Without Wilson, Hawks are losing the close ones — and the season

We always knew the Seahawks could not make the playoffs if Russell Wilson missed many games.

They have never had a good enough backup QB, whether it was Tarvaris Jackson or Trevone Boykin or Brett Hundley or Geno Smith.

We did have hope this time, however, that Smith might be able to win a couple to keep the Hawks’ playoff hopes alive until Wilson returned from the first sidelining injury of his career.

Unfortunately, Smith has been what we knew him to be – inaccurate and turnover-prone – and has gone 0 for 3 in comeback opportunities in close games the past three weeks. He got no help from an overmatched offensive line in a 13-10 loss to New Orleans on Monday night, and he looked a lot like Wilson sometimes does as he took game-killing sacks.

Most think Wilson would have found a way to win the past two games, both three-point losses against average teams (23-20 in Pittsburgh). That’s debatable, considering the offense was not that much better when he was running it (terrible on third downs, an all-or-nothing attack that produced just seven points in three quarters against the Rams, etc.). But, yes, Wilson would always have a better shot than Smith to rally Seattle in a close game.

Pete Carroll certainly seems to think Wilson would have beaten the Steelers and Saints: “You know, Russell’s a factor. He’s a fantastic, positive factor and always has been. And, I mean, those were exactly his time. That’s his time. That’s when he shines. So we miss him.”

Winning the last two would have made the Hawks 4-3 and have them right in the wild-card race as they approach their bye. Instead, they sit on the fringes at 2-5 – likely needing to go 8-2 the rest of the way to have a shot at the playoffs. Even if they beat the one-win Jaguars this weekend and get Wilson back after the Week 9 bye, that will be a very tough chore.

Wilson’s first possible game back would be in Green Bay, where he is 0-4. Then NFC juggernaut Arizona comes to Seattle. So the Hawks, even with a win over the Jags this weekend, likely won’t be any better than 3-7 with seven games left. They would have to run the table, which would include needing to beat the Cardinals and Rams.

The Hawks have the talent – at least when Wilson is the QB. They just need to finally put it all together. They need to coach better and play better. Stop underachieving.

The closest they have come is the season opener in Indy – a 28-16 win that seemed to promise a great season ahead. But then the discombobulated defense gave up 63 points in losses to Tennessee and Minnesota, and the offense scuffled along, with and without Wilson, for all of October.

The defense seems to have straightened out, with an improved secondary and apparently the NFL’s best third-down performance since Week 4.

“We’ve become more aggressive in all aspects of what we’re doing,” Carroll said. “We’ve shifted gears a little bit in some stuff.”

The offense, meanwhile, has been conservative while Wilson has been out, trying to run the ball to keep pressure off Smith. It kind of worked in Pittsburgh, giving Smith a shot at the end (he fumbled it away). It didn’t work vs. the stellar Saints as Smith and the O-line were dominated.

The Hawks gave up five sacks in the loss Monday as the O-line had its worst game in a season that has featured a lot of Jekyll and Hyde halves. Kyle Fuller, who has been very inconsistent in his first season as a starter, was simply terrible vs. the Saints (who admittedly make a lot of lines look bad).  

Failing to address the center position in the offseason was a huge whiff by the Hawks, as we predicted it would be, and this loss to the Saints was the worst example of it. Ethan Pocic will return to the lineup this week, Carroll said, but can he and the line somehow recapture their early 2020 form?

Outside center, this offensive line has the talent to play well. It just has not done so consistently. Duane Brown and Gabe Jackson, the notable vets on the unit, both have underperformed — but you can put some of that on the poor play of Fuller.

Brandon Shell, solid when healthy, continues to run into injury problems (another ankle now). Damien Lewis was having trouble at left guard before being injured, and Jamarco Jones has actually looked better there.

The Seahawks have got to find some consistency on offense, and it starts with the offensive line (which starts with the center).

If that unit plays well this week, the Hawks certainly should beat the Jaguars. Then the season will depend on whether Wilson can return in time to spark a miracle run.

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