BY Art Thiel 08:40PM 10/19/2020

Thiel: Hawks’ real season (NFC West) starts now

Given the meagerness of the Seahawks’ five victims, the case can be made that the regular season begins Sunday in Arizona. The last Cardinals matchup did not go well.

On the first series of the third quarter vs. Arizona Dec. 22, 2019, WR David Moore caught his only pass. Moments later, he was stripped of the ball by Arizona’s Chandler Jones. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Who said there was no NFL preseason? The Seahawks finished it undefeated and start the regular season Sunday in Arizona against the 4-2 Cardinals, who dispatched the woebegone Dallas Cowboys 38-10 Monday night.

Or, considering that the cumulative record of Seattle’s five victims is 9-20, and that the NFC West is the NFL’s toughest division, you may prefer the golf analogy that the stretch of four division games in the next five is like advancing from Seattle’s little Interbay golf course to Augusta National.

Or maybe I’m just delirious after a week away from daily journalism. Whatever.

It seems clear to all that after an uneventful bye week — so far, no Covid-19 miscreants among the lads of the NFC’s only 5-0 team — that sustaining what has been borderline miraculous for the Seahawks gets more strenuous.

Particularly in view of a 2019 stat line that now leaps off the pixels.

Against the Cardinals nine games ago at the Clink, Russell Wilson completed 16 of 31 passes for 169 yards, had a passer rating of 78.6 and had just three completions to wideouts — one each to Tyler Lockett, David Moore and Malik Turner.

Mr. Unlimited was limited. And this season’s Mr. Wonderful, DK Metcalf, had one target for nada.

These days, Wilson completes three passes to wideouts while going from the bedroom to the kitchen for his kale/baby spinach/agave syrup breakfast smoothie. The wideouts get three catches between “oh, say,” and “can you see . . . ”

But last year, the second game against Arizona, a 27-13 loss, was Seattle’s worst of the season. The Seahawks had already clinched a playoff berth, and the next week rebounded with a solid game that they nevertheless lost to the 49ers, 26-21. But the Cardinals were 4-9-1 entering Week 15 and played most of the second half with Brett Hundley, the ex-Seahawk, subbing for injured QB Kyler Murray.

A win would have shifted the playoff set-up, and probably kept the Seahawks out of the frozen dark of Green Bay, where the season eventually ended in January’s playoffs.

“You cited some of the stats that I tried to forget,” said coach Pete Carroll, in his first Zoom chat Monday after the break. He wasn’t buying the notion that from those ashes came some of the playcalling changes that have produced the highest-scoring offense in the NFL this season (33.8 ppg).

“Turned it all around on that day — that was the pivotal game,” Carroll said sarcastically. But it was, in a different way — two running backs, Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise, were lost for the season with injuries. Those episodes combined with the earlier injury loss of RB Rashaad Penny to leave an 11-4 squad with rookie Travis Homer as the lone survivor.

That led to decision to unleash the Beast from his crypt and . . . wait. It’s not Halloween yet. Let’s go there later.

For various reasons, the Seahawks’ shift to become a little less dependent on the run and more reliant on Wilson’s ability to throw earlier in the game and in each series has proven providential.

“I don’t take much out of (the nature of the Arizona loss); I am pleased with the way we’ve been moving the ball around,” he said. But he wouldn’t surrender his primary directive: “You got to continue to hammer the line of scrimmage and make sure that the balance is there. We’re going to need it through the stretch of the schedule coming up.”

Indeed, the Seahawks have a load pending: At home Nov. 1 against San Francisco (3-3), Nov. 8 at Buffalo (4-2), Nov. 15 at the Los Angeles Rams (4-2), and a Cardinals rematch Thursday, Nov. 19, at home.

The notion of increasing the unpredictability against familiar foes is always a priority during the bye week of self-scouting. So it wouldn’t surprise to see a shift toward the more familiar.

“This is all about how many times we’ve called plays and defenses and pressures and coverages,” he said, “to make sure that we know what it looks like, in the messages and the signals we sent to our opponents . . . then figure out what we want to change.”

They won’t be changing anything about the level of teamwide excitement for playing well in close games for a second year in a now.

“I don’t remember going on the practice field after a bye with the guys all fired up like they were today,” Carroll said of the first practice. “A regular bonus Monday for us to get back in action, start moving around. They’re all out there standing in line, ready for us to stretch them out, for over five minutes early. I don’t know what the heck they were so fired up about, but they were jacked up and ready to go get back at it.

“It was very, very good response to come in and out of this thing.”

It would be even better for the Seahawks if they had SS Jamal Adams back to give chase to Murray (9 for 24 for 188 yards passing, and 74 yards rushing on 10 carries Monday). But Carroll was vague about Adams’ return from a groin strain that has caused him to miss the past two games.

“We’ve got to get through the week, see what happens,’’ Carroll said. “Take full advantage of the time to make sure that we’re doing the right thing. We want him when he’s right and back for the long haul.’’

Regardless of what the standings say, the long haul of the regular season begins Sunday.


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YourThoughts

  • 1coolguy

    40-23 is what adds to my concern – the Atlanta – Minnesota score. We beat Minnesota by ONE point and Atlanta by 13.
    I agree Art – the preseason is over and now we are into the thick of it. The O will continue to perform, but our league’s last place D – yes, 32nd- is what will be tested the rest of the season and that ranking is after playing a 9-20 schedule. Yikes!
    Are these players REALLY that bad, or is it the coaching or both?
    I have always thought Pete is the real D coach, no matter who is the DC, but Pete hasn’t suddenly lost his talent for coaching.
    So what is it? I’m as disappointed by the D as I am happy about the O line’s performance.
    BTW Art – Welcome back! I hope it was just a few days off for you and not a health issue.

    • Husky73

      5-0 is “really that bad?” Will you be gnashing your teeth should they go 12-4?

      • 1coolguy

        You succeeded in missing the point, As Art said and to which I agree, playing 9-20 teams felt like the preseason and now we are playing the legit big boys. Do I hope we win out? of course, but I’m not comfortable against the West with a 32nd place D.

        • art thiel

          It seems there’s no single great team this year, and weak units abound on each team, having much to do with the loss of practice time and distractions of the virus. The officiating change to let-em-play has also hurt all defenses.

          • Husky73

            The Steelers look pretty darn good. Maybe not great, but certainly formidable.

          • Chris Alexander

            I both agree and disagree.

            The last remaining unbeatens are Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee.

            Based on DVOA, Tennessee is overperforming. Overall, they’re ranked #8 in the league, but it’s their offense that’s carrying them; it’s ranked #3. Their defense is #22 and their special teams are #26.

            Seattle is currently ranked #5 with the #1 offense and the #4 special teams. The defense, however, is #26. Still, 2 top-5 units can obviously “carry” an underperforming one to a 5-0 record.

            Pittsburgh, however, is ranked #3 and all 3 parts of their team are ranked in the top 10. Their offense is #9, their defense is #2, and their special teams are #7.

            Interestingly, there’s one other team that has all three units in the top 10 . . . New Orleans. Their offense is #10, their defense is #8, and their special teams are #5. Methinks their 4-2 record might be a misleading.

            That said, I’m not personally a huge fan of DVOA. I like WATCHING the games and then “verifying” stats with the ol’ eye test. To me, New Orleans, isn’t top 10 in anything and their 4-2 record should be worse than it is. Pittsburgh on the other hand . . . Pittsburgh looks legitimately scary.

            Personally, I’m hoping for a rematch of Super Bowl XL this year . . . with a more Seattle-friendly result.

          • art thiel

            In mid-October, PIT is right there with KC atop the AFC.

        • Husky73

          I missed your point? Again?

        • Chris Alexander

          Seattle’s D is only ranked 32nd in “popular” stats like yards per game, passing yards per game, etc. In MOST statistical categories, the Seattle D is decidedly “middle of the pack” – that is, somewhere between #11 and #21 – including points allowed, DVOA, and others. And in SOME categories, Seattle’s D is actually in the Top 5 – takeaways, for example.

          I get why people are concerned about the defense – I have eyes and I’ve watched each game at least twice. But the team is 5-0 for a reason and that reason is that they know how to win close games, their defense comes up with “big” plays when they need to, and their offense has consistently outscored the opposition.

          • art thiel

            You’re right about the more analytical metrics. Turnover ratio is always key, especially last season. And you forgot to mention near-flawless special teams.

      • Kevin Lynch

        The KISS rule on defense is the RUSH. Give most any NFL QB time to throw and they’ll rip it. Look what Matty Ryan did last week when he had time to set up. What the Hawks do with blitzes the rest of this year will be interesting. Arizona had some ‘smoking’ blitzes last night.

    • art thiel

      It’s not D coaching, just a run of bad health, and under-productive talent. The losses of Irvin and Blair for the season can’t be forgotten. Getting next to nothing from their top two draft picks, Brooks and Taylor, is damaging.

      I’m fine. Needed time to work on a longer story you’ll see soon. And as with all of us these days, we need time for our mentals.

      • Husky73

        Brooks and Taylor– damaging, but not surprising. That front part of the draft continues to be a problem.

        • art thiel

          It’s amazing they’ve been so successful with such little recent top end draft production.

      • Stephen Pitell

        How about your chickens, Art? Personally, I think he came up with that from The Expanse. The guy who only worked for chicken. Canned chicken was his basis of trade. What’s next, air?

        • art thiel

          I saw some Expanse episodes. Missed the chicken references. But my guess is Marshawn is chief proprietor of his own vocabulary.

      • 1coolguy

        Good to hear you’re in good shape Art. Though we have our differences you are an excellent sports journalist and now that it is football season (and not Mariner’s season) your column brings joy to this readers life.

        • art thiel

          Well, thank you, coolguy. I’m willing to engage some political conversation because it is inseparable from sports. And my preference is to indulge, rather than ban, diverse opinions.

  • Husky73

    Where was kale 10 years ago? The best way to cook kale is to add a little olive oil in the pan. That way, it slides easier into the garbage disposal.

    • Nancy Johnson

      Google officially offering a steady payment of $179/hour and most of all weekly pay-out. No Specific Condition of Age or Computer Skills so you could try as well..il15…… You can check your eligibility through this =========== http://www.belifestyles.com

    • art thiel

      C’mon, now. You can’t live on iceberg lettuce alone.

      • Stephen Pitell

        So it’s either or? Give me spinach and romaine, please.

      • Chris Alexander

        Nope, not iceberg lettuce alone . . . that’s where blue cheese dressing comes in :)

        • Husky73

          ….and four slices of pizza, and a Coke.

    • Molly Hernandez

      Google officially offering a steady payment of $179/hour and most of all weekly pay-out. No Specific Condition of Age or Computer Skills so you could try as well..sj44…… You can check your eligibility through this =========== http://Beast4.com.

  • jafabian

    For the Seahawks to continue to succeed the 3-5 WR’s need to step up. The last couple games has shown that. When DangeRuss doesn’t spread the passing game around that usually means a close game. Particularly David Moore who in the past four games has followed up a three catch game with a dud the next. Granted the defense is at times frustrating to watch but with personnel and injury issues their problems are understandable if not acceptable. Have to wonder how the passing game would be if Philip Dorsett and Josh Gordon were available.

    • art thiel

      Carroll said Dorsett was back to running hard. Gordon’s reinstatement remains a mystery, but his own long history of drug test failure is his deserved burden.

      • Chris Alexander

        There were several articles during the offseason that speculated / assumed that Gordon would return / get reinstated around Week 10. Over the last few days, we’ve seen David Irving reinstated and Randy Gregory removed from the Commissioner’s Exempt list. One would naturally assume that Josh Gordon is next.

        • art thiel

          Each case is its own, and no one has a greater history of backsliding than Gordon.

      • jafabian

        If Gordon isn’t going to be an option I wonder if John Ross will be considered now that he’s requested a trade.

        • art thiel

          I’m sure Schneider will take a look, but health problems would seem to make him the next C.J. Prosise.

  • kiltlifter

    32nd in defense puts a lot of weight on Russel’s shoulders. Both sides of the ball need improvement with the D no place to go but up. Without an improved D the Seahawks sneak into the playoffs and bow out early. The odd ball 2020 season could prove me wrong.

    • art thiel

      If all four starting DBs get healthy, the numbers will improve. But they have to get production from the DE spot of Collier/Green. Hasn’t happened much.

    • Chris Alexander

      Only 32nd in total yards. Closer to the middle of the pack in points, DVOA, and other, more relevant stats. And at the top of the heap in the most important one – Won-Loss record.

      • art thiel

        18th in points allowed is acceptable for SB-caliber teams in 2020, the year when the NFL almost stopped calling holding and OPI.

  • Archangelo Spumoni

    Mr. Art
    Hope your week off was restorative and welcome back.

    • art thiel

      It was. Thanks.

  • Stephen Pitell

    Yes, now we get to the big boy games. In my best Pete imitation: I’m really fired up to play the Cardinals. They’re a good football team, and they’ll present some problems for us, and we’re excited to meet this challenge.

    • art thiel

      Carroll is flattered by your impression.

  • Ed Walsh

    Love the fan-similar emotions on the part of our Seattle sports press: fear. Fear of dissappointed expectations, and wanting insulation from unmet same.

    Just roll with it, guys, the defense will catch up, and the Offense and Special Teams are the best in the League. Russell does not get hurt, DK will be DK, the tight end group will be heard from, the running game is real. And the whole bunch, coaches included, are ready for the hard part, no matter the inevitable injuries. They may not make it, but this is a real Superbowl run against Brady, Rogers, Drees, and our own division.

    • art thiel

      Not sure we needed scolding once, much less twice.

      • Ed Walsh

        Aw, it’s good for the creative soul. We like everything you do, anyway.

  • Ed Walsh

    Love the Seattle local sports press linked at the emotional hip with the fans, on what’s to come: fear of unmet expectations. Understandable, but not realistic.

    Offense with QB who will not be hurt, DK is DK, Tyler is Tyler, huge TE group just getting started, running game real, defense about to be augmented by the likes of Jamal, and etc.

    And flawless Special Teams.

    Superbowl run against Rogers, Brady, Belicheck, Brees, and our own Division real. We may not make it, but it’s genuine, through the inevitable injuries. Note offensive line success: it only gets better.

    • art thiel

      Can’t speak for other in the Seattle sports press, but I don’t get who I’m locked at the emotional hip with. I haven’t cared for years who wins or loses games. I care about good stories and continuing narratives that interest readers. The Seahawks certainly qualify. Their ups and downs are fascinating, as are numerous personalities.

      • Husky73

        Bingo!

  • Chris Alexander

    I get the concern about the defense . . . and I understand the argument that Seattle’s 5-0 record was built against “bad” teams. But, as Chuck Knox used to say, “It’s not who you play, it’s when you play them.”

    . . .

    Fun with numbers and a reason for optimism:

    Coming into the season, Seattle’s expected SoS (Strength of Schedule) was .509 – roughly 51%. That was considered to be tied for the 13th hardest schedule in the league.

    Obviously that 51% SoS was based on last year’s standings and influenced heavily by the fact that 6 of Seattle’s 16 games were against teams that made the playoffs last season, including 2 against the team that represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.

    Things don’t always go as planned though. I am pretty sure no one expected the Vikings to be 1-5 through 6 games this year or for the Niners to be 3-3 with seemingly half their roster on IR.

    At this point in the season, Seattle’s SoS stands at 38% which is tied for the 5th easiest schedule thus far. For what it’s worth, Seattle is tied with the Titans, who are also 5-0, and the only other undefeated team (Pittsburgh) is only 1 spot ahead of Seattle with a 40% SoS.

    Here comes the IRONY though . . . 3 of the 4 teams with EASIER schedules than Seattle up to this point are . . . their NFC West rivals. Both the Niners and the Rams are at 35% SoS and the Cardinals are at 31%.

    . . .

    All stats cited, both above and below, are from this site: http://www.playoffstatus.com/nfl/nfl.html

    . . .

    And, more specifically, from these 2 pages:
    NFC SoS: http://www.playoffstatus.com/nfl/nfcsosag.html
    AFC SoS: http://www.playoffstatus.com/nfl/afcsosag.html

    . . .

    Here’s the reason for optimism that I promised y’all . . .

    Heading into Week 7, the 3-3 Niners are expected to face the league’s toughest remaining schedule from this point on with an SoS of 64%. The 4-2 Rams are #3 at 61%. And the Cardinals are #5 at 59%.

    The 5-0 Seattle Seahawks? Tied with the Dolphins and Patriots at 45%. In fact, only 6 teams have a lower remaining SoS than Seattle heading into Week 7 – the Browns (44%), the Raiders (44%), the Bucs (43%), the Chargers (43%), the Chiefs (40%) and the Cowboys (38%).

    And just to make y’all REALLY smile . . .

    When you add up all the games – both those played and those remaining – Seattle’s overall SoS – which was 51% heading into the season – ends up at 43% . . . which makes their schedule (on paper) the easiest one in the league.

    • art thiel

      I’ve quoted that Knoxism numerous times. It’s true. The easy current example is the Pats. Their 2019 record was with Brady, the 2020 mark without — and with the virus casualties that hit them harder than any team.

      I’ve never looked at year-old SoS as anything other than an amusement, not as a predictive. And current-season SoS values also are diminished by weekly injuries, and returnees. Plus the covid disruptions.

      But hindsight allows us to see that four of the five teams (except MIA), were performing well below expectations when they played the Seahawks. And SF’s rebound vs. LA suggests that all three NFC West foes are currently at above average NFL levels.

      And none of us knew the NFL was going to quit calling penalties.

  • Kirkland

    I’m nervous about this game, simply because Arizona is a consistent trip wire for the Seahawks. Every team seems to have one opponent they struggle to beat regardless of their quality discrepancies, and the Cardinals are Seattle’s. It wasn’t that long ago the Hawks had a long losing streak in Glendale, and they’ve also been upset by the Cards in the CLink, especially in crucial late-season games.

    • art thiel

      Seahawks are 6-0-1 in their last seven in Glendale.

  • Mícheál Mac Cionnaith

    Great commentary on your part as always, Art. I have to admit that this season is (so far) one of the strangest I’ve seen the Seahawks play in 42 years. The ‘Hawks leaned heavily on their Defense so much in the past that many folks out there wrote RW3 off as a game manager. Of course, he’s never been so limited. Even having pivoted from an elite Defensive team into an elite Offensive team, it still feels a bit weird. It would make a computer on Star Trek start smoking and explode to reconcile the worst defense in the NFL with an unbeaten record.