Seahawks need to flip red zone performance

Marshawn Lynch goes head over heels in the end zone vs. the Giants (Getty)The Seahawks’ matching 19-3 wins over Arizona and San Francisco the past two weeks have been impressive defensive feats — the lowest two-game total by Seattle opponents since the Hawks beat Philadelphia and San Francisco 83-3 late in their 2005 Super Bowl season.

Of course, led by coach Mike Holmgren and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, the 2005 Hawks had the best offense in the league (in yards and points) and were No. 2 in red zone scoring.

About the only thing this Seattle offense shares with that one is a strong running game. Russell Wilson’s offense has struggled to score touchdowns, especially over the last three games.

The Seahawks rank 26th in the league in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on just 47 percent of their possessions. They have been terrible over the past three games, going 4 for 15. Even when you remove a kneel-down, two bad red zone calls by the refs and a fourth-down attempt at the end of the win over the 49ers when the Hawks just wanted to use up more clock, the Hawks still were just 4 for 11 (36 percent) vs. Kansas City, Arizona and San Francisco.

It’s perhaps the one glaring weakness of this team as it attempts to make a strong push into the playoffs and toward another Super Bowl title.

“I think we have to be lights out in the red zone,” Wilson said. “When it comes down to championship football, we have to be lights out in the red zone, be lights out on third down. That’s pretty simple. That’s pretty much it.”

So what has gone wrong and how do they fix it?

As the coaches have said, no one thing has prevented the Hawks from scoring more TDs. They have missed blocks, thrown poor passes or not thrown when they should, made bad play calls, committed penalties and gotten some bad calls by refs.

In a 24-20 loss in Kansas City, the Hawks were 2 for 5 in the red zone. They ended up with field goals twice due to (a) two poorly blocked runs by Marshawn Lynch and (b) three straight incomplete passes. The refs then cheated them out of a possible touchdown by failing to call pass interference in the end zone on fourth down (the league admitted the gaffe).

Against Arizona, the Hawks were 1 for 5 in the scoring zone, although the Hawks knelt on the ball on the final possession. They came up short on a third down on their first drive, leading to a 27-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka. Then they settled for a 32-yarder after Wilson failed to see a blitz in time and a possible touchdown pass to Paul Richardson, getting sacked on both plays.

In San Francisco, the Hawks once again went 1 for 5. The first miss came after Tony Moeaki was called down at the 49ers’ 1-yard line after a 63-yard pass play in the second quarter. Lynch was stuffed for no gain, Wilson was tackled for loss, and Wilson’s pass to Baldwin was tipped incomplete.

Later in the quarter, lineman Garry Gilliam reported eligible as a tight end, but he was called for illegal formation. After a 2-yard run by Robert Turbin, Wilson hit Christine Michael on a screen pass, but Michael stepped out just short of the marker, leaving a third-and-1. Turbin then was stopped for a loss on third down because Moeaki missed his block on Tank Carradine.

In the third quarter, the refs wrongly called pass interference on Turbin on a 7-yard TD pass from Wilson to Richardson. Wilson failed to get a pass off on the next two plays, and the Hawks had to kick a 35-yard field goal.

“We had a couple penalties that set us back behind the sticks on the down and distances,” Carroll said. “It was just a couple things. We got in the end zone; it didn’t count. … That takes us back and we don’t overcome it.”

They say points come out of the passing game, and it certainly seems true for the Seahawks, whose passing attack has not been very effective inside the 20.

Dave Wyman and Brock Huard of 710 ESPN both have offered their thoughts on the red zone woes over the last couple of weeks.

“It’s been a real conundrum,” Huard said, pointing out that the margin of error shrinks as the field does and the Hawks don’t have a big target who can create mismatches on the perimeter.

Wyman thinks more play action near the end zone might help.

“They’ve gotten away from that a little bit,” he said. “But I think that’s probably because there’s not a fullback in there, so it’s a little hard to do out of the read option. Maybe that would help their red zone woes a little bit.”

Of some consolation is this fact: When it comes to the red zone, it’s less about quality than quantity. Seattle is second in the NFL in red zone possessions per game, with 4.4 (Miami has 4.7), and therefore is ninth in red zone TDs (2.1). And, Hauschka has made all 19 field goal attempts under 40 yards — second most in the league.

Despite their red zone inefficiency, the Hawks are eighth with 0.399 points per play (they were third at .443 last year) and are scoring 2.6 touchdowns per game (they were at 2.8 last year). And they are destroying the league in toxic differential (turnover differential plus big-play differential), at 54. They have 45 more big plays (passes of at least 25 yards and runs of at least 10) than they have given up. Denver is second at plus-33.

“We’re doing a great job with the football, taking care of the ball, making smart decisions there, and putting it away,” Wilson said of the team’s plus-nine turnover margin. “As long as we capitalize on third down, stay on the field, make their defense work and be big time in the red zone, we can do a lot of things.”

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