At the midway point of the season, teams can look ahead at the schedule, and at the records of the opponents, and maybe at their stats to evaluate their prospects.
For the Seattle Seahawks, it’s more important to read their own X-rays and MRIs. Because those could be the best predictor of how the Seahawks will finish this season.
The second half features five NFC West Division games — two against rival San Francisco, two against the division-leading Arizona Cardinals (7-1), and another one against St. Louis, a team that beat them once already this season.
Toss in a road game at Philadelphia (6-2) and another at Kansas City (5-3), and it makes Sunday’s game at home against the New York Giants seem like the least challenging until next exhibition season.
But, as coach Pete Carroll reminded everybody Monday, the heavy slate of division competition means the 5-3 Seahawks have made it halfway with all possibilities still intact.
“I think we’re making progress,” Carroll said. “We’ve survived some really hard games and we’ve won some really hard games — we’re battle-tested, we’re ready to go.”
A term better than “battle- tested” might be “battle-scarred.”
They played parts of Sunday’s Oakland game missing eight injured starters.
Carroll said at one point Monday that some of the mistakes that were made against the Raiders, particularly on special teams, were characteristic of exhibition games.
Well, no kidding. A significant portion of the guys in action were players who were still fighting for jobs in those exhibition games.
Every team in the league has injuries. But if you look at the depth chart going into the first game against Green Bay, eight of the players listed as starters for that game missed all or much of Sunday’s game because of injury (Russell Okung, James Carpenter, Max Unger, Zach Miller, Derrick Coleman, Bobby Wagner, Byron Maxwell and Kam Chancellor). A ninth, Percy Harvin, was traded.
No wonder this team isn’t playing like the Super Bowl champs. It’s a different group of guys.
Carroll tried to look at the bright side of that.
“The fact that we can make this turn (at the midpoint) with young guys ready to play and some guys coming back to their health, and we’ll get a second wave of that, as well, I’m feeling pretty good about our chances to go out and win this game this week,” he said.
The experience gained by some of these depth-chart guys could benefit the team as the season goes on, then?
“If they’re still here with us, ready to go, and on the 46 (active roster) … ,” Carroll said.
Yes, good point. Some of these lads may be on to other pursuits when the regulars return to health.
As it stands, Carroll is looking at the likelihood of starters Chancellor, Okung and Unger being back this week, along with backups Jeron Johnson and Jordan Hill. Wagner and Miller might be in that “second wave” he referenced back in action a few weeks later.
The Oakland game was the first time Carroll could recall that he didn’t have enough healthy players to fill the 46-man game-day roster. Chancellor and Unger were in uniform and active, but only to be used in desperate circumstances.
With all that going on, the Seahawks still lead the NFL in rush-average offense and rush-average defense, and are in the top five in five other key defensive rankings.
But when talking about the offense, Carroll used the word “survive.” Ah, what low thresholds for evaluation they’ve reached. They got through the first half of the season with their quarterback still vertical and taking on nourishment. Cause for celebration.
And now, they get a home game against a New York Giants team they beat last season, 23-0. After that? A gauntlet.
For the past several years, the NFL schedule has skewed division matchups toward the second half. This year, it might help the Seahawks get healthy by the time the games are most important.
“That’s great,” Carroll said. “I really like the scheduling. … It really adds to the build-up at the finish for everybody. It also leaves everything out there as late as possible, which is great for us, in our particular situation.”
Surely, Carroll is inclined to prefer the look ahead, where the hope is to do more than just survive.