The Seahawks may be getting closer to fixing their weaknesses. Until they do, though, we’ll get shaky games like we’ve seen the past three weeks.
The throwback 28-21 win over the 49ers looked a lot like Russell Wilson’s early days, with the offense struggling and Wilson making a couple of magical moves that helped him keep alive his streak of never losing three straight as the Hawks beat the 49ers for the 13th time in 15 games and avoided a dreaded 1-3 start.
Pete Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. finally made some alterations on defense that helped them largely shut down the 49ers (other than a rough start and one big mistake in the third quarter). And the offense picked up the pace to get out of an early funk.
The offense, which came in as the top-scoring unit in the league in the first half of games, was thoroughly dominated by San Francisco’s defense early on. The O-line was overpowered, and the offense went three-and-out on the first five drives and had minus-12 yards.
Shane Waldron and Wilson did little to help until Wilson told Waldron he wanted to go up tempo again (their first three-and-out was a no-huddle possession), and that immediately led to an 80-yard scoring drive – sparked by a pair of 28-yard passes to Alex Collins and DK Metcalf, who combined for all 80 yards.
“Let’s just change it up,” Wilson suggested to Waldron. “Let’s not huddle anymore, and let’s just move.”
“We got our tempo stuff going,” said Duane Brown, who was beaten by Nick Bosa a couple of times early, “and we were going fast. … I think that’s when we’re at our best, when we are able to go fast tempo and keep them on their heels.”
The Seahawks managed to score 28 points despite just 234 yards and 14 first downs – the first time in the Wilson era they have done that.
“I think tempo really helped us,” Wilson said. “We obviously got in a groove there, that drive we scored a touchdown right before half. We kind of picked up the tempo and made some calls and checks and things. And then we were able to get into the end zone. … And then the rest of the game really, that’s what we did full time, for the most part. … It really picked up our momentum, just kept the tempo on them and put a lot of pressure on the defense.”
The Seahawks also caught some big breaks that helped them get out of the horrendous first-half offensive funk: They got two takeaways; 49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky missed a field goal and PAT in place of injured Robbie Gould; and rookie QB Trey Lance played the second half as Jimmy Garoppolo stood on the sideline with a calf injury.
The defense got off to a really shaky start, with the secondary not seeming to cover anyone. Sidney Jones, playing left corner, gave up the first TD on a way-too-easy drive for the 49ers.
The defense then settled in though, not surrendering a score for seven straight drives. It also had its best third-down day of the season, winning 12 of 14 to help alleviate Seattle’s 2-for-10 offensive performance.
“That’s a huge stat for us, a huge stat and a huge turnaround, and one that was really the story of the game,” Carroll said.
Jones appeared to make one big gaffe, not taking a zone handoff from Jamal Adams and letting Deebo Samuel get wide open for a 76-yard score.
“We made one huge error, obviously, and it was just a simple, really bad mistake,” Carroll said. “But, other than that, I thought they played pretty good and they were around the ball a lot today.” The Hawks had a season-best nine passes defensed, after just five total in the first three games.
Carroll said he finally made the switch at corner, benching Tre Flowers, moving D.J. Reed to the right side and starting Jones on the left, because “I just thought it was time.” But he pointed out that Jones is still learning the system.
“It does take time to gain access to the guy. You’ve got to know that he knows what’s going on across the board,” Carroll said. “I mean look what happened: We made a big error today. So, we try to avoid that by buying time. We grabbed him so that he would play. We wanted to see what he could do and took a shot at it.”
Carroll said they are still figuring out the best spots for guys. “It’s a work in progress and it takes time to get this stuff right, and hopefully it’s not too late.”
The Hawks also used Ryan Neal in the dime, and he came up with three big third-down stops and helped limit an admittedly hobbled George Kittle to four catches on 11 targets, for 40 yards.
“Ryan seemed to have a great game today,” Carroll said. “That was something, looking at the tight end and how good he was, we just thought that the matchup might work out for us, and it helped us a little bit. He had a beautiful game.”
On Q13, Quandre Diggs talked up Neal, too, saying they knew what he could do after seeing him come out of nowhere last season: “Let Ryan Neal fly around. … He gives us an added dimension.”
The Seahawks still have a ton to improve. They are the worst defense in the NFL, by yards allowed (445 per game). They are the 31st-ranked run defense at 152 yards per game; the 49ers had success, too, with 143 yards (4.9 per attempt).
The pass defense isn’t much better, obviously. The secondary still has a ways to go, as Carroll admits. The pass rush is still very inconsistent, even when it has time. Carlos Dunlap had a couple of big pressures on Lance in the second half, but the team had just two sacks and six QB hits overall.
The offense needs to start sustaining drives. The Hawks have run the fewest plays in the NFL (53 per game).
The Hawks put together just three TD drives in 11 full possessions against the 49ers (excluding the end-of-half clock waster and the TD right after the 49ers fumbled a kickoff) and went three-and-out on seven of the eight fails.
It took some retro Wilson to spark it in the third quarter, with a 16-yard run for a TD and a 13-yard TD pass to Freddie Swain after Wilson had eluded two 49ers with a spin escape.
“Russ was spectacular today,” Carroll said. “It was so hard early, and he just stayed the course, stayed with it and really kind of recaptured a chance at this game when you wouldn’t think there was any way; it just didn’t look like it was going to happen.”
“We picked up the tempo a little bit,” Wilson said. “We got a groove going and just started moving the ball extremely well. We had the touchdown to DK right before the half. Then the next thing you know, we came out the second half and we had those three consecutive drives where we scored touchdowns. We really caught that groove and found a way to make some plays.”
They will need to catch that groove again Thursday, when the Rams come to Seattle. If they can beat them, they will be in decent position at 3-2 with some very winnable games coming up (at Pittsburgh and home vs. New Orleans and Jacksonville).
The Hawks still aren’t there yet, but they are getting closer to what they need to be.