t elite, nor was the running game, but neither need to be league-leaders—they just need to be good enough to unlock the team’s real strength, Russell Wilson. Despite back-to-back games where he looked off, on TNF, he was all kinds of on. He looked calm under pressure and in command of his offense.
After the game, Wilson was questioned about the more balanced offensive attack.
“I think that we’re capable of anything all the time. Obviously, to not have our running backs and stuff like that, guys like Carson and Hyde, some of the best in the league. So, anytime you lose some of the best players in the league, that always hurts a little bit for sure. We want to be able to obviously throw it and do our things in the passing game but obviously to we want to be able to run it. We love running it.”
Later, Wilson was asked about not just the players, but the play-callers in the upstairs box.
“We had a lot of amazing runs and that controls the game. We got to a lot of checks, changed some plays a bunch, got to some really cool runs. Coach Schotty (offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer) and I were on it all day, just communicating. I thought he called a great game. We made it challenging for their defense.”
After their Thursday night win, the Seahawks will enjoy a mini-BYE week before facing the Philadelphia Eagles, November 30th for Monday Night Football. The Eagles will kick-off a stretch of easier matchups for the Hawks, with subsequent games against the New York Giants, New York Jets, and the Washington Football Team before facing the Rams and 49ers again to conclude the 2020 season.
If they win all those games, the Hawks will end the season with a 13-3 record, win the NFC West, and likely be the #1 seed in the playoffs. Any losses, depending on how many, may derail that ideal outcome.
However, both the Rams and Cardinals (our two critical divisional opponents) still have to play each other twice before the post-season, so nothing within the division is set just yet. In fact, from what I saw on Thursday night, there’s really only one thing that’s truly certain about the NFC West… and that’s the fact that the Seattle Seahawks have the best quarterback.
And Russell Wilson touched on that in his post-game press conference too.
“I know who I am, I know what kind of player I am. I’m never gonna doubt it and we let it rip and did some cool things today. Just felt completely in control the whole game.”
Let’s hope losing three of four in weeks six, eight, and nine was the low point of the season and there aren’t too many surprises the rest of the way. With the high-level of play from Wilson and fine play from our defense and ground game, the bar this year is the NFC Championship game. And I have no doubts that this roster can (and will) play in that game…
And just maybe in the Super Bowl that follows. Go Hawks!