So they wanted to be Super Bowl champions, eh?
The afterglow is way over. Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal — seemingly every outlet except Better Home and Gardens — have explored what is wrong with the Seahawks. TSN of Canada even came down south during hockey season to Seattle’s headquarters Wednesday to report on the suddenly middling champs being 3-3.
Let’s see, there’s been:
The trade of their highest-paid player, Percy Harvin, as the rest of the Seahawks were getting on the buses for last week’s trip to St. Louis.
The insubordination and refusal to re-enter games that got the $11 million wide receiver around which the offense was revolving sent off to the New York Jets.
The locker-room fights, at least two of which involved Harvin since February’s Super Bowl week.
Even unsubstantiated reports of internal factions for and against quarterback Russell Wilson.
Bring it on, the Seahawks say. They’ve talked about it, all of it. This test at Carolina (3-3-1) will show how well they’ve been able to meet it head on.
It’s high time for a Seahawks’ revival on a Sunday morning here in the nation’s Bible Belt.
“Without a question, we have, we’ve talked about that for a long time. And really we’re not surprised by whatever the perspective is that comes our way.” coach Pete Carroll said before the trip here that was far less eventful than the team’s to St. Louis last weekend. “People are trying to figure stuff out in all ways, whether we’re winning every game or not. That just comes along with it.
“We have hopefully embraced that in a sense and we’re not surprised by it. It’s not as comfortable sometimes when the topics come up. The media can come up with whatever they want to in terms of asking questions and challenging. And they’re going to scrutinize us highly. We expect that.”
But can they play through that?
They fell behind 21-3 early last weekend. That was the reason for the 28-26 loss to the previously one-win Rams, despite Wilson becoming the first NFL player to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 in a game.
Now they get the sputtering Panthers, for the third consecutive regular-season in a 10 a.m. road game. They have allowed 37 or more points in four of their last five games.
“Our problems,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday, almost deadpanning, “are on the defensive side right now.”
Rivera points to the suspension of standout end Greg Hardy as a key reason for one of the NFL’s most rugged defenses a year ago getting ransacked so far this season. The numbers might have been enough to leave Wilson, who says he gets 12 hours of sleep on Saturdays before games after scant sleep all week, unable to sleep Saturday in anticipation of what he may do with his arm and legs against the Panthers.
Carolina is 26th in the league against the run (137.6 yards rushing allowed per game), dead last in yards allowed per carry (5.3), 29th in pass defense (250.7 yards allowed) and 30th in percentage of passes completed against (70 percent). All of that is why the Panthers are 30th in the NFL in third-down conversions allowed, 48.4 percent.
Wilson is the reason Seattle is second in the NFL in rushing at 153.3 yards per game. The third-year quarterback, 27-11 in his career as a starter (still the most wins in NFL history over a quarterback’s first 38 games), has two 100-yard rushing games in his last three starts. Those are the best two rushing days a Seattle quarterback has ever had.
“I don’t think that there is any added pressure,” Wilson said of being 3-3. “I just know that every week for us it truly is a championship mentality. I think we haven’t played our best football. We’ve played some good football and we’ve played some great football against some great teams — you think about the Packers, you think about the Broncos.
“There are so many great things that we’re doing. There are a few things that we need to fix. That’s the part that we lean on, that’s the part that we practice for. That’s where we believe that we’re going to step up and make the plays when we need to.”
Expect some of those plays to be Seattle trying to establish Marshawn Lynch’s running early to set up Wilson’s play-action passing, as they did with sporadic success last week in play-caller Darrell Bevell’s first game not feeding the ball to Harvin. Doing that would slow down Carolina’s pass rush. The Panthers’ 15 sacks this season is only 16th-most in the league. But the Seahawks’ sieve-like offensive line, with rookie Justin Britt at right tackle and Stephen Schilling in his third consecutive and career start at center for injured Max Unger, has been making opposing defensive fronts look like Steel Curtains lately.
That and 51 penalties in six games are why the Seahawks’ offense is only converting 40 percent of its third downs. Last week Seattle improved to 4-for-5 on third downs in the second half against the Rams, and almost pulled off the comeback win.
On defense, Carroll declared Monday that this week’s priority was to improve the pass rush. It has just seven sacks this season, including four in the last five games. Only winless Oakland and 2-4 St. Louis have fewer than Seattle’s seven sacks.
Last season at this time the Seahawks defense had 20 on its way to 44 sacks that tied for eighth-most in the league last season.
The changes are likely to include rotating out more of ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. They have been playing far more than they did last season when Seattle’s defensive front dominated late in games because it was fresh and flying. That may mean outside linebacker Bruce Irvin plays more at rush end and perhaps the most extensive playing time this season for speedy rookie Kevin Pierre-Louis at outside linebacker.
Look for Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to call far more blitzing from linebackers and from safeties Earl Thomas and/or Kam Chancellor than they have in the last two seasons. Quinn said that up to now, Seattle has blitzed at roughly the same rate as last season — which is to say, not much. Last year Seattle blitzed only 21.3 percent of the time, the fifth-lowest rate in the league.
On Sunday, Bennett, Avril, Irvin and friends will be trying to revive against a Panthers offensive line that because of injuries will be starting four undrafted free agents around Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil. Conditions seemingly haven’t been more favorable for Seattle to get its pass rush going this season.
Ah, but Carolina has Cam Newton.
“No question. He’s a heck of an athlete,” said Avril, whose 38 sacks since 2010 are fifth-most in the league. “Even though he’s banged up we have to respect his ability to run.”
Quarterbacks have had more time this fall against Seattle to make better decisions and better throws. The result is the defense that had a league-high 28 interceptions last season has just two now; only the Jets have picked off fewer. And in the relatively few times the defensive front has gotten to a quarterback, the Seahawks often haven’t put him down.
That would be a huge problem against Newton. He is Carolina’s leading rusher with 190 yards, though the dynamic quarterback admits he isn’t completely healthy.
“I’m trying to get healthier by the day,” Newton said.
The Seahawks who will be chasing him Sunday are trying to do the same thing.