Seahawks believe their best is still in the future

Staff writerNovember 2, 2013 

Wide receiver Doug Baldwin likely will have more passes thrown his way in the second half after the season-ending injury to Sidney Rice.

MICHAEL CONROY/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Sitting in the back section of the visitor’s locker room in St. Louis, Golden Tate explained it over and over.

He screwed up. He told anyone who came to question him, having to repeat his mea culpa over and over as reporters zipped in and out.

The taunting on his 80-yard touchdown was a mistake. A lesson learned. A detractor to his spectacular play.

Tate, though, shifted during his answer. He had an overriding thought.

“I’m excited,” Tate said.

As are the Seahawks. Tate’s touchdown in St. Louis is a microcosm of the Seahawks’ 7-1 record in the first half of the season, which has produced the best start in franchise history.

On that play, the ball was underthrown, but Tate made a better play than the defender. He was brash and swift afterward, bringing a key moment of celebration to a slog of an evening.

He turned what was mostly ugly into a winning play.

That has been the result for the Seahawks during many of the first eight games. Seattle is just short of

being undefeated as it opens the second half against Tampa Bay on Sunday at CenturyLink Field. Seattle is also not far from .500.

The opener in Carolina, the rally in Houston, holding off Tennessee at home and last Monday’s win in St. Louis that had the grace of a dumpster fire. All were tight enough to turn into losses. None did.

“The ability to win some games and not play really well gives us the hope that we have the opportunity to improve that we can be pretty tough down the stretch,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “We’re hoping as the second half starts, we can start showing that.”

One thing that separates the NFL from the other major sports leagues is a lack of roster change. Trades are rare, and this year’s deadline passed with just one trade taking place at the wire.

Which leaves teams with few personnel choices, particularly following injuries to starters. In the Seahawks’ case, they are bound to backup offensive tackles until two injured starters — Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini — can return. Each are expected to practice on Wednesday.

In their stead, the team has used Paul McQuistan on the left side and rookie Michael Bowie on the right. It hasn’t worked well. No other unit has failed more often in the first half for the Seahawks.

“We have to execute better,” offensive line coach Tom Cable said. “No excuses. We got our tails kicked (against St. Louis).”

Pressed into Russell Wilson’s situation, most would prefer to be locked into a water-filled barrel and challenged to escape. Wilson has been sacked 27 times this season after being sacked 33 all of last year. This despite distinct mobility that includes pirouettes with during improvisation.

Wilson stowed his dancing shoes in St. Louis. The Rams’ constant pressure from the edges sealed him in the pocket. In an attempt to avoid the turnovers of the prior two weeks, Wilson covered up when about to be taken down.

Even Wilson, who would say a scorpion is harmless were it a teammate, conceded the line needs to improve.

“We need to be better in protection, obviously,” Wilson said.

The offensive line’s failings have not been duplicated on defense.

Starting the season by assimilating the new, injured and suspended, the Seattle defense again is the load carrier. Offseason signees Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett have been effective. Linebacker Bruce Irvin has returned from a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy to present an element the Seahawks can’t get elsewhere.

Safety Earl Thomas has moved to the fore of a secondary many would argue is the best in the game. His gasp-inducing closing speed has even caught the attention of opponents during the game.

When Thomas pivoted then streaked toward Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens Monday night, finishing with a torpedoing shoulder to Clemens’ chest, the quarterback felt compelled to bring it up with Richard Sherman two plays later following a scramble.

“He was like, ‘Man. That guy Earl Thomas. Man. Oh my goodness. Where did y’all find him?’ ” Sherman said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. You got the first down. We’re not friends right now.’ But it was pretty hilarious.”

Outside of the blowout of Jacksonville, Thomas has missed one defensive snap. Sherman has missed three and strong safety Kam Chancellor has not missed a defensive snap all season.

They, along with Brandon Browner, are four concrete walls in the Seahawks’ foundation. Though, the building is not yet complete.

“We are so far away from playing the way that we are capable of playing,” Carroll said.

Which means Tate is not the only one excited.

SEAHAWKS GAMEDAY

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (0-7) AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (7-1)

1:05 p.m., CenturyLink Field

TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.

The series: Seattle and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have met 11 times, and the Seahawks lead the series 7-4. The last time the teams met, the Seahawks lost, 38-15, on Dec. 26, 2010, in Tampa, Fla.

What to watch: For all of its problems, Tampa Bay has a solid run defense. That starts in the middle with Gerald McCoy. “Gerald McCoy is as good a football player at his position as there is in the league,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “There is a lot of stuff that happens around him or with his activity that causes the offense problems in the run and pass. They’re a good run defense, they led the league in rushing defense a year ago, and they’re up there in top (seven) or something like that again; and we want to run the football, so it’s going to be us going against something that they do really well.” Last week, Marshawn Lynch carried just eight times. Carroll said that’s not acceptable and that the Seahawks will use Lynch more this week. On the flip side, the Seattle secondary will have plenty of chances against Tampa Bay. The Bucs will be using a backup rookie running back and will throw it 45 times a game. Rookie QB Mike Glennon has a low interception rate, 1.7 percent, despite throwing the ball so often.

The pick: Seahawks, 28-6.

PRIME NUMBERS

TAMPA BAY

NO. NAME, POS., HT., WT., YEAR

8 Mike Glennon, QB, 6-6, 225, first

The man who succeeded Russell Wilson at N.C. State throws it 45 times a game.

25 Mike James, RB, 5-10, 223, first

Starting running back Doug Martin is out, so James steps up.

54 Lavonte David, LB, 6-1, 233, second

David leads Tampa Bay with 60 tackles.

59 Mason Foster, LB, 6-1, 241, third

The former UW star is third on the team in tackles.

93 Gerald McCoy, DT, 6-4, 300, fourth

The core of the Bucs’ solid run defense.

SEATTLE

NO. NAME, POS., HT., WT., YEAR

15 Jermaine Kearse, WR, 6-1, 209, second

With Sidney Rice out for the year, Kearse’s first big opportunity comes Sunday.

24 Marshawn Lynch, RB, 5-11, 215, seventh

Everyone agreed Lynch’s eight carries from last week were not enough.

29 Earl Thomas, S, 5-10, 202, fourth

Lots of talk this week about Thomas being in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.

72 Michael Bennett, DE, 6-4, 274, fifth

Bennett, a former Buc, is among the many players to deride Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano.

80 Doug Baldwin, WR, 5-10, 189, third

Just two targets the past two weeks combined.

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.com

SEAHAWKS’ MIDSEASON REPORT CARD

Quarterback

In fairness to Russell Wilson, this should be a grade of “incomplete” at this stage. Wilson’s passer rating and completion percentage are down. His turnover rate is up, but assessing his play behind arguably the league’s worst offensive line is difficult. The fact that his numbers are close to last year’s, despite the woeful line, makes the argument he’s actually playing pretty well. He does need to stop fumbling, however.Grade: B-

Running back

Marshawn Lynch has been powerful and petulant. His reactions when not getting the ball at the goal line the past two weeks are understandable and unnecessary. Many of Lynch’s teammates think his emotions when not getting the ball come from the right place. So, there is no rift to worry about. Lynch is on pace to tie his 2011 season-high touchdown mark (12) and crack 1,000 yards rushing despite last Monday’s eight-carry abomination forced by an all-around bad offense. He’s also still an excellent blocker. Robert Turbin has not been as effective as a year ago, however, and the overall run game isn’t quite in sync. Grade: B-

Wide receivers

The impact from the loss of Sidney Rice may be felt more on the field than in statistics. Rice is similar to a 3-point shooter in basketball, someone whose presence creates space that allows other things to happen that they are not directly involved. No Rice means a substantial opportunity for Jermaine Kearse to prove he can be a steady receiving threat, not someone who excels on occasion. It also means more opportunity for Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate, the latter of which most of the passing game hinges on this season. Grade: C

Offensive line

The losses of Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini have turned this group into the Seahawks’ biggest problem. Both replacements at tackle, Paul McQuistan on the left and Michael Bowie on the right, have been run by, through and around each week. Bowie is a rookie who is realizing he doesn’t yet have the reaction time and foot speed to handle fast edge rushers in the NFL. McQuistan moved over from guard, and it hasn’t worked. Summing up last week’s game, offensive line coach Tom Cable said. “We got our tails kicked.” That’s happening far too often. Grade: D-

Defensive line

The offseason signings of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril have given the Seahawks line depth and rotation for other teams to envy. The Seahawks are eighth in the league in sacks but can improve against the run. After giving up 200 rushing yards to St. Louis on Monday night, the Seahawks are a middle-of-the-pack 15th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game. Grade: B

Linebackers

Pleasant surprise here. Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith have all proven to be solid linebackers. Bruce Irvin is the freak of the bunch, however. Still learning how to play the position, Irvin is such an athletic outlier his technique and understanding is less of a concern than with the average player. Coach Pete Carroll said Irvin has a defensive back’s athleticism in a defensive end’s body. Irvin is 6-foot-3, 248 pounds, long and swift. Nothing but potential there. Grade: B-

Secondary

Safety Earl Thomas now has people other than himself (and Richard Sherman) touting him as the best safety in the league. He’s intense even when sitting at his locker. Thomas rarely smiles and is almost surly in practice. Other than a blip from Brandon Browner when he had to be yanked from a game for a half, the secondary has been arguably the best in the league, as expected. Grade: A-

Special teams

Maybe the steadiest unit on the team. Kicker Steven Hauschka is 16-for-17 on the season, including going 9-for-9 on field goals 40 yards or longer. His lone miss was a costly block at Indianapolis. Punter Jon Ryan is averaging 43.9 yards a punt, which is 27th in the league. Kick coverage has been outstanding, from Jeremy Lane in particular. Grade: B

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.com
blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks

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