The first half of the 2018 season featured plenty of ups and downs for the Seahawks, who at times played very well, but who also missed out on some chances to win other close games. As a result, the Seahawks sit at 4-4 halfway through the season, not where they'd like to be, but very much still in the playoff picture.
Most importantly, the Seahawks feel like they found their identity during a stretch in which they won four of five prior to a Week 9 loss to the Chargers.
"We've figured out how we want to play," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We know who we are. We have a real sense for that. That's very helpful and that's an accomplishment in itself. Now, we have to find a way to get the wins. Every game that we didn't win has been a chance to win a football game at the end or do something to really be in charge of it. It's close. I think growth, experience and minimizing the errors that can happen to make it harder on an opponent. The four or five games here prior to this one, we've made it very difficult on our opponent. We haven't given them the football to speak of and we've taken care of the ball. We've run it well and we've kicked it well and done a lot of things that make you hard to be beat. Yesterday, that wasn't the case but that's what we need to capture as we go forward and just take it one week at a time and see how far we can go with this thing.
"I wish we were on top of this thing and right in there. Maybe we lost a couple of games and we'd be in better shape than we are right now. I never have looked at it like it's a rebuilding year. John (Schneider) and I didn't look at it like that. We saw the opportunities to fill the spots and we thought we could keep moving and going. There's always going to be some growing time and we saw that in the first two weeks of the season, I think. As far as expectations, our expectations are higher and that's why we're disappointed that we're not in better shape than we are right now."
Before the Seahawks kick off the second half of their season with a Week 10 game at the Los Angeles Rams, a look back at some of the players, moments and themes that stuck out in the first half of the season:
Offensive MVP: Quarterback Russell Wilson
Through eight games, Wilson is on pace to establish a career high in touchdown passes while posting the second best passer rating, second-best completion percentage and third highest yard-per-attempt average of his career.
Yet as good as Wilson has been, throwing 18 touchdowns with just five interceptions with a 108.6 passer rating, he'd be the first to tell you that he and the offense can perform better than they have so far this season. And considering Wilson has tended to be a strong finisher in past seasons, throwing more touchdowns, fewer interceptions and posting a higher passer rating and yards-per-attempt average in games 9-16 than in the first half of seasons, there are plenty of reasons to believe that Wilson will only improve what are some already impressive numbers.
If an entire position group is up for consideration for this award, then Seattle's much-improved offensive line deserves a mention here as well, with that unit paving the way for a running game that has become one of the best in the NFL while also protecting Wilson very well following a rough start to the season when Wilson was sacked 12 times in the first two games.
Running back Chris Carson, who has three 100-yard games this season has also played a big role in Seattle's offensive success, as has receiver Tyler Lockett, who has already matched his career high in touchdown catches with six.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Bobby Wagner
In what should come as a shock to no one who has watched the Seahawks over the past seven seasons, Bobby Wagner leads the team in tackles at the midway point with 52, and that's despite sitting out one game due to injury. And for all the success he has had already in his career, Wagner might still be improving in certain elements of his game, as is evident in his team-leading nine passes defensed, which is already the highest total of his career.
Against the Chargers on Sunday, Carroll said Wagner played maybe the best half of football of his career as Seattle's defense held L.A.'s offense scoreless in the second half.
"He really was all over the place," Carroll said. "I thought it was the best half of football I've seen him play. I don't know if he's ever played better than that. He was just everywhere in pass defense, as well as in the running game. He was really a big factor in stopping them in the second half."
But as good as Wagner has been, he was far from an easy choice in this category. Bradley McDougald has been outstanding, recording 42 tackles, six passes defensed, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, all while providing strong leadership for a young secondary. And Frank Clark is having the best season of his career, stepping up in a bigger role with Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril no longer on the team. Clark is now up to 7.5 sacks and has a team-leading three forced fumbles, and he has also been strong in run defense.
Special Teams MVP: Punter Michael Dickson
The Seahawks traded up in the fifth round to select punter Michael Dickson, and while the move seemed somewhat unconventional at the time, he has shown over the first eight games of his career to indeed be a unique talent.
Dickson, an Australian who only began punting a few years ago, currently ranks second in the NFL, by one-tenth of a yard, in net average at 43.6 yards-per-punt, and his gross average of 47.5 ranks fourth. Dickson has also downed 18 of his 41 punts inside the 20, and boasts a robust 9 yards-per-carry average as a runner (more on this later).
If Dickson maintains his level of play or builds upon it, he would in his first season establish team single-season records for gross average, net average and punts downed inside the 20.
Outside of the specialists, rookie linebacker Shaquem Griffin, safety Shalom Luani and cornerback Akeem King share the team lead with five special teams tackle each. Barkevious Mingo has also maintained a very high level of play on special teams, even as his role on defense has grown in recent games, recording four tackles and a fumble recovery.
Best Rookie: Cornerback Tre Flowers
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, the player who earned first-quarter honors as top rookie, tight end Will Dissly, went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 4, but other members of Seattle's rookie class have also made big contributions this season.
Flowers, a fifth-round pick who played safety at Oklahoma State, has been one of the pleasant surprises of the first half of the season, not only showing he could handle a starting job despite playing a different position in college, but playing for the most part at a very high level at what is a very difficult position for a rookie.
Flowers has five passes defensed and 32 tackles so far this season, and has helped create three turnovers, one with a forced fumble and two with pass breakups that were intercepted by teammates.
"It's kind of gone like I had hoped it would go, that he would show that he was physical, that he would belong and he could fit in physically and mentally," Carroll said. "He has done that. He has shown us that. He has been very active. He has forced three turnovers that are really legit plays that they were going to have the ball and then he knocked it around and we got the ball back. Those are big plays to make. Kind of different than interceptions, he has forced three big plays. He's got a lot to learn still. He's still growing and we're going to see. You take a look at the quarterbacks we're going to see in the next couple of weeks, next couple of months really, it's going to be a great test for all of us and we'll know later where he is."
Best Free-Agent Signing: Guard D.J. Fluker
Fluker missed the first two games of the season due to a knee injury, but since then he has played a big role in Seattle's offensive improvement, and particular in the surge in the running game with the Seahawks gaining more than 150 yards on the ground in five straight games. And it isn't just Fluker's considerable size and strength that have made a difference, but also his attitude and passion for the game that coaches and teammates say has been contagious.
"It has been nothing but positives, really," Carroll said of Fluker's addition. "It has been a really pleasant surprise to see him be such a factor, because his attitude is so good. He just cares so much about playing the game. He loves it so much. It's so important to him to get to the meeting room and just be around the fellas and the locker room and then his play style and physical nature that he plays with brings something special to us. But then it's more than that because it's his personality that comes along with it. We're very fortunate, and (offensive line coach) Mike Solari had given us the heads up that this is a special guy and that we could get him and all that, so we were lucky to have that insight. You can always see the play, but we didn't know what was going on in the helmet and he's a really special guy. He's been a blast.
"He's got such a big personality and such a positive, supportive personality to a club that likes to play with a lot of energy and a lot of juice. It fits him perfectly and he's one of the guys out front leading the charge and carrying the flag kind of guy. That's where he surprised us, just because we didn't know him. He's been a great addition."
Unsung Hero: Defensive Tackle Jarran Reed
While Clark has deservedly received a lot of attention for his play on the defensive line, he hasn't been the only standout in his position group this season. Jarran Reed has always been a big part of the Seahawks defense since arriving in Seattle as a second-round pick in 2016, but this season has seen Reed take his game to another level, particularly as a pass-rusher. Over the past two seasons, Reed has been thought of as a run-stuffing defensive tackle, and he is still very good at that, as is demonstrated by his tackle total of 32, which ranks fourth on the team and first among defensive linemen. But this year Reed is also proving to be a dangerous pass rusher, recording five sacks and nine quarterback hits.
"He's doing really well," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "He's probably the best three-technique guy I've probably had in my whole career. He's just really a student of the game. He really raised his IQ when it comes to football to a high level. He's good versus the pass, you see him getting after the quarterback and he's just a run stuffer. I love playing behind him. I always told (defensive line) Coach (Clint) Hurtt to make sure that J. Reed's the three-technique because I love playing behind them. He's doing really good this season."
Best Play: Michael Dickson's very bold 9-yard run vs. Detroit.
Yes, there have probably been more impressive plays this season, ranging from Chris Carson runs, to great throws by Russell Wilson, to impressive catches by Tyler Lockett, David Moore, Doug Baldwin and company, to any of the numerous impressive defensive plays that led to turnovers. But if you're looking for the most memorable and probably least-expected play of the first half of the season, look no further than Dickson's 9-yard run out of his own end zone that all but clinched a Seahawks victory in Detroit.
With the Seahawks leading by two touchdowns late in an eventual victory over the Lions, the punt team came out with just over two minutes left. And rather than have Dickson punt out of the end zone, Carroll instructed his punter to run a little bit of time off the clock then step out of the end zone to take a safety, the thinking being that the change in field position and use of time would make it worth giving up two points. But remembering a conversation he had with Carroll the previous week, Dickson took it upon himself to freelance, tucking the ball and running for a first down when he realized he had plenty of room to run down the right sideline.
Had the play not worked, the Lions would have had a chance to quickly make it a one-score game with nearly two minutes left on the clock, but instead the Seahawks were able to run the clock almost all the way out before Dickson came back on to punt again.
And perhaps more important than the play itself is what it demonstrated about the way Carroll coaches a football team. While discipline is very important to Carroll, he also believes in empowering his players to sometimes take calculated risks. So Carroll liked that Dickson took a conversation at Heathrow Airport in which Carroll suggested to his punter that he should consider running the ball sometime if the opportunity was there, and felt emboldened to make a play—even if he did so at a time when Carroll nor anyone else on Seattle's sideline was expecting it.
"It was a great play, really that was a fantastic play," Carroll said a day after the win in Detroit. "Players and athletes get chances sometimes where they've got to go or they don't, and he showed you his mentality to a certain extent. And I'd like to think he showed you our mentality too that we trust our guys. As you work hard and you work at it, you're going to get faced with opportunities, and I'd like our guys to be able to improvise well and find ways to make special things happen. We're always looking for guys who have special qualities, and part of that is guys who have the background and the courage and the faculties to make those kinds of decisions and make them right. It was one of those, you didn't know for a while if it was going to work out, right in the midst of it it seemed like it was in slow motion, but he turned it into a very positive play and really put a game away for us. So it was really nicely done."
Trend to build on: Turnover differential.
Despite losing the turnover battle 1-0 last week, the Seahawks are still plus-9 this season, which ranks third in the NFL. As is always the case when a team is strong in that category, players on both sides of the ball are getting it done. On offense, the Seahawks had five turnovers in their first two games, but since they have just two over the past six games. The defense, meanwhile, has 15 takeaways—special teams has one as well—including 10 interceptions. For a head coach who preaches an "it's all about the ball" philosophy, that's a very important part of Seattle's success.
"It's a huge accomplishment at the midway point to be in double-digits," Carroll said last week when that number was at plus-10. "That's always something we shoot for and to get there the week before game eight, that's a big deal. We're on track with the way our whole mentality is about, the philosophy about taking care of that ball and getting it."
A close second in this category, or maybe it should be a tie, has been the Seahawks' success in the running game, particularly since Week 3, with Seattle averaging 169.2 rushing yards per game over their past five games. That running game success has been a big factor in the efficiency of Wilson and the passing game, as well as in the Seahawks' recent success on third down, as well as their strong play in the red zone, where they have turned 72.7 percent of trips inside the 20 into touchdowns, the fourth best rate in the league.
Thing to clean up: Giving up big plays in the running game.
It has been something of a strange season for the Seahawks when it comes to run defense. On one hand, Seattle has held some of its toughest opponents in check when it comes to the ground game—Arizona's David Johnson managed only 71 yards on 22 carries, the Rams' Todd Gurley gained 77 yards on 22 carries, leaving him 1.5 yards-per-carry off his season average, and Detroit's Kerryon Johnson averaged less than three yards-per-carry after averaging 6.4 per carry coming into the game. Yet despite some success, the Seahawks defense ranks only 21st in rushing yards allowed and 26th in yards-per-carry allowed at 4.8.
So what's going on with the run defense? For the most part, the culprit has been big plays, as was evident last week when Chargers running back Melvin Gordon gained 75 of his 113 yards on just three carries, and just 38 yards on his other 13 rushes.
"We made errors," Carroll said. "We just made mistakes on the plays, and they took full advantage… I always tell you about the running game, it's always about discipline and it's always about being really strictly fitted together, and we misfit some stuff in anticipation of some other things. Just needed to clean it up. Our players know exactly what they did (wrong). We saw the same plays later in the game and they made no yards. We just made some errors."
Go behind the scenes with team photographer Rod Mar as he shares moments from the Seattle Seahawks' Week 9 game against the Los Angeles Chargers.