For some (many?) people, it strains credulity that the Seahawks are 11-3 and sitting in the No. 1 position in the NFC with two weeks to go.
Those folks think the Hawks simply aren’t good enough to beat New Orleans or Green Bay or San Francisco, citing Seattle’s historically low margin of victory and inability to beat any team handily.
But they did beat the 49ers already — and they did it with the defense Pete Carroll hoped he would have. The big question: Will he ever have it again this season?
When John Schneider traded for Jadeveon Clowney, Carroll planned to have both Clowney and Ziggy Ansah in the lineup together. They have played together in eight of the 14 games, but Ansah has not been healthy for most of those and Clowney has been in and out of the lineup due to injury and illness ever since the win over the 49ers in Week 10.
When Schneider acquired Quandre Diggs from Detroit in October, Carroll obviously hoped the safety would fortify the secondary — which he has. And the coach surely looked at his roster on paper and saw this talented top 11: Ansah, Clowney, Diggs, Jarran Reed, Poona Ford, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Mychal Kendricks, Bradley McDougald, Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers.
But injuries have ripped through that crew, and those guys have played just two of a possible seven games together. Diggs (hamstring) was inactive his first two games after being acquired. Ansah (neck) and Kendricks (hamstring) have missed the past two games, Clowney (core/illness) has missed two of the past four and Griffin (hamstring) missed Week 15 as well. In the 30-24 win over Carolina on Sunday, Diggs and Wagner both suffered ankle injuries.
With all of those guys out at the end of the win in Carolina, the Panthers scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to shorten a 20-point deficit. When K.J. Wright left for a couple of plays, the Hawks had five rookies playing on defense, and Carroll said it looked like a preseason game.
Without Wagner, the Hawks gave up 10.4 yards per play (vs. 4.6 when he was in the game). Carroll told 710 ESPN that the Seahawks “played it kind of soft. Played safe. Kind of rope-a-doped our way to a win.’’
The Hawks didn’t have to rope-a-dope anything in the two games that featured the top 11; they beat the 49ers (11-3) and Vikings (10-4). So, you know Carroll is crossing his fingers that they all get healthy in time for the playoffs, if not for the big Week 17 game against the Niners.
Ansah, Clowney and Kendricks might be back for Arizona this week. Wagner “is pretty determined,” per Carroll, and Griffin has “made a good turn,” but they’re all questionable for now.
Diggs’ high ankle sprain is the most concerning injury for that group right now. But Carroll is optimistic (when isn’t he?) that Diggs might not miss much time. “He’s had it before, I think in the same ankle,” Carroll said, “so he does have some background, which usually helps these guys get through it.”
The key is for everyone to “get through” their injuries as the Hawks try to claim a first-round bye — and maybe retain the top seed (if Green Bay can win out or New Orleans can somehow drop one).
The Seahawks will play the rest of the way without Josh Gordon, who made a great diving catch for a 58-yard gain in Carolina. The mercurial receiver was suspended by the NFL again for drug use.
This is not a surprise. Gordon has been fighting addiction for years — with little help.
In 2017, he said: “I’ve been enabled most of my life, honestly. I’ve been enabled by coaches, teachers, professors …”
It’s tough to be good amid that many bad people, and Gordon’s time in the NFL has been spent paying the price for the self-destructive habits he developed in school. Those are formative years that can ruin a person for a decade (or forever). Hopefully he finds the willpower to finally overcome his drug troubles.
He made a few nice third-down catches for the Hawks in the few weeks he was in Seattle, but the team will be fine without him. At least one of Jaron Brown, David Moore and Malik Turner will get more snaps.