Seahawks red-zone failures point to the absence of tall receivers who can win jump balls, seemingly a small thing that loomed large in Arrowhead Stadium Sunday.
Asked what he thought of the Seahawks passing game Sunday in Kansas City, coach Pete Carroll’s pause seemed longer than any pass QB Russell Wilson threw.
“We need to do better,” he said after a few beats. “We had plenty of chances. We protected well enough . . . We’re still working on it.”
In the wake of a 24-20 loss in Kansas City in which the Seahawks (6-4) were twice denied on fourth down when it mattered in the fourth quarter, a winnable game was lost mostly because the passing game couldn’t deliver enough to be decisive – another dubious development in a season fading further from resemblance to 2013.
Wilson was 20 for 32 for 178 yards and two touchdowns, good for a respectable 98.2 QB rating. He also kept drives alive with 71 rushing yards. As he said, “A lot of our games last year came down to the wire too.”
But this year, absent WR Golden Tate as well as TE Zach Miller, and with a less accurate Wilson, the downfield threat is negligible, meaning defenses can take more chances. The passing game overall isn’t terrible, but in a league of minimal distinctions between most teams, any falloff is exploitable.
Asked if he thought Wilson played better Sunday, Carroll said, “I thought he played solid. I don’t know what you mean by better.”
Well, better would be winning a game in which the Seahawks had the edge in possession time, rushing yardage, passing yardage, third-down conversions and turnovers. But the Seahawks failed to close the deal because in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs defense could afford to hunt down Marshawn Lynch, knowing that the Seahawks receivers could be covered one-on-one.
The crucible came after Seattle ground out a 75-yard drive over more than six minutes to reach the Kansas City red zone with less than seven minutes remaining. With a first and goal at the KC nine-yard line, the Seahawks had runs of five and two yards from Lynch and a no-gain completion to Baldwin in the flat.
On fourth-and-2, the Seahawks skipped a chance for a field goal on the reasonable premise that they may not get a similar chance.
“Either we get the touchdown or (the defense) gets them at the 2,” said Carroll.
Knowing the Chiefs were ready and able to stop Lynch between the tackles, especially with C Max Unger out with a sprained ankle, Wilson from the shotgun lobbed a fade route to Baldwin in the end zone.
Except Wilson threw it where a 6-foot-4 receiver may have reached it. Baldwin is, and will always be, 5-10. The Seahawks have no tall receivers who can out-jump smaller defensive backs. Baldwin screamed that CB Sean Smith interfered, but the bump from behind was arguably incidental contact.
In any event, the pass was uncatchable. Teams should not rely on officials to bail them out of a poor play call poorly executed.
In the red zone where defenses have a better chance to stay crowded up to receivers, the Seahawks don’t have the personnel to play jump ball, and now they may lack the personnel to pass block. Besides missing Miller, LG James Carpenter and FB Derrick Coleman, the Seahawks likely will lose Unger again, two games after his return from a foot injury sparked some hope.
Because backup Stephen Schilling was put on injured reserve with a knee problem, the Seahawks are down to a third-string center, Patrick Lewis, 23, a second-year player from Texas A&M signed Oct. 8 off the Cleveland practice squad. He started one game.
The passing-options problem became acute Sunday because the Chiefs offense put so much pressure early on Seattle’s defense that the margin for error, already small, became minuscule.
“Because we didn’t tackle well, we had to make most of (offensive) opportunities, and we didn’t,” Carroll said. “I don’t know why we tackled so poorly on the perimeter.”
Asked about the injury absence of NT Brandon Mebane, Carroll said he wasn’t sure it made a big difference because so many of the Chiefs’ 190 yards rushing came on the perimeter, not up the middle. And the defense recovered two fumbles, which normally covers for many shortcomings.
“When we go two-plus on turnovers, we always win,” he said. “When we go two-plus and don’t win, that’s a real rarity.”
Causes were multiple, but settling for field goals twice in the first half’s final 100 seconds, leaving a 14-13 deficit, were bad outcomes to great opportunities to cash in at a most difficult place to win — cold, loud Arrowhead Stadium, where the Seahawks record goes to 5-21.
With six games left, the Seahawks in the NFC West are three games behind the 9-1 Arizona Cardinals, who beat Detroit Sunday 14-6. The teams meet Sunday at the Clink, where they could have met with the division lead on the line. Now, it’s for Seattle playoff survival.
But the Seahawks’ critical 2013 ability to win close games at the end is much diminished. Wilson is right that the Seahawks this season have had a chance to win on the final drive of all four defeats. But they no longer have numerous talents that helped them work late-game magic.
It’s asking Wilson to be perfect, which is like asking Baldwin to be tall.