The Seahawks are halfway through their season and on their bye, which means now is a good time to look back and assess the first half of the season. While Seattle is 4-4, hardly where it had hoped to be heading into the season, head coach Pete Carroll and his players don't feel like they're just treading water at .500, but rather a team finding its way after a rough start.
"We've turned it the last couple of games here to put us at 4-4, which is nothing to be shouting about, but it did put us in a position where we have a second half to really go forward," Carroll said. "We have all of the matchups in the games that we need to play in the division to settle issues and go for it and take it as far as we can."
Here's a look at some player and moments that stood out from the first half of the 2015 season and see how far we've come since the first-quarter honors.
Offensive MVP: QB Russell Wilson
Wilson would be the first to admit that there are things he can do better in the second half of the season. The Seahawks have struggled in the red zone, he has thrown a few avoidable interceptions, and as he has said on multiple occasions, at least some of those 31 sacks are on him.
Yet for whatever struggles Wilson and the offense have had, he is still doing a lot of good things well, and as is the nature given his position, he has been a huge part of Seattle's success when things have gone well. Through eight games, Wilson is completing a career-best 68.8 percent of his passes and maintaining a yards-per-attempt average (8.0) that is close to his career mark from 2013 (8.2), all while facing a lot of pressure and attempting more passes than he ever has in his career. Wilson has also rushed for 303 yards on 58 carries, and was at his dual-threat best in Dallas, making plays with his arm and his legs to lead the go-ahead drive.
Defensive MVP: DEs Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett
This could go to a number of players on Seattle's defense, most notably linebacker K.J. Wright, who is having the best season of his five-year career, leading the team with 58 tackles, but no player has consistently been better this season than defensive end Michael Bennett… No wait, no player has been consistently better than defensive end Cliff Avril. OK, so you see where we're going with this one. Not only have Avril and Bennett both been very good, but they both help each other play at a higher level.
Either Bennett or Avril would be very good players in Seattle individually, but together they have arguably been the best thing the team has going for it this year.
Special Teams MVP: K Steven Hauschka
Hauschka finally "missed" a field goal when a kick was blocked in Dallas, but aside from that one block, Hauschka is 18 for 18 on field goal attempts and 15 for 15 on extra points, thriving in a season in which kickers around the league seem to be struggling more than ever. With the Seahawks struggling so far in the red zone, Hauschka's accuracy has been even more critical, helping the Seahawks win three close games.
Also worth a mention are punter Jon Ryan, return man Tyler Lockett, and safety Kelcie McCray, who leads the team in special teams tackles.
Best rookie: WR/KR/PR Tyler Lockett
From the day the Seahawks traded up in the third round to draft Lockett, it was clear they had big plans for him this year as a return man, but what wasn't as obvious is how he would fit in as a receiver during his rookie season. Not only has Lockett become the Seahawks clear No. 3 behind starters Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, he has also shown early on the ability to come up big in big moments, such as a crucial third-down conversion on Seattle's go-ahead fourth-quarter drive at Dallas. Lockett is now up to 20 catches for 253 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown against San Francisco, and he has 8 catches for 115 yards in his past two games. And of course in addition to those receiving numbers, Lockett has a pair of return touchdowns, and while there have been fewer opportunities for big returns in recent weeks, opponents' fear of kicking to him has helped Seattle's field position on numerous occasions.
Undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls definitely deserves a mention here as well having rushed for a team-high 376 yards on 69 carries, including a monster game at Cincinnati in which he finished with 169 yards on 23 carries. Also, don't be surprised if defensive end Frank Clark, Seattle's second-round pick, factors in more regularly in the second half of the season. Carroll said Monday that the hope is to get Clark's playing time up going forward to the point that he is playing about half of the defensive snaps. Given that many plays, Clark should start to flash the playmaking ability he displayed in the preseason.
Best newcomer: TE Jimmy Graham
For all the concern over Seattle's use of Graham early this season, he is currently the team's leading receiver with 450 yards on 38 catches, meaning that, as a tight end, Graham is on pace for the most receiving yards by a Seahawks pass-catcher since T.J. Houshmandzadeh had 911 yards in 2009. Considering the progress Graham has shown over the past three games, there's no reason to believe he won't be even better in the second half, showing why the Seahawks were so eager to add him in an offseason trade with New Orleans.
"He's a hell of a football player, he really is, and we're lucky to have him," Carroll said after Sunday's win. "There's other guys too, there's other guys who want the ball too, but he is big factor and when (Wilson and Graham) continue to hook up, that's good for us."
Best single-game performance: CB Richard Sherman on Cowboys WR Dez Bryant
Yes, we added a category that wasn't there for our first-quarter honors; that's how impressive Richard Sherman's Week 8 performance against Dallas was. In a season in which Sherman has moved around to cover opposing teams' No. 1 target more frequently than ever, Sherman was responsible for Bryant last week, and he took the All-Pro receiver almost entirely out of the game. Bryant did get the best of Sherman on one third-down conversion, but otherwise his only catch resulted in a 3-yard loss—with Sherman making the tackle—and Sherman might have had an interception if not for Bryant committing pass interference on a pass down the sideline.
"I just love the consistency of it," Carroll said "He had the matchup all week, anticipation for Dez coming in. They went to him right from the beginning, they tried to get some short stuff thrown to him. He was able to play that, he played him very well on third downs, sometimes they tried to go to him and he went downtown on them a couple times and was all over it. The game all around was just really well done, and he had a couple special plays in the game too. He could have had a couple picks, had the receiver not played back into him. I just think the way he handled it, the matchup, the respect we have for Dez Bryant as well, all played into that."
Unsung heroes: DB DeShawn Shead and FB Will Tukuafu
OK, we're adding another category because these two made it necessary. Neither Shead nor Tukuafu were on a lot of people's radar coming into this season, but both have played vital roles this season. Shead, who started his career on Seattle's practice squad as an undrafted rookie in 2012, has been Seattle's nickel corner for much of the season, started one game at strong safety, and also played outside when Richard Sherman played the nickel role against St. Louis. He is also a leader in playing time on special teams. Tukuafu, meanwhile, has seen significant time at fullback, played defensive tackle and is a big contributor on special teams.
Best play: Thomas Rawls' 69-yard touchdown run vs. Cincinnati.
While the Seahawks' loss in Cincinnati will unfortunately be remembered for a blown lead, it was also a very impressive game for Rawls, who rushed for 169-yards in place of an injured Marshawn Lynch, including a spectacular 69-yard run in which he broke enough tackles to draw a few "Beast Mode" comparisons.
Another very big play that was ultimately overshadowed by a loss was Ricardo Lockette's 40-yard touchdown catch over a Carolina defensive back, which came on a trick play with Lynch throwing back to Wilson, who then hit Lockette in the end zone.
Also worth mentioning from earlier in the season, Lockett's kick and punt returns touchdowns.
Worst play: Miscommunication leads to Panthers tight end Greg Olsen's go-ahead touchdown catch.
The Seahawks gave up what ended up being the decisive score against Carolina not because Olsen made a great play to beat a defender, but rather because he was running all alone thanks to a defensive miscue. Somehow when the defensive call came in on that play, some players thought the Seahawks were playing one defense, while others thought they were playing another one. The result was a wide-open Olsen and a loss that dropped the Seahawks to 2-4.
"We played different defenses," safety Earl Thomas said after the game. "Me and Kam were playing Cover 3. Sherm had the correct call."
The good news is that the Seahawks have responded well from that loss, and the defense has not given up a touchdown in eight quarters since that miscue.
Things to build on: Offensive line growth and improved finishing.
Starting with Rawls' big game in Cincinnati, the Seahawks' offensive line has been run-blocking a lot better, then on top of that, the pass protection took a big step forward last week, not allowing a sack. The belief of coaches all along was that line, which wasn't finalized until midway through the preseason, would get better as the season went on, so while there have been rough patches, there is still a lot of optimism that this group can do some very good things going forward.
In terms of finishing, the Seahawks have gotten back to closing out games strongly over the past two weeks after yielding fourth-quarter leads in all four losses. And it's not just the defense shutting teams down, which it has, finishing also requires the offense to either score points when necessary, as it did against Dallas, or to run time off the clock by getting first downs, which it did both in San Francisco and Dallas.
Things to clean up: Pass protection and turnover margin.
OK, so the pass protection thing was more of a first-seven-game issue that first-half issue, but one good game notwithstanding, pass protection has been a problem. If the Seahawks continue to give up sacks like they did through seven games, allowing 31, the offense and Russell Wilson will be in trouble. If, however, last week's game was a sign of things to come, that is a very good sign going forward.
As for turnover margin, there is no making sense of what is going on this season with the Seahawks, who are minus-one overall in that stat, but who oddly enough are winning when losing the turnover battle and losing when winning it. Carroll figures that trend can't keep up, so if the Seahawks want to finish the season strong, they'll have to get back to winning the turnover battle, something that has been a staple of Carroll's teams in the past.