For the second straight year, the Seahawks defense finds itself in a position of trying to fix the problems that have led to early-season struggles.
But unlike last season, or any other over the past decade for that matter, the Seahawks are preparing to play this week's game at Pittsburgh without starting quarterback Russell Wilson, who had surgery on his injured right middle finger on Friday.
For years, the Seahawks have known that, no matter what else was going on in a game, having a quarterback of Wilson's ability meant they always had a chance to win. And while everyone has confidence that Geno Smith will step in for Wilson and play well, just as he did late in last week's loss to the Rams, players also know a player of Wilsons' caliber is impossible to replace, which means it falls on everyone, including and especially a defense that hasn't played up to its high standards, to raise its level of play.
"I think it's a tremendous opportunity for us to step up," middle linebacker and defensive captain Bobby Wagner said. "I think it's needed. Obviously with Russell being down, a lot of it's going to fall on Geno to run that offense and do the things that we're accustomed to seeing, but we've got to play better, and we have to accept this challenge of getting out of this hole and getting out of whatever we dug ourselves into. I feel like we have the people, we have the confidence, we have the players to execute, and we have the players to get this right. So this is our time, our turn to step up as a defense, and we will. And it's going to be a personal challenge for me to make sure that happens."
Wagner is confident the defense can turn things around in part because he believes in the talent and coaches around him, but also because he has seen his defense play well in spurts this season, including the first half of last weeks' game in which the Seahawks limited the Rams to a single field goal.
Wagner said the biggest issue early this season has been a defense that "got in our own way a lot. Whether it's penalties, whether it's mistakes, miscommunications. That's probably the biggest thing is just, if we can fix those things, we have the talent, we have the people to be a great defense. So it's on myself to make sure the communication is better, and it's on us as players to make sure we go out there and execute the gameplan and give ourselves a chance… Everybody's looking for something to write, and we unfortunately have given you all something to write about. We'll switch the narrative for sure, I'm confident in that."
A day after Seattle's loss to Los Angeles in which the Rams exploited some of the same issues that had shown up in previous games, most notably the Week 3 loss to Minnesota, Carroll noted that teams will continue to attack the Seahawks the same way until they clean things up.
"I'm disappointed that we are not getting better at some stuff," Carroll said. "In this game, if you show vulnerability, the next team is going to go after them, and you have to fix them. There are a few things that have been repeated and we haven't made enough progress. We are off to a start that we are back and forth and don't have the rhythm that we want. Although, we can see the potential for it and how it can happen. You can see that in portions of games where we play well and be effective and efficient, but the consistency isn't there.
"The ability to fix these problems is really what's at hand. It's not a mystery, we just have to get better at quite a few things. That's where we are facing it and there's no time. The couple days we have here, we realign a few things and make sure we put our guys in the right positions and situations during the week so that they are ready. The things that are happening in the games are something we practice. That's alarming to me because we are on it. We have to get it right, so we have to help the players execute better and make sure that we are making progress. That's what our challenge is and unfortunately, we get a game that gets away and again could have had it in control. You can see the control part of it, you can see that we can get there, but we have to get better."
Wagner echoed his coach's concerns, noting the NFL is a copy-cat league, and that until the Seahawks start consistently stopping the types of passing plays the Vikings and Rams used to exploit Seattle's zone coverages, they can expect to keep seeing those plays.
"Until we fix the problem, I don't see it leaving," Wagner said. "Any team that watches the film and sees those plays, if they don't have those plays in, I would be surprised if they didn't put them in. So it's up to players to practice and execute, especially during the games, and we just have to play better and recognize it better."
No matter who was going to be available this week on offense, Seattle's defense would have spent this week looking to clean up its mistakes and start playing better and more consistently. Now, however, Wagner and his defense know it is on everyone, including them, to help the Seahawks get the season on track even with one of the NFLs' best quarterbacks sidelined by an injury.
"It's definitely foreign territory for sure," Wagner said. "You know, we've never gone out to a practice and not seen 3 warming up or doing his extra stuff. So we understand the task at hand. We understand that there's a lot of people that are counting this out, a lot of people that believe that we can't do it. We've proved people wrong in the past before, and I don't see why the future doesn't turn out the exact same way."
Photos from Seahawks practice on Wednesday, October 13 at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton.