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Monday metatarsal musings
The Seahawks who play at CenturyLink Field have beaten the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings, favored foes who have combined for a 21-12 record. The Seahawks who play anywhere besides CenturyLink Field have lost to the Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions and, on Sunday, the Miami Dolphins, underdogs and underachievers who are a combined 13-20.
What gives? For starters, it’s the defense giving up too many points and too much yardage in the fourth quarter on the road.
In the season opener in Arizona, after the Seahawks had taken a 16-13 lead early in the fourth quarter on a Steven Hauschka field goal, the Cardinals drove 80 yards in 11 plays for a game-winning touchdown with five minutes to play. In the Week 8 loss in Detroit, after the Seahawks took a 24-21 lead on Zach Miller’s phenomenal catch of a 16-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson with 5½ to play, the Lions drove 80 yards in 16 plays for a game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds to play. Sunday, after Leon Washington’s 98-yard kickoff return gave the Seahawks a 21-14 lead midway through the final quarter, the Dolphins drove 80 yards in six plays to a game-tying TD and then 65 yards in seven plays to a game-winning field goal as time expired.
And the Seahawks still emerged from allowing the Dolphins to roll up 435 yards as the No. 5-ranked defense in the league.
Sunday, however, there was so much more involved in the Seahawks’ fifth loss in six road games.
The running game that has carried the offense for much of the season had no answer for what the Dolphins were doing early in the game, and even with their moderate success on some runs later in the game finished with a 3.6-yard average. Marshawn Lynch was held to a season-low average of 2.4 yards while gaining 46 yards on 19 carries.
“I don’t know what their game plan was, but I know it worked,” Lynch said in the locker room at Sun Life Stadium.
The number of missed tackles by the defense played into the Dolphins running for 189 yards, the most the Seahawks have yielded this season. The inability to cover Devone Bess, especially on his two receptions during the drive to the game-winning field goal, allowed him to finish with seven catches for 129 yards.
The Seahawks’ 10 penalties, including the roughing-the-pass call on free safety Earl Thomas that negated an end-zone interception by rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner the play before the Dolphins scored a game-tying TD in the fourth quarter, were the most they’ve committed since the replacement refs were replaced after the third week of the season.
It was a combination of what you want to call uncharacteristic efforts by the Seahawks – but which have become all too characteristic when they take their show on the road – that left coach Pete Carroll disappointed.
“To look that sloppy? We haven’t done that one time all year, and that’s the first time we took a bye (week completely off),” he said, shaking his head. “It’s really disappointing because this was a really important football game.”
With that said, here’ s a look at three things that worked against the Dolphins and three things that need work as the Seahawks prepare for another important game – Sunday in Chicago against the NFC North-leading Bears:
The rookie QB – Carroll said it best after the game when he offered, “Everybody’s been saying on the road that Russell has been struggling. He didn’t struggle today. He played like crazy.”
Wilson’s performance seconded that notion. After a 2-of-5 first quarter, he completed 19 of his next 22 passes – including 16 in a row during one stretch. No rookie QB in the history of the NFL has done that, and only one passer in franchise history has had more: Warren Moon, who hit 17 consecutive passes in a 1998 game against the Raiders.
But this wasn’t a flash-in-the-sun effort. Wilson now has three consecutive games where his passer rating has surpassed 125: 125.9 against the Dolphins; 131.0 against the New York Jets; 127.3 against the Vikings.
The kicking game – It should have been finished after the eighth kickoff return for a score in Washington’s career, which tied the NFL record set by the Cleveland Browns’ Josh Cribbs. But it didn’t start there.
The Dolphins did not have a return – kickoff or punt – as Jon Ryan put six of his even punts inside the 20-yard line and each of Hauschka’s four kickoffs was a touchback. They rendered the Dolphins’ Marcus Thigpen, who entered the game as the only returner in the league ranked among the Top 5 in both categories, a nonfactor.
Carroll talked all last week about getting better efforts from the defense and special teams on the road. The special teams delivered.
The rookie middle linebacker – Wagner had a game-high nine tackles, the seventh time in the past eight games that he’s either led the team or shared the lead. That’s why he’s got 90 tackles – 22 more than strong safety Kam Chancellor and strongside linebacker K.J. Wright, who are tied for second.
But Sunday, Wagner also came up with his first NFL interception, and had a second that should have sealed the deal.
WHAT NEEDS WORK
The running game – Yes, the Seahawks’ offense came out flat. Their first four possessions were three-and-outs. Yes, they had a difficult time handling what the Dolphins’ front seven was throwing at them. But they better get it fixed, and get ready, because here come the Bears. And the Cardinals. And the 49ers. And the Rams.
Those defenses rank, in order, third, seventh, second and 13th in the league.
Those pesky penalties – The Seahawks started the season by being flagged 13 and 14 times in their first three games, when the replacement officials were calling the penalties. In the past seven games, with the real officials back, they have averaged 4.6 penalties.
They had more than twice that many against the Dolphins, including six in the first quarter. Too many men on the field. A false start. Holding. Encroachment. Delay of game. Another false start. The momentum-shifting roughing-the-passer call.
Getting it right on the road – The Seahawks have two more chances during the regular season, which likely will impact whether there is a postseason for them. There’s Sunday’s game against the Bears in Chicago, where the Seahawks have won the past two seasons. There’s also the Dec. 16 game against the Buffalo Bills in Toronto.
The Seahawks are 2½ games behind the 49ers in the NFC West, but they still hold the second wild-card playoff spot because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Vikings also lost on Sunday.
“Winning on the road is where we need to be as a team right now,” center and offensive captain Max Unger said.