The Seahawks put up 90 points in a three-game winning streak that had many thinking they had finally turned it on after tallying just 15 points in a tough first couple of games.
But then along came Arizona’s defense, clamping down on the Hawks the way Miami and Los Angeles did and showing everyone that Seattle still isn’t good enough to beat teams with excellent defensive fronts — no matter how great its own defense plays.
The defense has given up just 15 points to the Rams and Cardinals, but the Hawks are 0-1-1 in those games because their offensive line just hasn’t been good enough. The result: The Hawks scored just nine points vs. those division rivals and are the NFL’s fifth-worst scoring offense, averaging just 18.5 points. They’ve never finished worse than 10th (24.6 ppg in 2014) with Russell Wilson.
The good news is they still have 10 games to straighten it out — and they get a much better matchup this weekend against the Saints’ 32nd-ranked scoring defense (32.5 ppg).
The bad news is the rest of the schedule features some pretty tough defenses. After New Orleans, the Hawks run into a three-game buzz saw against top-10 scoring defenses — Buffalo (18.7 ppg), New England (15.3) and Philadelphia (14.7). They also face the Packers (ranked No. 7 overall), Rams and Cardinals in the final six.
Unless their offense starts scoring, the best they can do in the final 10 looks to be 6-4, which would give them a 10-5-1 record and keep them out of the NFC’s top playoff seed.
Pete Carroll, for one, expects the offense to get it together soon.
“I really see us having the opportunity to improve,” he said, pointing to the development of Germain Ifedi, Wilson’s improving health and Thomas Rawls’ pending return (possibly for the Monday night game against Buffalo).
“There are a lot of positives coming around the corner here,” Carroll said. “We just have to hold it together until we start to feel those.”
Despite visual and statistical evidence to the contrary, Carroll thinks the offensive line is coming along.
“When you get through the (Arizona) game and you give up one sack, that’s a good marker. We’re protecting the quarterback,” Carroll said, apparently forgetting Wilson got knocked around a lot more than that sack (which apparently injured his pectoral).
“I think we’re much more confident in our pass protection than we have been,” Carroll said. “I think we’ve done a really nice job collectively and there’s only been a couple sacks in the last couple games. … I think we’re cleaner than we have been and you can see we’re making progress.”
That wasn’t apparent at all against Arizona, with Chandler Jones and Markus Golden tearing up Seattle’s tackles and hitting Wilson four times while pressuring him many more.
The Hawks should have an easier time against the Saints’ front, but then come Buffalo outside rushers Lorenzo Alexander (nine sacks, three forced fumbles) and Jerry Hughes (four sacks), followed by New England’s well-rounded defense and Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox (four sacks) and company.
The Seahawks know they need to regain their trademark physicality on offense and start running the ball better if they are going to have a chance to beat those good defenses.
Carroll and his staff are hoping Wilson’s ankle and knee heal up enough for him to become the running threat he had been in his first four seasons. They also are counting on Rawls to step in and provide a more physical presence in the running game.
“There’s no question that we’ve missed Thomas’ factor,” Carroll said. “There’s the style of play and all that. I think to give a really good 1-2 punch, it would be a nice accent.”
Last year, the Hawks didn’t get the offense going until about Week 11 — which was too late to contend for the top seed in the NFC. But the Hawks are in a better spot this year, 1.5 games up on Arizona in the NFC West and right in the mix with Dallas, Minnesota, Green Bay and Philadelphia for the top seed.
“We’re still in first place,” Carroll said, “and we’re in a position to control everything we want to control.”
The only way they will do it, though, is if the offense can figure out how to boost that scoring average against good defenses.