The meeting with the Carolina Panthers will show whether the Seattle Seahawks have solved their problems with rushing the passer and protecting their own, or with forcing takeaways and defending special-teams gimmicks.
But the bet here is that they will at least enter this game with clearer heads, better focus and greater motivation to beat Carolina than they showed last week when an unsettling run-up to the game likely contributed to a loss to the St. Louis Rams.
This team has spent a week being questioned about the near past, and has to be dying to change the topic.
The possibility of dropping below .500 makes this game one of the biggest challenges for coach Pete Carroll and his staff since back when they were still developing their identity early in the 2011 season.
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Backs against the wall before Halloween? If you’re counting on somehow earning some home games in the postseason, yeah, it’s that time.
Get a win against Carolina (3-3-1), and it’s easy to picture the Seahawks bouncing back from a middling 3-3 onto the edge of contention at 7-3 with consecutive games against Oakland, the New York Giants and Kansas City — teams with six wins among them right now.
With the momentum gained in the process, along with the expected return of injured standouts, they still would have five NFC West Division games remaining to determine their postseason fate.
A win today buys time, then, to address many of these problems.
Carroll made it clear this week that it’s time to aggressively alter the approach toward the pass rush, a weakness that has contributed to the lack of takeaways. Shoring up inadequate protection for quarterback Russell Wilson will be another of today’s goals.
But the mindsets? They have to be so much better than their distracted state in the immediate aftermath of the abrupt trade of disgruntled receiver Percy Harvin.
Don’t they have to find renewed unity in the knowledge that all 46 active players are going to want to be on the field?
Surely more troublesome than Harvin’s reported scrapes with teammates was his unwillingness to go back on the field against Dallas in the late going of a game the Hawks lost. Apparently, he was healthy, just disinclined to contribute.
I can guarantee you there were players on the field playing in pain. Tackle Russell Okung has an injured shoulder and safety Kam Chancellor has been dealing with sore hips and ankles and who knows what else.
And there are others. All those guys, in the crucial moment of the game, hear that the highest-paid receiver decided he didn’t want to come into the game because he’s unhappy about something?
Being grumpy in the locker room, even combative, might be countered by Harvin’s extraordinary physical gifts.
But when the guy who is able to assure a victory with a single touch of the football removes himself from action, it’s an inexcusable act of disrespect to every other player who is out there dealing with pain and exhaustion.
That source of negativity has been excised. A weight has been lifted.
But then, Wilson had to face questions in response to the story in an online publication that some of his African-American teammates think that he “isn’t black enough.” The writer said the claim was supported by “several interviews with Seahawks players.”
You can’t put 53 humans in a competitive environment and expect them all to get along or like every one of the others.
But here’s what players most want in a teammate: Somebody who can help them win games. No one on the team has been as instrumental in that regard as Wilson.
I am helpless to offer the perspective of an African-American in the NFL. There are shoes in which I haven’t walked and can never fully understand.
But here’s something else that I strongly suspect. Growing up in the mid-South, Russell Wilson was likely “black enough” to at times hear derogatory words shouted or otherwise cast in his direction. For someone to question the impact of his experience as a minority is insulting.
Wilson said this week that he doesn’t watch cable sports networks or read newspaper coverage. But you can be sure he’s heard all about it.
So, the Seahawks have put a great deal of nonsense behind them this week, and have to be as eager as anybody in the league to let their play answer all the questions for a few hours.