The last two games haven't been great for the Seattle Seahawks offense; nobody is arguing that after producing just one offensive touchdown in the past two games. But what players and coaches are quite confident of seven games into the season is that their offense isn't broken or fatally flawed, but rather just some small adjustments and better health away from turning a corner.
"I'm counting on us taking a turn here and things picking back up for all the obvious reasons," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Russell (Wilson) is getting better; that's a big deal. We're really glad to see him feel better be able to do more and all that. That's a big part of it, but we have to execute better, as well. We've got to give our guys a good chance to unload, and that's what we're hoping to do in the next few weeks, and I hope it will be obvious."
At this time last year, Wilson would tell anyone who would listen that the offense was on the verge of taking off, and while it might not have been easy for people to see while Wilson was under near constant pressure in the first half of the season, the offense, and the passing game in particular, exploded in the second half of the season. This year, Wilson sees the potential for his team to make a dramatic turnaround once again.
"I think it's the belief in what we're doing, the belief that we're really extremely close to making a lot of great plays," Wilson said. "It's been the same thing in the past, but the past doesn't mean anything. We're focused on right now and what we do to be successful, that's hard work. That's not some mystery case, we just have to continue to make the plays, develop and continue to get better. That's what we're going to do."
And this isn't blind faith that is producing optimism at Seahawks headquarters. For starters, the Seahawks have seen enough glimpses of success this season to know they're capable of a lot more than what they have shown through seven games, and players like Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett have accomplished enough in the past to show that there's plenty of talent on offense. But perhaps most significant to this discussion is the fact that Seahawks teams, and offenses in particular, have tended to perform better late in the season than early under Carroll.
At the midway point last season, the Seahawks ranked 24th in points scored, 19th in total offense and 28th in passing offense. Their running game was better than it has been this year, but otherwise, just like this year, the Seahawks offense was the topic of a lot of criticism as it looked for ways to turn things around. By the end of the season, however, the Seahawks ranked fourth in the NFL both in scoring and yards gained, Thomas Rawls led the NFL in rushing yards-per-attempt, and Wilson led the league in passer rating.
"Just through the history that we have before we got here, we've been that way," Carroll said. "I have some thoughts about that, but I don't really have it nailed. But I count on it now. I do really count on us improving and getting better as we get down the stretch. The closer we get to the finish the better we want to play. That's kind of how we constructed our mentality and it's worked out pretty well. Here we are right now, we're not even at the halfway point until after this week, but I think it's time to kick into that mode, it's time to go. Hopefully we'll see something happen."
Assuming a change is coming just because it has happened in the past would represent a pretty dangerous leap of faith for the Seahawks, but they have concrete reasons to believe better performances are in the future beyond a pretty good track record of making that happen. Seattle's line is well ahead of where it was in terms of pass protection in the first half of last season, giving up just 12 sacks through seven games year after allowing 31 in seven games last season. But that group is still relatively new, featuring three new starters and a center, Justin Britt, who is new to the position, so there's still a lot of room for growth there, particularly in the running game where the Seahawks currently rank an uncharacteristic 28th in the league.
"We're on track to get to where we want to be (in pass protection), which is No. 1 in sacks allowed." said Britt, whose team is currently one off the league-low mark of 11 sacks allowed. "The understanding of what we need to do, from the quarterback to the line, is amazing, but now it's time to get the running game going. I feel like every year, it's easier for the defense to jell because it has mostly been the same defensive guys. On offense, pretty much the whole line is new. I think we just need the reps. You'd like to say you get enough reps in camp, but this year, it's just gone differently. Every week, we're getting better and better. Even if it's not showing (in production), you can see on film we're getting better. This week, I'm looking for us to have a big breakthrough in the running game to really open up our offense."
Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism with the offense is the potential for that unit to be a lot healthier in the near future. Wilson is making progress every week, and as his health improves, it will open things up in the running game while also creating more chances for the big passes that come from him escaping pressure and extending plays. Tyler Lockett has been at less than 100 percent since a Week 2 knee injury, but is nearing full speed again, Carroll said Thursday. The Seahawks also got a boost at running back with rookie C.J. Prosise returning from a wrist injury, and should get another important player back soon when Thomas Rawls is able to make it back.
"We know we're going to get better, if we can just keep healing," Carroll said. "It's just a matter of time."
Yet every team deals with injuries, and whether or not some players are banged up or unavailable, the players who are on the field say they can do more to execute.
"We've just got to execute at a higher level offensively," receiver Doug Baldwin said on 710 ESPN Seattle this week. "We've been put in some good situations in terms of play-calling and the designs going up against certain coverages we expect to see, but we just haven't been executing at a high level, across the board, so we just have to do that."
Baldwin pointed to Seattle's fourth-quarter drive which reached the 5-yard line, then on first-and-goal saw the Seahawks have an incomplete pass, a false start penalty, then a 7-yard completion when they needed 10 yards. As Baldwin described that sequence, it was "missed assignment, false start, missed assignment," followed by a short field goal.
"That just can't happen," Baldwin said. "In those situations, you've got to be able to score touchdowns, and that's on us as players."
Like his teammates, Baldwin sees reasons for optimism, but for that to happen, the Seahawks have to improve in some key areas, most notably the running game, third third-down efficiency and their ability to create explosive plays. In other words, they need to get back to the things that helped the Seahawks finish in the top 10 in scoring offense for four straight seasons.
"That's one of the key questions, who are we as a Seattle Seahawks offense?" Baldwin said. "We have to take the time to figure that out. Our identity, our philosophy on offense is that we're going to be relentless, and that means running the ball down your throat, being explosive in the passing game and not turning the ball over. Sometimes we have to find our way through that again. We've been doing that the last few years, and it has been successful for us being able to finish in the latter part of the season, so hopefully we're onto that next step."
The Seahawks offense isn't at its best right now, not even close, but it's also far from being broken. And through better health and better execution, players and coaches believe a turnaround is coming, just as it did last year. Even more encouraging? The Seahawks are in first place this year, unlike when they were 3-4 at this point last season.
"It's very similar in terms of the struggles we've had on offense, but the better part of is that we're 4-2-1, not 3-4, so we're better off right now," Baldwin said. "What I'm really excited about and really thankful for is that we've had a lot of experience together offensively, going through that adversity, so I'm really excited to see what we can put together, because it kind of lights a fire under your tail. When you have the struggles you've had the past two, three weeks, you've got to look at yourself in the mirror and see what you can do better."
The Seahawks and the Bills have played each other 12 times throughout their history. Seattle is currently leading the series 7-5. The two teams will face off again this Monday Night during Week 9 at CenturyLink Field.