Roster review as Hawks prep for Dallas

logo-playoffsWell, that finale against Arizona wasn’t pretty. But this is all that matters: The Seahawks are headed to Dallas for a playoff game Saturday.

The last time they faced the Cowboys, the Hawks were just rediscovering Pete Carroll’s long lost preferred formula for winning.

It worked in that Week 3 game: The Seahawks hit the magic 50 (runs and completions), were plus-three in turnover differential and won the third-down battle in a 24-13 victory in Seattle.

The Seahawks didn’t run the ball very well (2.9 yards per carry), but they kept pounding it anyway (39 times) and Russell Wilson took advantage of some coverage holes for a pair of TD passes.

“We didn’t really kill it that day. We had a hard game against those guys,” Carroll said. “I think Chris (Carson) rushed 32 times in that game for 100 yards. That wasn’t what became a little bit more standard, what we were shooting for during the season, but it was a step in the right direction and the commitment came through. We were just getting started.”

The next week, the Seahawks’ running game took off — it averaged 177.6 yards in the final 13 games. It helped take the pressure off Wilson, who put together statistically one of his best seasons.

Even without J.R. Sweezy, D.J. Fluker and Jordan Simmons in the finale against Arizona, the Hawks ran for 182 yards — a factor that helped offset poor pass protection (six sacks and eight other hits on Wilson) and some terrible special teams.

As the Hawks get ready to face Dallas’ stout defense again, Fluker (hamstring) is poised to return, and Sweezy (sprained foot) might be back, too.

Here’s a look at every position as the Seahawks get ready to face the Cowboys again:

QUARTERBACK
The season: Despite a rough finale vs. Arizona that largely could be blamed on line injuries, Wilson set team records in 2018 for passer rating (110.9), TD passes (35) and TD percentage (8.2). He also set the team career record with his 196th TD pass, one more than Dave Krieg threw. Wilson had a number of shaky games in 2018, but he ranked third in the NFL in TD passes even though the Hawks threw it less than any other team. In fact, Seattle finished with 428 points, second in team history to the 452 scored by the 2005 Super Bowl club.
Key vs. Dallas: Wilson needs to get rid of the ball quickly, hopefully aided by a good plan by Brian Schottenheimer. He was sacked just twice in the first meeting, and Seattle needs a repeat of that. He also needs to target his wide receivers — Seattle is 10-1 this season when they get at least half his targets. The zone read could loom large in this one as well.
Wilson said: “We have a tough task. Dallas has been playing great. Honestly, they’ve been one of the best teams in the NFL in the past (seven weeks). They’ve got a really good defense (sixth in scoring, eighth in yards per play). … They were kind of in the same spot we were at (4-5 start, 6-1 finish). … I think they’ve done a tremendous job of staying the course, very similar to how we have. It’s going to be a great showdown.”

RUNNING BACK
The season: Chris Carson put up the 21st 1,000-yard season in Seattle’s 43-season history, with a 4.66 average that ranked fourth among those millennial rushers. His 1,151 yards ranked fifth in the NFL. Mike Davis added 514 and rookie Rashaad Penny ran for 419. The backs also combined to catch 63 passes, 34 by Davis.
Key vs. Dallas: The Cowboys are stout against the run (fourth in yards per rush). The Seahawks have gotten much better in the running game since Week 3 — and they will need to prove it here.
Carson said: “They’ve got a great defense — the linebacking corps and the defensive line. It’s going to be a good challenge.”

WIDE RECEIVER
The season: Not surprisingly, Tyler Lockett had a breakout season. He scored a career-best 10 TDs and also combined for a rare perfect passer rating with Wilson. Doug Baldwin struggled through injuries (knees, hip, elbow, groin, shoulder) all year, and his 50 catches were his fewest since 2013, when he started just nine games. On the bright side, he scored his five TDs in the last six games. David Moore was pretty productive in October and November, but he didn’t do much in the final five games — a sign that he might not be much more than a No. 3 going forward. Jaron Brown scored five times on a mere 19 targets — making him just the fourth player since 2000 to score at least five TDs on 20 targets or fewer.
Key vs. Dallas: Baldwin didn’t play in the first meeting, so his presence should give Kris Richard’s Dallas defense something else to consider. The Cowboys busted some coverages in the first game, but they have improved a lot since then. We’ll see how they do against Baldwin and company.
Baldwin said: “It is a refreshing feeling in some ways. The playoffs: To me, it just starts everything over again. Your mindset starts over again. So everything that has happened in the past, put that behind us and focus on what we can control. And it is what it is in terms of injuries, but it doesn’t matter now. There are no more excuses. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. We’ve got four more games.”

TIGHT END
The season: Seattle’s tight ends provided more bang for the buck than the expensive Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson did in 2017. Graham, Willson and Nick Vannett scored on 15 of 133 targets (11.3 percent), while this year Vannett, Ed Dickson and Will Dissly scored on 8 of 70 (11.4 percent). And the blocking was clearly more consistent.
Key vs. Dallas: The Hawks lost Dissly the week after they played Dallas, but they have Dickson for this one. And George Fant is likely to return to his hybrid tight end/tackle role. The tight ends could figure very prominently.
Dickson said: “I’m excited to be out there with my brothers. I came back after the London game and I’ve been going ever since. I’m excited about getting out there and mixing it up and giving this team the best chance to win again.”

OFFENSIVE LINE
The season:
Behind a new line coach and two new guards, the Seahawks returned to the smashmouth style that drove them in 2012-14. Their 2,560 rushing yards were third in franchise history — and the second time they have led the league in Carroll’s nine seasons (the fifth time in the top four). On the negative side, the Seahawks gave up 51 sacks, third most in team history, and had a lot of injury issues at guard — they started six line combinations, the most since they had seven in 2014. Stat tidbit: The Hawks were called for only one penalty (a hold on Ethan Pocic) vs. Arizona — the first time Carroll’s Hawks have ever had that few. The four combined penalties also were the fewest in the Carroll era.
Key vs. Dallas: Fluker will be back and Sweezy will be a game-time call, per Carroll. Also, Justin Britt didn’t play in the first meeting, so the Hawks will have at least four of their top five for this one.
Duane Brown said: “Offensively, on the line, this (game vs. Arizona) was a poor performance. I’m not very happy about it at all. We had a lot of breakdowns of protection. We didn’t run the ball consistently. We got Russ hit way too many times. That’s not the kind of product we want to put on the field. … There’s a lot we have to clean up going into the playoffs.”

DEFENSIVE LINE
The season: Frank Clark and Jarran Reed were very good, sometimes even spectacular, as they combined for 24.5 sacks and 51 QB hits. A lot has been said about Clark (sixth in the NFL with 14 sacks) earning a big pay day, but Reed also figures to get a nice extension later this year. The rest of the defense totaled just 16.5 sacks (Seattle ranked 11th). Quinton Jefferson and rookie Jacob Martin were the best of the rest, with three sacks each and 23 QB hits. Dion Jordan and third-rounder Rasheem Green were major disappointments, combining for 2.5 sacks and seven hits. The run defense was a colossal disappointment, ranking 30th in yards per rush. They were much better in December, keeping four of five poor-running foes under 100 yards and under 3.7 per carry. Poona Ford has stepped up in recent weeks, tallying six tackles twice in the past three games.
Key vs. Dallas: Seattle gave up 166 rushing yards in Week 3, and now they get to go against league-leading rusher Zeke Elliott (1,434 yards) again. They sacked Dak Prescott five times in the first meeting, though, and he has been sacked nearly four times a game over the past 10, so Clark & Co. should be able to shake him up.
Carroll said: “It’s a fantastic season for (Reed); we could see it coming. … He’s just growing up. He’s grown up into a well-rounded football player, not just in the running game like when we saw him in the first couple years. He’s just expanded his game, he’s using his talents, he’s using his instincts and it’s really come through. He’s always been tough, always been a fantastic effort guy, but it just kind of didn’t get applied in the pass rush part of the game. He just has caught fire. It’s great to see.”

LINEBACKER
The season: Bobby Wagner continued his excellent play, proving he merits an extension. He had 12 tackles vs. Arizona and finished with 138, fourth in the NFL. It was great to see K.J. Wright very active vs. Arizona — seven tackles, one for loss — after missing most of the season. Hopefully he will make a big impact in the playoffs and show he is worth keeping (on a cheaper deal, obviously). The Mychal Kendricks saga was too bad; he was a nice addition, but the eight-game suspension and ensuing injury ruined what could have been a stellar three-man corps for the playoffs. Barkevious Mingo has been Seattle’s most prolific special-teams player, which probably limited his impact on defense. Austin Calitro filled in pretty well, starting five times and having particularly good games against Green Bay and San Francisco. Shaquem Griffin seems to be a promising work in progress.
Key vs. Dallas: Wright should help contain the Dallas running game better than Seattle did the first time.
Wagner said: “Zeke is Zeke, running the rock really, really hard. It’s kind of what we did last time. They’re going to try to establish the run game to open up the passing game, so we’ve got to do our jobs, make sure we stop them — and we will.”

SECONDARY
The season: This young unit learned under fire, facing the top two offenses three times and also going against two other top-10 scoring teams. The Hawks found their No. 2 corner in rookie Tre Flowers and shuffled through four safeties, with Earl Thomas (leg) and Delano Hill (hip) both now on IR. Safety obviously is a position to watch in the offseason.
Key vs. Dallas: Amari Cooper was not with the Cowboys in the first meeting, though the Hawks saw him in London when he was still with the Raiders (Bradley McDougald knocked him out of that game early). Cooper started strong after Dallas acquired him from Oakland, putting up 180 yards and two TDs against Washington and 217 and three scores vs. Philadelphia. But he has just 83 yards over the past three games. That’s promising news with Shaquill Griffin hobbled a bit by an ankle injury. Thomas intercepted two passes against Dallas in Week 3, so we’ll see whether the Hawks can get a couple again.
Wagner said: “Their offense is the same, but you add a guy like (Cooper) that you can throw the ball up to or he can turn a 5-yard route into 100 yards or something like that, it changes your offense.”

SPECIAL TEAMS
The season: These units came up big in a lot of games this season. Michael Dickson finished third in gross punting (48.2) and sixth in net (43.7), and Sebastian Janikowski kicked three game-winners. But Janikowski also had a few rough games, ranked 23rd in field-goal hit rate and was one of just four kickers to miss two from under 40. Seattle has to hope the big dud by the punt teams (two blocked punts, a TD, a big return allowed) in the finale were not a sign of things to come in the playoffs.
Key vs. Dallas: The Hawks need to correct the blocking problems on punts, and Janikowski needs to be on the ball in what figures to be a close game (he missed a 47-yarder in the first meeting).
Carroll said: “It’s fixable stuff. I’m really disappointed that happened, but it’s fixable stuff. Just a little negligent technique-wise and they did a nice job. They did a really good job coming after it, but really stuff that should not happen at all.”

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