They lost to Case Keenum — uh, who? — despite not allowing a touchdown.
They tied Carson Palmer, brilliant last season but brittle for a decade before, while not allowing TD then, either.
What will the Seahawks allow All-World passer Drew Brees?
They aren’t as worried about Brees as they are in what is the better question for Sunday’s game here at the Superdome: What will Seattle’s offense do, for a change?
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“Our guys can play,” defensive coordinator Kris Richard said.
The Seahawks are the first defense in more than 60 years to finish atop the NFL in points allowed for four consecutive seasons. Currently, Seattle is tied for first with the Minnesota Vikings having allowed only 84 points seven weeks into this season.
This past week, much of the attention around Seattle was on how the defense will recover from playing 95 snaps without allowing a touchdown last Sunday night. The drained Seahawks defenders needed IVs to replenish a loss of fluids, then returned home the following Monday at 3 a.m., only to fly to New Orleans four days later for a 10 a.m. (PDT) kickoff Sunday against Brees and the Saints’ top-ranked passing offense.
Then Friday the Seahawks declared Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett and four-time Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor would not play against the Saints. Bennett may be out multiple weeks, at least, and there is “a possibility,” coach Pete Carroll said Friday, that Bennett has knee surgery.
Chancellor is missing his third consecutive game with a groin pull that is “substantial,” Carroll said.
Richard scoffed at fatigue or injuries being a factor here.
“These guys are professionals,” the second-year defensive coordinator said. “There’s no doubt that these guys will be rested and they’ll be ready to play.”
But, again, will the offense?
The Seahawks have had two complete games in which they’ve failed to score a touchdown. Those are the only two blemishes on their season record so far: that loss to Keenum and the Rams, 9-3, on Sept. 18 in Los Angeles; and last weekend’s zany, 6-6 tie through a full overtime period at Palmer’s Arizona Cardinals.
Seattle came within seconds of going a third game without a touchdown when Russell Wilson’s scoring pass to Doug Baldwin with 31 seconds to go in the opener last month beat the Miami Dolphins, 12-10.
“It’s something that we have to do. I can’t just sit here and talk about it,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “I can tell you what we’re thinking, but we have to get it done.
“The proof is out there on the field. And we have to get it done, out there.”
If they can’t get it done against the Saints ...
Wilson has a right-pectoral muscle injury to go with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He hasn’t been able to run with much of his normal, breakaway speed that allows him to master read-option runs and make defenses devote spy players specifically to him.
Lead back Thomas Rawls has made just one start, and in that start played just two quarters before he cracked his fibula in Week 2 against the Rams. He won’t return until some time next month. That’s left Christine Michael, traded and cut twice last year, as the lone running threat and he’s showing the wear after 97 carries — 75 more than the next player on the team, the barely-running Wilson.
Seattle’s running game has sunk to 27th in the league at not even 83 yards per game.
While Seattle’s sacks allowed are way down from last season, both of Wilson’s leg injuries and this latest pectoral injury last weekend came from sacks off the edges. On Sunday, Wilson’s most important protector, on his blindside at left tackle, is likely to be an undrafted rookie college basketball player making his NFL debut. George Fant is in line to start for Bradley Sowell, who sprained his knee at Arizona.
Fant’s previous football start? For the Lincoln Heights Tigers in Cincinnati. In Pee Wee league.
But — hallelujah! — the Saints’ defense he’ll be blocking is one of the worst in the free world.
New Orleans’ defense is last in the league in points allowed per game (32.5) and first downs allowed per game (24.3), third to last in passing yards surrendered per game (287.0) and fourth to last in overall yards allowed per game (403.8).
This isn’t an anomaly. This is becoming as dependable each year here as Mardi Gras.
In 2012, the Saints’ defense set an NFL record for yards allowed in a season: 7,042. For perspective, the Seahawks allowed 4,668 yards last season, which led the NFC and was second in the NFL in total defense.
In 2014, the Saints were second to last in total defense and allowed 384.0 yards per game.
Last season, New Orleans finished dead last in yards allowed per pass play and yards allowed per rush. That’s hard to do. So is allowing a combined opponent passer rating of 116.2. That’s 12 points higher than Aaron Rodgers’ league record for individual passer rating in a season. The Saints allowed 45 touchdown passes in 2015. That broke the league record of 40 set by Denver 52 years earlier.
So, if the Seahawks can’t get well on offense this week, no matter how beat up they are — with tight end Jimmy Graham pumped for his return to New Orleans and the team that drafted him and made him a star — they are in trouble when Buffalo comes to Seattle next week, and when the Seahawks go to New England the week after.
“We have to play better,” Wilson said. “It comes down to making plays and doing our job. We can all get better. It starts with me there.”
Even while playing through three different injuries, Wilson has 1,559 passing yards through six games. He’s on pace for 4,157 yards through the air. That would break the franchise record of 4,024 he set last season.
But last season, and the three before that, he had a pounding running game supporting him and the offense scored in bunches.
Last week, Seattle gained 52 yards rushing on just 19 carries, as Arizona dominated the ball with a roughly 46-minute to 29-minute edge in time of possession.
The game before that, the Seahawks’ 26-24 rally past Atlanta, Seattle had the same meager yards per carry as against the Cardinals, 2.7 (72 yards on 27 carries). In the Oct. 2 win at the Jets it was 2.5 yards per rush, but Wilson rescued the offense with 309 passing yards and three touchdowns.
“We just didn’t run the ball as much as we should have in a game when we weren’t making our third down conversions,” Carroll said of last week’s tie at Arizona.
“It’s disappointing that we are on the same topic here again.”
Of course, it wouldn’t take more than a click of a button on his headset for Carroll to strongly suggest to Bevell during the game that he should call more runs. It’s not like Carroll, a former defensive back then defensive coordinator before becoming a head coach, stays completely out of Bevell’s offense.
The reason the Seahawks went to a pass on the fateful play from the 1-yard line in Super Bowl 49, the pass New England’s Malcolm Butler intercepted, on second down instead of handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch was because Carroll decided to do that in the name of clock management. Carroll also noticed the Patriots went to a “heavy” defensive set of linemen geared to stop the run.
Bevell says he’s not going to keep calling run plays that are only gaining 2 yards, just so he runs the ball more. To him, the bigger issue is converting third downs. The Seahawks were just 3 of 14 on third downs at Arizona, and 11 of 38 (29 percent) in third-down conversions over their past three games.
Because of the malfunctioning run game, even 3rd-and-1 has been an issue. Seattle has converted only four of eight 3rd-and-1 plays with a run. The Seahawks are 4 for 4 when they’ve passed.
“That’s the challenge, regardless of how it goes, if we’re going three and out, it doesn’t matter,” Bevell said. “If it’s two runs, two passes, a pass and a run, you really can’t get any plays.
“But sometimes you just have to call (run plays).”
Not on Sunday. Not with the Saints’ come-one-come-all pass defense almost begging Wilson, Baldwin, Graham and friends to pass and catch all over the Superdome.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (4-1-1) AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (2-4)
Sunday, 10 a.m., Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: This is the 13th regular-season meeting and each team has won six apiece. The Seahawks have won the two postseason matchups, the “Beast Quake” game in Seattle on Jan. 8, 2011, and the last time the Saints made the playoffs on Jan. 11, 2013, at CenturyLink Field. This is the first time the Seahawks have played at New Orleans since Nov. 21, 2010. That’s also the last time Saints beat Seattle. Drew Brees threw two interceptions but for 382 yards and four touchdowns to beat Matt Hasselbeck’s 32-for-44, 366-yard passing day, 34-19.
Line: Seahawks by 2.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Affect Brees like few do: What makes the 37-year-old QB in his 16th season still so brilliant after nine Pro Bowls, being the 2009 Super Bowl MV and a two-time NFL offensive player of the year is how quickly and accurately he gets the ball out. And to a dizzying array of receivers; a dozen Saints have multiple receptions this season. Brees usually gets the ball out in less than 2 seconds. The Seahawks have been best with ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril plus increasingly blitzing middle linebacker Bobby Wagner blowing through the line and pressuring quarterbacks into distressed throws if not sacks. Few can do that to Brees. Can Seattle do it with Bennett not playing and possibly facing knee surgery?
Do what everyone else does down here: That is, score. Often. The Saints again have one of the worst defenses in organized football. Five of their six foes this season have scored at least 27 points. Atlanta put up 45 on them. The Saints’ nine sacks are second-fewest in the league. They are 30th in pass defense. Even likely behind an undrafted rookie college basketball player debuting at left tackle, if Wilson can throw one pass with his sore pectoral muscle he may throw 35. Or more. Nothing has healed people and offense in the NFL like throwing against New Orleans.
Start early: And not just because it’s a 10 a.m. Seattle start time. The Seahawks’ defense intends to prove there are fine and its usual, dominant unit one week after 95 plays at Arizona. A quick start Sunday — on both defense and offense — will keep the often-rocking Superdome muted and the doubting Saints, feeling in danger of slipping to distress at 2-5, from hope.
The pick: This may not be the day the running game gets better like it needs to for later in the schedule. The Seahawks doesn’t need it to be, not with this Saints pass defense that Wilson is going to shred. Seahawks 31, Saints 13.
3 — Russell Wilson, QB (5-11, 215, fifth season): Playing on after three injuries in six games. Nothing gets a QB healthy like facing the Saints.
35 — DeShawn Shead, CB (6-2, 212, fifth season): Brees is no Ryan Fitzpatrick. He’s not going to test Richard Sherman a lot. So it’s Shead’s time. Again.
88 — Jimmy Graham, TE (6-7, 265, seventh season): 23 catches in his last 4 games is his best Seattle stretch — just in time for his big return to New Orleans.
9 — Drew Brees, QB (6-0, 205, 16th season): One of the best to ever do it. Russell Wilson calls him a good friend. He is the Saints’ best hope vs. Seattle’s defense.
29 — John Kuhn, FB (6-0, 240, 10th season): Not the typical fullback. Brees throws to him out wide and in the slot. Seattle’s Wagner is well aware.
60 — Max Unger, C (6-5, 305, eighth season): Saints coach says the man Seattle traded for Graham smartly manages protections for Brees. Sounds familiar.
Gregg Bell: firstname.lastname@example.org; @gbellseattle