RENTON — The midway point of the NFL season, according to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, is “the beginning of the finish.”
Historians will note that he sounds like Winston Churchill claiming that the Battle of Britain was “the end of the beginning” of World War II.
Those who pay attention to contemporary Seahawks fortunes, meanwhile, will note that Carroll’s second-half history is impressive, as well as indicative of the staff’s ability to shift directions in midstream.
In 2012, his Seahawks went 7-1 in the second half, and in 2011 turned around a 2-6 start with a 5-3 finish.
The Seahawks start their finish today at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and in the case of this season, it will be hard to improve on their 7-1 first-half record.
The schedule works in their favor, though, as five of the eight remaining games are at home, where they haven’t lost since the 2011 season, and opponents the rest of the way have combined for a meager 24-36 record.
Carroll this week pointed out that his team has not played near its potential thus far, despite having the best record in the NFC.
The most damaging weakness, inconsistent protection that has led to quarterback Russell Wilson being sacked 27 times, should be addressed soon as injured starting tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini will return to practice next week.
And the addition of receiver Percy Harvin, out all season after a hip injury, is pending but at least
expected before the Hawks’ critical run of five games in December.
“We constantly talk about always competing and always finishing,” tight end Zach Miller said. “It’s huge here, and I think what sets a team apart is being able to finish off and win those close games. It’s a matter of improving and growing as a team, wanting to become the best possible team when it matters the most.”
All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman gives much of the credit to Carroll’s approach. “He manages the work load really well,” Sherman said. “He designs it to take the load off you during the week, and everything is about finish, finish, finish. When you focus on making every game important, going 1-0 each week, it keeps your mindset right. Pete does a great job of training everybody’s mind toward that.”
Veteran fullback Mike Robinson raised a point that should be obvious, the Seahawks have one of the youngest rosters in the league.
“On a young team, the guys’ bodies are able to hold up better in the second half,” he said. “Pete does a great job of saving our legs and making sure we’re fresh come Sunday. You can’t keep banging during the week all season and expect to hold up at the end.”
There have been critical strategic shifts, too. In the previous two seasons, the tidal changes at midseason revolved around the running game. In 2011, after a Nov. 6 loss at Dallas, the Seahawks committed to saddling up Marshawn Lynch and focusing heavily on the rushing attack.
Since then, he has the most rushing yards and rushing TDs in the NFL (3,132 yards, 26 TDs).
At this point last season, the offense added the read-option wrinkle that exploited the double threat of either Lynch taking the ball or Wilson taking off on keepers.
It led to a string of offensive outbursts highlighted by a three-game streak in which they scored 150 points.
Carroll hinted strongly that the rushing attack featuring Lynch will have a renewed focus, as inconsistencies there have led to frustration.
“We’re constantly changing what we do,” Miller explained. “Our offense has been something that’s fluid and adapting to different defenses or what we’re doing with different personnel and what we need to exploit to be more effective.”
Pushing hard to the finish line, these players stressed, is also a function of desire and mental toughness.
“Mental toughness is a big part of it,” Robinson said. “And that’s a tribute to the type of guys they bring into this locker room.”