Kam Chancellor's loss is one of six spots where the Seahawks are weaker than the Super Bowl years.
RENTON, Wash. – These are not your Super Bowl Seahawks of three years ago. That’s just a fact.
It doesn’t mean Super Bowl LII is out of reach. It’s doesn’t mean they will lose a huge matchup Sunday night at home against the 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles.
However, in several key areas, they aren’t the team that played in back-to-back Super Bowls. Let’s take a closer look. Where are the stronger and where are they weaker for now?
Strong safety – Bradley McDougald has played well, but he isn’t the intimidating presence of Kam Chancellor, who is out for the rest of the season (and has an uncertain future) with a neck injury.
Cornerback -- Richard Sherman is done for the year after undergoing surgery for a ruptured Achilles tendon. No matter who the Seahawks put out there (Jeremy Lane at the moment) it isn’t Sherman, a future Hall of Famer.
Defensive end – Cliff Avril is out for the year after undergoing disk surgery in his neck. Avril’s future also is in doubt. The Seahawks have gotten solid play from Frank Clark and others in Avril’s spot, but they lack Avril’s ability to force fumbles and consistently disrupt things in the backfield.
Kicker – In order to save cap space, the Seahawks let Steven Hauschka leave and signed Blair Walsh. Not good. Walsh has made only 13 of 19 field-goal attempts outside the 30. He missed all three attempts in the 17-14 loss to the Redskins and missed a difficult 52-yard attempt that would have tied the game in the final seconds of a 34-31 loss to Atlanta.
Right guard – J.R. Sweezy, the college defensive linemen that Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable transformed into a quality NFL guard, started both Super Bowls before signing a 5-year, $32 million deal with Tampa Bay. Rookie Ethan Pocic has a bright future for the Seahawks, but he isn’t playing at Sweezy’s level yet. Neither was Oday Aboushi before he was hurt.
Running back – Not even close. The Seahawks haven’t found anyone who can give them the backfield presence that Marshawn Lynch gave them. That’s a lot to ask. The offense was built around Lynch and the power-running game. But the Seahawks running game is a disaster at the moment, except for quarterback Russell Wilson. He has 401 yards rushing, more than double any running back on the active roster.
Tight end – Jimmy Graham isn’t the blocker Zach Miller was in 2013, but he’s exactly what the Seahawks need in the red zone, especially near the goal line. Graham has dropped too many passes this season, but he has eight TD receptions in the last seven games by using his 6-7 frame to post-up on smaller cornerbacks.
Defensive tackle – Trading for Sheldon Richardson at the start of the season has been a huge plus for the Seattle defense. Richardson is a wrecking ball inside. He has 29 tackles, five quarterback hits, a sack and two fumble recoveries.
By this list, that’s six spots where the Seahawks are weaker than the Super Bowl years and two spots where they’re stronger.
You certainly could argue other spots. Is Duane Brown better than Russell Okung at left tackle? Is Germain Ifedi as good at right tackle as Bruno Giacomini was in 2013?
Are Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett as good as second and third receivers as the Seahawks were with Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse? Is outside linebacker Michael Wilhoite as good as Bruce Irvin or Malcolm Smith (the Super Bowl MVP in the victory over Denver)?
Those are gray areas and probably a wash.
However, there’s one other point to factor in. Wilson, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and receiver Doug Baldwin all are better than they were in the Super Bowl seasons because they have improved from experience.
Wilson is an MVP candidate and carrying the offense on his shoulders. Wagner could be the Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL. Baldwin is on pace for more than 80 receptions, the second best on his career to his 2015 Pro Bowl season.
That helps, but overall, the team appears weaker. This isn’t the Super Bowl Seahawks, but are they good enough to get back to the Super Bowl?
Sunday night’s game against the Eagles will go a long way toward answering that question.
One team is going to step up on Sunday night and prove it. One isn’t.
The Philadelphia Eagles are widely viewed as the best team in the NFL right now at 10-1, but the Eagles have played only two teams with a winning record and their opponents have an overall record of 48-73.
Are they as good as their record indicates? Can they win a prime-time showdown on the road at deafening CenturyLink Field, one of the toughest venues for any visiting team?
The Seattle Seahawks are 7-4 and generally regarded as a team whose better days are behind them. By the way, the combined record of Seattle’s opponents this season also is 48-73.
A victory over the Eagles would show the Seahawks remain serious Super Bowl contenders. The Eagles have won nine consecutive games. They outscored their opponents by 23 points or more in five of the last seven games, scoring more than 30 points in six of those games.
That’s impressive no matter who they played.
“They are a very good football team across the board,’’ said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “It’ll be a great test. They are high-flying and doing everything well. They're on it and they've found a rhythm.”
Just how good these two teams are will play itself out over the next few weeks. The Seahawks play the Jaguars in Jacksonville next week before and big NFC West showdown with the Los Angeles Rams in Seattle.
The Eagles remain on the West Coast next week to play the Rams, a game that pits impressive young quarterbacks, and the top two picks from the 2017 draft, against each other in Jared Goff of the Rams and Carson Wentz of the Eagles.
"He's making more plays and you can tell he has a better grip of the offense,'' Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said of Wentz. "He's making really good decisions."
Even if the Eagles split the two West Coast games, they would be in excellent position at 11-2.
The Seahawks need to get to the Rams game within one game of Los Angeles (8-3 at the moment) to have a good chance at winning the division. And the Seahawks have to get their without defensive stars Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman.
For now, it’s all about Sunday night in one of the best NFC matchups of the season. The Eagles believe this is their year and they can beat any team anywhere. The Seahawks believe they still have what it takes to beat the best.
So for both teams, just two words are needed: Prove it.
No Kam Chancellor, no Cliff Avril, no Richard Sherman. No problem as long as you have Bobby Wagner in the middle.
The Seahawks may not be the defense they once were with these three Pro Bowlers out, but Seattle’s middle linebacker proved once again why he is the best defensive player in the NFL.
With Wagner as its anchor, the defense was more than good enough against the lowly San Francisco 49ers in a 24-13 Seattle victory Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.
Wagner made the play of the day in the second quarter with an incredible takeaway interception in the middle of a tackle. It was a strange play few men could make.
“I don’t know how the heck it happened,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Wagner’s interception. “It was an extraordinary play. He’s a remarkable athlete.”
With the 49ers deep in their own territory, receiver Trent Taylor ran a quick turnaround from the slot and appeared to make the catch at the 16-yard-line. But Wagner was right there, somehow making the tackle with his right arm while grabbing the pass with his left as they fell to the turf.
“He didn’t have much control of it, so I just took it away,’’ Wagner said. “We felt like the offense needed a little bit of help and a turnover would be big for us. The offense scored right after that and we controlled the game from there.”
Russell Wilson scored two plays after Wagner’s pick on a 2-yard run to help awaken an offense that couldn’t do anything right in the first quarter. Wilson and the offense, as has been the case all season, awakened in the second and built a 24-6 lead.
The 49ers finally reached the end zone in the final seconds, long after Wagner had left the game. Wagner finished with eight tackles, giving him 100 tackles in all six of his NFL seasons.
“When I look back, I want to say I was very consistent and very productive,’’ Wagner said. “I feel like this is as well as I’ve played. I feel like I’m on it.”
On a team known for Pro Bowl defensive players, some of whom will make it to the Hall of Fame, Wagner sometimes is overlooked. But Wagner’s talent is easier to see and appreciate when so many of the other defensive stars are off the field.
He seemingly is everywhere, pressuring the quarterback, making stops at the line of scrimmage and covering receivers like a defensive back. His speed and his instincts enable him to be in the right place at the right time, assets which set him apart.
Four defensive starters were out with injuries for the Seahawks, leaving concerns about how this unit would hold up without them. Granted, the 1-10 49ers are not the toughest test, but as long as Wagner is on the field, the defense still can dominate.
The Seahawks now are 7-4 and have their toughest test of the season next weekend against the 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles at CenturyLink Field. Wagner will need another great game for the Seahawks to win it.
And it’s a prime-time game on Sunday night where Wagner can show the nation he deserves to be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
“Obviously, you have personal goals,’’ Wagner said Sunday on FOX13 Seattle. “If I take care of my business every single game, all that stuff will come.”
You probably have never heard of Ed Oliver, who just happens to be the best all-around athlete in college football.
If I had a Heisman vote, it would go to University of Houston defensive tackle. Oliver (6-3, 290) had a career-high 14 tackles vs. Navy Saturday. In his first two UH seasons, Oliver has 134 tackles, including 10.5 sacks, 36 tackles for loss, nine passes defensed and four forced fumbles.
These are outstanding numbers for any defensive player, but they are truly remarkable numbers for an interior defensive lineman, especially since Oliver is constantly double-teamed and has a played a good portion of this season with a knee injury.
It's time the Heisman voters to seriously consider defensive players, like Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick or Washington State defensive lineman Hercules Maata'afa.
There are other worthy candidate on defense, but no one comes close to the extraordinary skills and work ethic of Oliver.
SEATTLE – Nothing worse than faking yourself right out of first place.
The Seattle Seahawks failed on a fake field-goal attempt at the end of the first half, giving away three points that proved pivotal in a 34-31 loss to the Atlanta Falcons Monday night.
I’m all for trying to catch the defense off guard and run a few trick plays here and there, but this one just didn’t make much sense.
The Seahawks were down 24-17 near the end of the second quarter. Thanks to another example of Russell Wilson’s Houdini-like scrambling skills, Seattle drove to the Atlanta 17 in the final minute and had a fourth-and-1 with seven seconds left in the first half.
Take the three points and head to the locker room. Seattle coach Pete Carroll and his coaches had other ideas. The ball was snapped to holder Jon Ryan, who flipped a quick shovel pass to tight end Luke Willson crossing behind the linemen.
Huge mistake. Atlanta defensive tackle Grady Jarrett was all over it. He wasn’t fooled for a second. Jarrett burst through the line and tackled Willson for a 4-yard loss as soon as he got the ball.
What in the world were the Seahawks thinking? Even if Willson had managed to get the first down, they still would have needed to kick a field goal because only a few seconds were left.
The only way the fake made sense is if the Seahawks believed they could score a touchdown on a backfield shovel pass from 17 yards out. Yes, they did believe it.
“It was a 100 percenter going into it,” Willson said. “It was the look we were waiting for, something they had done all year. I don’t know why, but for this game they changed it up. It was a first-time thing for them, so obviously, and it didn't work [for the Seahawks].”
Carroll also thought it was close to a sure thing.
“We figured we were going to break it,’’ Carroll said. “It was a terrific opportunity right where we wanted it. We knew exactly what was going on. It was something we saw that we wanted to do, but the defensive tackle [Jarrett] made a better play. He wasn’t supposed to be there. It would’ve been a great call if we had made it.”
But was it worth the risk? The Seahawks would have been down 24-20 (assuming Blair Walsh made a 35-yard field goal), knowing they would get the ball to start the second half. That opening series of the third quarter resulted in a field goal.
So much was on the line in this game. The Seahawks fall to 6-4 and are outside looking in for the moment in the playoff hunt.
They could have taken control of the top spot in the NFC West, tying the Los Angeles Rams at 7-3, but having the advantage with a victory over the Rams earlier this season.
The Seahawks were playing a game for the first time in six years without both Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor on the field for the Legion of Boom.
Things got worse when starting cornerback Shaquill Griffin went down with a possible concussion on the first series. It forced Seattle to insert former Seahawk Byron Maxwell into the starting lineup after only being with the team for a few days.
Too many times the defense couldn’t get off the field on third down. Atlanta converted on eight of its first 10 third downs. And the Seahawks had over 100 yards in penalties (9 for 106 yards) for the fifth consecutive game.
They might have overcome all those issues had they just kicked the field goal instead of attempting a risky fake at the end of the half. Walsh was short of a 52-yard attempt at the end of the game to try to tie it.
The Seahawks still control their own destiny in the division with a game against the Rams at CenturyLink Field on Dec. 17. But it’s a tough road ahead, including Philadelphia at home and Jacksonville on the road.
Maybe the disastrous fake won’t matter down the stretch. However, if the Seahawks fail to make the playoffs, one flop of a fake field goal will be an ugly memory of what might have been.