Opinion: Exposed once again, Seahawks might not have what takes to overcome cracks in foundation
The 5-0 start to the season, the lofty praise as one of the premier teams in the NFC and predictions of long-overdue MVP honors for their quarterback – they all seem like distant memories for the Seattle Seahawks after a 23-16 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
Seattle’s defeat by the NFC West rival Rams — in a contest more lopsided than the score suggested — represented the continuation of a downward trend and quite possibly the exposure of the Seahawks’ truest form.
Even during that undefeated start, the cracks were always there. But for a portion of time, the Seahawks managed to hide them thanks to Russell Wilson’s wizardly ways as the quarterback directed one of the league’s most potent offenses. But when foundational faults run as deep as do the Seahawks’ – particularly in regards to their awful defense – it’s only a matter of time before the damage extends to other areas, weakening the team from top to bottom.
That’s what happened Sunday night for Seattle, which has now lost three of their last four games, including two straight.
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Bowed under the pressure of compensating for the atrocious defense and the absence of his top two running backs, Wilson threw two interceptions for the second time in as many weeks (something that hasn’t happened since his rookie year in 2012) and fumbled once. The offensive line surrendered a season-high six sacks. The defense yielded 389 yards and allowed the Rams to convert on nine of 15 third downs.
Seattle’s once comfortable lead in the division has evaporated as the Seahawks, Rams and Arizona Cardinals now find themselves in a three-way tie at 6-3.
“We took an L,” Seahawks safety Jamal Adams said after the game. “That’s a hell of a ball club, and we’ve got to give them their respect. They punched us in the mouth, and we can’t do the things that will put us in a hole.”
Seattle’s defense has put its team in a hole all year long, giving up an average of 455 yards per game entering Sunday’s contest. That total ranked last in the league, and the 30.3 point-per-game average through the first nine weeks of the season ranked third-worst.
Early in the season, the issue wasn’t much of a big deal, because the Seahawks were waiting for healthy reinforcements on defense. In the meantime, the typically offensively conservative Pete Carroll was letting Russ cook, and Wilson looked like an MVP candidate as he racked up league-leading touchdown totals and limited turnovers.
But as the defense has failed to improve as the Seahawks have reached the heart of their season and Wilson seemingly has realized more and more that the Seahawks live and die with his arm, the quarterback’s effectiveness has diminished. In each of the three losses, with his team playing from behind, Wilson has started to force throws. And he has paid the price, throwing seven interceptions in those defeats.
Sunday represented Adams’ return from a four-game injury layoff as well as pass rusher Carlos Dunlap’s second game since joining the team via trade and the debut of run-stopper Damon Harrison. But Seattle’s defense still struggled to produce the game-changing plays needed to make life easier for Wilson and Co., and that’s not normal for the Seahawks.
Throughout his 11 seasons at the helm in Seattle, Carroll has typically directed teams that boasted tone-setter defenses. But as stars have aged and either retired or departed via free agency, and as recent draft classes have failed to produce quality replacements, the game-changing defensive identity of Carroll’s team has vanished.
On Sunday, in the third quarter, rather than going for it on fourth-and-inches at the Seahawks' 42-yard line, Carroll punted, perhaps because he was worried about giving the Rams favorable field position. In the past, he probably would have gone for it, knowing his defense most likely would have gotten the ball back for him. But lacking the same confidence on Sunday, he preferred to punt. It wound up not mattering because Seattle still offered little resistance as Jared Goff directed a 14-play, 88-yard touchdown drive.
By the time the defense improved, the Rams held a double-digit lead, and two fourth-quarter turnovers by Wilson prevented the offense from mounting a comeback.
“We have to not give stuff up,” Carroll said, referring to the trend of recent weeks. “We’ve made enough mistakes that we’re giving plays to teams that are executing well and they’re making things happen and we’re getting behind the sticks and they’re rolling on defense.”
The season isn’t lost. And Thursday's game against Arizona represents a prompt opportunity for redemption and a chance to regain sole possession of first place in the division.
But with the Cardinals rolling and the Rams boasting a balanced attack that the Seahawks can only dream about, it’s hard to say whether Seattle has what it takes to fend off these two.
Quick fixes for the defense seem unlikely, and improved efficiency of the offense could also prove elusive as top running back Chris Carson's status remains unclear for Thursday.
But somehow, Seattle’s coaches have to coax the defense toward more sound execution while also helping Wilson regain his poise.
Wilson insists his confidence isn’t shaken.
“I always try to think about, especially in the midst of chaos, knowing who I am. In terms of me personally. I think about that. I know I’ve been fortunate to win a lot of football games. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of amazing comebacks, fortunate to throw a lot of touchdowns,” Wilson said. “Also been fortunate to go through some tough times too, and I think when you go through tough times whether in sports or in life, when you’re called, chosen and have to opportunity to be great, sometimes, you get knocked down. One thing I know about myself is I’m always going to get up, always going to keep swinging. That’s my mentality. I look forward to next challenge, look forward to the next day. I look forward to the next game. That’s what my mindset is.”
Adams, counted on to anchor the back end of the defense, echoed Wilson’s sentiments, quoting the late rapper Nipsey Hussle as he did.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Rest in peace to Nipsey Hussle. … We’ve just got to keep going,” Adams said. “No one practices all week to come up short. That’s why we have the motto, ‘I’m all in.’ We took two jabs to the chin, gotta solute those two organizations, but ultimately, we’ve got to get this bad taste out of our mouths.”
The question, however, is can they?
Are they really the 5-0 squad capable of earning elite status in the NFC, or are they the unit group that has gone 1-3 since the bye — or something in between?
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.