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Seahawks obviously good, but definitely can get better

Posted Oct 21, 2013

Monday metatarsal musings: As good as the Seahawks have been, which is a franchise-record 6-1 good, everyone from Pete Carroll to Russell Wilson knows this team can be even better.

The Seahawks are 6-1! The Seahawks are 6-1?

The best start in franchise history has come with ample amounts the oh-really factor.

Like in Thursday night’s nationally televised 34-22 victory over the Cardinals in Arizona. Russell Wilson was sacked and separated from the ball twice, at the Seahawks’ 3- and 15-yard lines, setting up a short touchdown run and a short field goal for the Cardinals. But the Seahawks won by 12, as the defense sacked Carson Palmer a season-high seven times and picked off two of his passes; and Wilson threw three TD passes and Marshawn Lynch ran for 91 yards and a touchdown.

Like in the Oct. 13 game against Tennessee at CenturyLink Field, where an injury-inducted meltdown by the Seahawks’ usually exceptional special teams led to a 77-yard fumble return for a score by the Titans. But the Seahawks won by seven as Lynch ran for two TDs and the defense limited the Titans to 223 yards – including 66 rushing on 20 carries – and a pair of field goals.

Like in the 34-28 loss to the Colts in Indianapolis on Oct. 6, where the Seahawks took leads of 12-7 and 25-17 only to loss by six as the Colts scored 17 of the final 20 points in the game. The offense was two of 12 on thirds, the Colts seven of 12. The defense also allowed 73- and 29-yard yard TD passes from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton.

Like in the 23-20 victory over the Texans in Houston on Sept. 29. Steven Hauschka’s 45-yard field goal won it in overtime, but the Seahawks needed a 14-play, 98-yard touchdown drive and Richard Sherman’s 58-yard interception return for a TD in the fourth quarter to get to overtime.

Like in the 45-17 romp over the Jacksonville Jaguars at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 22, when the defense was miffed after the game and for most of the following week because it allowed the still-winless Jags to score 17 points and compile 265 yards. It didn’t matter, of course, because Wilson threw pairs of TD passes to tight end Zach Miller and wide receiver Sidney Rice.

Like in the 29-3 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the Seahawks’ home opener, when Wilson was 8 of 19 for 142 yards. But the defense did its considerable thing by intercepting Colin Kaepernick three times, limiting Anquan Boldin to one catch for 7 yards and holding the 49ers to 207 yards.

Like in the 12-7 victory over the Panthers in Carolina in the season opener, when it took a 43-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Jermaine Kearse in the fourth quarter to allow the Seahawks to escape with a win. Wilson passed for 320 yards, but the Seahawks averaged 2.7 yards on 26 rushes and the defense allowed 124 rushing yards and a 5-yard average.

What all this means is that the Seahawks are 6-1 – the best record in the NFC and tied for second-best record in the NFL – despite not really playing as well as they can from opening kickoff to final whistle.

“I don’t know about that,” Wilson said after the game when asked if the Seahawks were the best team in the league. “We’ve got to be the best team every week, that’s the biggest thing. We have a great football team, I know that. We have a great coaching staff. We got the best fans in the National Football League, I will say that.

“But I think the biggest thing for us is just having that championship mentality and going 1-0 every week. Then we’ll see what happens.”

With that said, he’s a look back at three things that worked in the victory over the Cardinals when the Seahawks had a short week to prepare; and three things that need work during this long week to prepare for next Monday night’s game against the Rams in St. Louis:

What worked

Brandon Browner answering the challenge – Pete Carroll pulled the Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback during the first half of the game against the Titans and then challenged Browner to play within the defense during the week. It was just one of the astute moves by the Seahawks’ fourth-year coach coming out of the game against the Titans and going into the game against the Cardinals.

Browner tipped a pass that was intercepted by All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas to setup the Seahawks’ second touchdown and then added an interception of his own in the third quarter to setup the TD that made it 31-13.

“As a competitor, you never want to be pulled off the field because of the way you’re playing. I thought about that all week,” Browner said in the locker room at University of Phoenix Stadium. “I knew I had to bounce back and play the way I’m capable of playing. Pete sat down with me during the week and told me why he pulled me. He said, ‘I don’t think you understand our defense. What we’re trying to do.’

“Sometimes it takes a good talking to someone. He got his point across and I took it.”

Miller’s return – This one, as it turns out, was a two-fer. First, and foremost, was getting Miller back after the veteran tight end had missed two games because of a hamstring injury. Miller made a nice catch in the back of the end zone to capitalize on Thomas’ interception and turned in an even more impressive effort to grab a pass from an in-the-grasp-and-falling Wilson on a third-and-3 play during the drive to the Seahawks’ third TD.

The bonus in Miller’s return was the ability to use rookie tight end Luke Wilson as the fullback after Derrick Coleman went out with a hamstring injury at the end of the first half.

“Just having Zach back, he’s so consistent,” Wilson said. “He made some big plays for us on third down. He’s such a great blocker, too. Just having him back makes a difference.”

Wilson under duress – The Cardinals pressured the Seahawks’ second-year QB all evening. They sacked him three times. They forced him to fumble three times. They hit him nine times. But Wilson completed 18 of 29 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns, and also ran eight times for 29 yards. He was, once again, cucumber cool under chili-pepper pressure.

Suffice it to say that Wilson’s mobility has been an upward element for the Seahawks.

“We would be a different team without it,” Carroll said when asked about Wilson’s ability to escape. “I don’t know how you can measure it at this point. It’s just such a natural part of our game and he has become such a special aspect of our team that I don’t know what it would be like to be without it. It’s instrumental to everything we’re doing.”  

What needs work

Pass protection – See above, but also considered that the Seahawks are playing without their starting tackles, and have been for the past month. They might have to continuing playing without Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung and right tackle Breno Giacomini for much of the next month. They also didn’t have All-Pro center Max Unger for two games and Miller missed two as well.

But you know what? So what. The guys who are stepping in need to play better, starting with protecting Wilson better. He has been sacked 20 times, and the number would be higher if not for his uncanny ability to sense and elude pressure. Only the Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill (26), Jets’ Geno Smith (25), Browns’ Brandon Weeden (21) and Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger (21) have been sacked more than Wilson.

Penalties – Again. Still. The Seahawks were penalized 10 times for 70 yards against the Cardinals. They’ve been penalized at least that many times in five of their seven games, and for at least that many yards in four of their seven games.

Even worse is the amount of yards that have been gained only to be lost because of penalties, and the opponents’ drives that have been stopped only to be prolonged because of penalties.

Third downs – Yes, the Seahawks converted a season-best 58 percent (seven of 12). But they’re still at 35.6 percent for the season. Only eight teams have a lower conversion percentage on that pivotal down, and those teams are a combined 23-31.