Seattle Seahawks

Finish: Far more than a mantra for Seahawks. Now, it’s a must

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton scores a touchdown last week, as Cincinnati rallied from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Seahawks in overtime.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton scores a touchdown last week, as Cincinnati rallied from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Seahawks in overtime. The Associated Press

The motivational signs are in white, type-cast lettering with blue backgrounds throughout team headquarters.

The motivational words are bouncing off the walls holding those signs right now.

There have been so many Seahawks talking about their need to “FINISH!” in the wake of last weekend’s blown-at-the-end loss at Cincinnati, we don’t even know where to start.

How about here: Seattle has lost leads in the fourth quarter in five of its last seven games, dating to January’s NFC Championship Game.

Or that in their last four games, the Seahawks have been outscored 35-6 in the final period.

Coach Pete Carroll’s mantra has become a mandate to turn around the two-time defending NFC champions’ season. Starting now, with Sunday’s 1:05 p.m. test against undefeated Carolina at CenturyLink Field.

“Finishing is just doing it right for a longer time than the other guy is willing to,” said Tom Cable, the Seahawks line coach.

If the 2-3 Seahawks don’t “finish” this weekend, they may be finished.

A victory at home against the Panthers (4-0), whom Seattle has beaten all four times they’ve met within the last three years, including 31-17 in Seattle in January’s divisional-playoff round, could get the Seahawks back to within a game of the division lead. That depends on how leader Arizona (4-1) fares playing at Pittsburgh (3-2) earlier Sunday.

Such a day would spark more talk that the Seahawks could be on their way to a revival like last season’s. The 2014 team began 3-3, then won 11 of its next 12 to get into its second consecutive Super Bowl.

Two problems with that right now.

This Seahawks team has a remade offensive line that’s been so ineffective that it has sabotaged much of the team’s overall effectiveness. And any consistency.

This isn’t last year.

“People say, ‘Oh, it’s like last year.’ No!” Cable just about spat out.

“This is this year. This is different. This is a different team with different players. You have to reteach finishing.”

That’s how the Seahawks have spent the past week since they blew a 17-point lead in the overtime loss at Cincinnati, the largest lead squandered in a loss for Seattle in 11 years. Reteaching fundamentals and focus.

“It’s right back to the drawing board,” coordinator Kris Richard said of his defense, which has been anything but its top-ranked self from the previous two seasons.

Fundamentals such as staying “over the top,” deeper than the receiver, on passes down the field, such as the ones on which the Bengals burned Seattle. Carolina has a featured tight end, Greg Olsen, to whom quarterback Cam Newton throws to deep over the middle much like Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton threw deep behind Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor and in front of free safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Cary Williams for two touchdowns last weekend.

“I’m sure they’re going to take a look at the tape and try to feature (Olsen) in some of the same areas in the football field,” Richard said of the Panthers. “Our whole deal is to make sure that we prepare for those situations.

“Yeah, it’s a copycat league, and they’ve got a guy who is just as capable as the tight end was last week. So we just need to be aware of when they get in those particular areas on the field, to be prepared for the same concepts.”

Up front, Seattle must be disciplined in each man’s assigned areas to keep Carolina’s Newton, a running threat, from getting outside.

Newton is completing only 55 percent of his passes this season, but he is carrying the ball on average 11 times per game, which is on pace for his career high. Seattle ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and outside linebacker Bruce Irvin will need to resist urges to knife inside in order to defend Newton’s end dashes.

Bennett, in particular, needs to be more disciplined than he was last weekend. He spent Thomas’ return of Seattle’s first interception this season by pounding Dalton excessively and unnecessarily to the ground. The 15-yard foul negated most of Thomas’ 61-yard return and cost the Seahawks a realistic chance for a touchdown at the end of the first half.

“We need to be smart — is ultimately what it comes down to,” Richard said. “That’s a characteristic of our football team, is playing smart and being smart. Those are hidden yards in a game to where ultimately it could have cost us points. So we need to be intelligent in those situations right there.”

Thomas brought up the issue of focus on Thursday when he spoke candidly of his game at Cincinnati. The All-Pro free safety missed two tackles in the open field while the Bengals rolled up 152 yards in the first quarter.

“I learned firsthand last game. I didn’t give a chance because I was playing a little timid, because I wasn’t fully prepared,” Thomas said. “So I think just the discipline and everything, we’re all connected and we need to keep going in that facet.”

We haven’t even gotten to the Seahawks getting star running back Marshawn Lynch back Sunday from a strained hamstring for the first time in three weeks. Or the latest, weekly crisis of tight end Jimmy Graham (three catches at Cincinnati, none after halftime) not being involved enough in the offense. Or Wilson getting sacked 22 times (tied for most in the NFL) and pressured on 46 percent of his drop backs (most often in the league).

The Seahawks are busy looking within to try to turn this season around — yes, just as they did this time last season.

“We’re struggling to find our best again,” No. 1 wide receiver Doug Baldwin said.

“And we’ll get there.”

SEAHAWKS GAMEDAY

CAROLINA PANTHERS (4-0) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (2-3)

1:05 p.m. Sunday, CenturyLink Field

TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM, 1030-AM.

The series: Seattle leads the series 5-2, and is 2-0 against the Panthers in the postseason. That includes the most recent meeting, the Seahawks’ 31-17 win in the divisional playoffs in January. This is the fifth meeting since 2012. The Seahawks have played Carolina more than any other nondivision team in that span. The last three regular-season matchups have been slogs: 16-12, 12-7 and 13-9 wins for Seattle. The Panthers have not won in four games — two in the playoffs — in Seattle.

SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY

Finish! It’s all the Seahawks have been saying since the postgame locker room last weekend in Ohio. LB K.J. Wright suggested that complacency and a “we got this” mindset may have doomed Seattle in recent games. If the Seahawks have a lead in the fourth quarter and add on, all the meetings and coaches and soul-searching this week will have been worth it. If not … the Seahawks may end up 2-4.

Live and learn: You can bet all the leaves along Tobacco Road that Carolina will do with tight end Greg Olsen what Cincinnati did last week with tight end Tyler Eifert: Send him down the middle of the field on combination routes, with wide receivers running diversions short in front of safety Kam Chancellor. Defensive coordinator Kris Richard all but admitted the Bengals beat his coverage schemes on those routes and vowed to fix the flaws, perhaps with Seattle’s cornerbacks not having so much deep inside responsibility. The Panthers and Cam Newton will test the Seahawks’ learning on this.

Job sharing: It’s a quandary that Seattle’s never had in the six seasons with Marshawn Lynch — but has now with Lynch returning from two missed games (hamstring): How to give his backup opportunities? After two 100-yard rushing days while Lynch was out, Thomas Rawls has earned more than token appearances in the backfield spelling the starter. Not that this needs to be a 50-50 split, but the Seahawks should give Rawls 10 or so carries to keep his momentum and motivation going. If Lynch gets, say, 18 or more on top of that, Seattle is winning..

THE PICK

Seahawks, 16-9. No one is going to call a game in mid-October a must-win. But this is as close to one that a two-time defending conference champion can have. The defense carries the team — yet again — in another low-scoring slog with the Panthers.

 

PRIME NUMBERS

 

CAROLINA

No.

Name

Pos.

Ht.

Wt.

Year

1

Cam Newton

QB

6-5

245

fifth

He’s running more than he ever has. That might be his way to finally beat

Seattle (he’s 0-3 in his career).

24

Josh Norman

CB

6-0

195

fourth

NFC’s defensive player of month for September, then had two interceptions in

first game of October. Has four interceptions — two returned for TDs.

88

Greg Olsen

TE

6-5

253

ninth

Will attempt to do what Bengals TE Tyler Eifert did last week: Burn Seattle deep

down the middle.

SEATTLE

No.

Name

Pos.

Ht.

Wt.

Year

15

Jermaine Kearse

WR

6-1

209

fourth

Scores a TD almost every time he plays Carolina, which has been often lately.

Look for him to do it again.

31

Kam Chancellor

SS

6-3

232

sixth

He’s ticked at what Cincinnati did to him with its tight end. Carolina will try to

do the same with Olsen.

72

Michael Bennett

DE

6-4

274

seventh

Owes his team one — or three — after flagged for mauling Bengals QB Andy Dalton

last week. Must keep Newton from getting outside the pocket.

gregg.bell@thenewstribune.com

SUNDAY: Carolina (4-0) at Seattle (2-3), 1:05 p.m. Ch. 13, 710-AM,

97.3-FM, 1030-AM

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