As it turns out, Seattle’s offensive problems are not limited merely to their matchups with good defenses. Even the lowly Saints managed to keep the Seahawks to one measly touchdown in a game Seattle really should have won.
Once again, the Hawks put themselves in too many second-and-longs, killing drives. They completed one drive for a touchdown, needing a cool trick play to pull it off, but otherwise had issues with penalties, some bad decisions by Russell Wilson and poor run blocking.
If that all sounds familiar, it’s very similar to what the Seahawks have done the last three years. As usual, their offense is playing poorly at midseason. As usual, they are committing lots of penalties and their opponents are not being called for many. As usual, they are underachieving as we approach the second half.
It’s simply Pete Carroll’s oddball formula for success.
The big question: Will the formula create the same Super potion it did in 2013 and 2014 or will it be a less potent version like 2015?
In 2013, the Seahawks started rookie tackles for half the season but still overcame that to rank eighth in scoring offense (26.1 ppg) and fourth in rushing offense (136.8) as they won Super Bowl XLVIII. The most significant stat of that season: They were first in toxic differential (turnovers and big plays) and second in big-play differential.
In 2014, they played without Max Unger for 10 games and struggled in the final month against excellent defenses. But they finished 10th in scoring (24.6), first in rushing (172.6) and first in big plays and toxic differential — and reached the Super Bowl again.
Last year, they were terrible until about Week 11, when they finally started clicking with a better tempo. They finished fourth in scoring (26.4), third in rushing (141.8), first in big-play differential and second in toxic differential.
Right now, they are far off any of those numbers: 29th in scoring (18.7), 28th in rushing (81.4) and a mere 10th in explosive play differential.
Carroll, like everyone, is not happy about it and promised changes Monday.
“We need to get out of what we’ve been in the past two weeks,” he said. “This is not the way we want to play football. We need to fix this. … There will be some things that will look different.”
So, what is going to change?
“We have to do a better job in penalty situations and I have to do a better job,” Carroll said after the Seahawks were called for nine more penalties than the Saints. “I have to do a better job of getting the message across. To be that far out of whack compared to your opponent in a game is really to give them great advantage. We have to do better there. … In games like this, penalty situations can hurt you. And we got hurt in this game. We have to clean that thing up.”
The Seahawks have always been a highly penalized team under Carroll. But they have always overcome it. In both Super Bowl seasons, they led the league. And, in 2014, they reached the Super Bowl despite having the greatest penalty differential since the 1950s.
The Seahawks can overcome the penalties again if the offense just becomes more explosive and the defense gets more takeaways.
Russell Wilson’s improving health should help the former. He looked much better moving around vs. the Saints, although he ran himself into a sack on one play and made some other poor passing decisions (including a rare interception) that helped doom drives.
“We missed a couple chances down in the red zone that we needed and we weren’t quite as open as we counted on, so he had to jam the ball a couple times,” Carroll said. “He played pretty well, he moved well when he had his chances and threw the ball to run a few times. It shows us the signs that we’re getting better. He’s really improving.”
Wilson will be helped by a better running game. Christine Michael has been functional but not great while filling in for Thomas Rawls. Once Rawls returns (not this week) and gets back in the groove, the Hawks will regain the physicality they appreciate in the running game.
“We still feel like the potential is there to run,” Carroll said. “We feel like we’re more equipped than we were a year ago. We feel like we can be better. We think we can be more aggressive.”
To that end, expect Garry Gilliam to be benched for J’Marcus Webb this week.
Gilliam has struggled all season, and Tom Cable said he has not been as physical as the coaches prefer. The Hawks could not run behind Gilliam vs. the Saints (two yards on six carries to the right side), and he gave up several pressures on Wilson as well. It will be no surprise if the coaches move to Webb, which was their original plan anyway.
Wilson’s health will beef up the rushing attack, too.
“We’ve had to take care of him (due to injuries) and that’s just part of the way it is this season,” Carroll said. “He’s getting better. I’m really fired up about that and we’re going to keep progressing as he is able and do what we can to get back to the kind of mix that we like. I know it’s coming, so I’m pretty optimistic about it. We just need to keep slugging it out here as we find a way. We’re getting close.”
As bad as the offense has looked the past two weeks, the Seahawks are 4-2-1 and still in first place in the NFC West (Arizona lost to Carolina and remains a game and a half behind).
Despite their offensive problems, they are still in a better spot than they were in 2014, when they were 4-3, and last year, when they were 3-4.
Remember: This is just Pete Carroll’s winning formula.