Two months ago, with the regular season approaching, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin gave an honest assessment—the only kind he knows how to give—when asked about the identity of a team that had undergone some significant changes in the offseason both on the roster and coaching staff.
"It's been difficult to really tell what our identity is going to be as a team," Baldwin said.
It wasn't meant as a slight, just as an explanation that, with so many new faces in the locker room, it was going to take some time for this particular version of the Seahawks to discover who they are as a group.
Ten days ago, Baldwin and the Seahawks celebrated a dominant victory at Wembley Stadium, happy not just that the Seahawks had won a third game in four weeks to improve to 3-3, but that in turning their season around after an 0-2 start, they found the winning formula—the identity, if you will—that has served this team so well during the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era.
"This is winning football," Baldwin said following Seattle's Week 6 win over the Raiders. "You run the ball, you convert on third down in the passing game when you have to. You play stifling defense and stopping the run, and you don't turn the ball over. Usually you win the games when you do that."
The Seahawks returned to work this week coming off of their bye, and did so knowing that this season is still full of potential despite an 0-2 start. After losing close games at Denver and at Chicago to start the season, the Seahawks beat Dallas at home, won in Arizona, lost a heartbreaker to the undefeated Rams, then played their most complete game of the season at Wembley. At 3-3, the Seahawks would have a big hill to climb to get back in the NFC West race thanks to the Rams' hot start, but the NFC wild card battle is wide open, and the Seahawks head to Detroit this week knowing that if they can recapture the style of play they put on display in their last few games leading into the bye, they are a team that can win a lot of games over the next 10 weeks.
"The obvious part of it is we feel comfortable with where we're going," Carroll said Wednesday. "We like the way it's going and we like the feel of it and the style of play that we're working to re-create each week is really obvious to us, and that's a really big asset. It's when you don't know is when it's hard, so we do know where we're trying to go and how it's supposed to feel and look and what it takes and how we need to practice to get that done and study to get that done, and then rally on game day and support one another. Those things are all coming together, so it gives us a chance to take this as far as we can take it. It's a long haul, we started slowly and it's going to be a long battle to work our way into it, but there's championship ways in the way we play and the way we're going about our business that gives us a shot to have a really good year. It's just this week. It's just today, is how it goes and that's how we have to be disciplined about it and we're working hard to understand that, but there's a shot for us and it's exciting."
A lot of the names and faces changed this offseason, but over the past four games, this year's Seahawks have been checking off a lot of the boxes that allow a Carroll-coached team to thrive. The Seahawks are now plus-seven in turnover differential, and have turned the ball over only once in the last four games, which is a huge deal for a team with an "it's all about the ball" mantra. As Baldwin noted, the Seahawks are running the ball well, having eclipsed 150 rushing yards in three straight games, and aside from an odd 0-for-10 performance on third-down in Arizona, they've been good in that key stat as well, converting 56 percent of their third downs against Dallas, Los Angeles and Oakland. The Seahawks have turned 73.3 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns this season, the best percentage in the league, and Russell Wilson has been efficient and the passing game explosive, producing eight touchdowns and just one interception over the last four games. And a big part of all of that success has been the standout play of the offensive line, which has paved the way for big rushing performances while also giving up only seven sacks in the past four games.
"We've come together with how we want to play, and that's really clear," Carroll said in London. "We don't mind saying we're going to run the football. And we like to be the most physical running team in this league, and we'll keep going after that. We don't know what that is, but that's the intention, keep pounding the football."
Added left tackle Duane Brown: "For one, we just have a great mentality—being physical, not being denied in the run game. We're playing with a lot of confidence. Every week we're getting more and more confident in ourselves, watching film together, seeing the same things, the same set of eyes. We're communicating great up front, the backs are doing a great job. Everybody's committed to it, the coaches are committed to it, they have the faith in us to keep dialing up runs. We've just got to keep it going. It's only going to get tougher, teams seeing what we're trying to get accomplished, but I think we've got the group to do it."
On defense, the Seahawks saw some key players depart in the offseason, then played the first six games without Pro-Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright—who should be back this week—and the past two games without All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, yet a quick glance at the numbers indicate that, as Bobby Wagner predicted this summer, the Seahawks will be just fine. Through six games, only two of which have been played at CenturyLink Field where the defense gains a pretty significant advantage thanks to crowd noise, Seattle's defense ranks sixth in total defense, fifth in points allowed, third in passing yards allowed and third in opponent passer rating. The Seahawks are also averaging better than two takeaways per game with 13 and have nine interceptions. In other words, this is still a Pete Carroll defense.
"I feel pretty good," Wagner said when asked about the direction of his team after six games. "We kind of had a little bit of adversity, we responded, and I feel like we're growing. That's all you can ask for at this point of the season is to be growing. There are teams that have been 6-0, 7-0, 8-0, and they kind of fall off later in the season. So it's all about, you've got to be hot at the right time. It has taken these games to understand the people that you're playing with. We had rookies, we had countless guys playing Will (weakside linebacker), I was out for a game, so we were trying to learn each other. And as these games go and as you watch us play on the defensive side, you see us getting stronger in our communication, stronger in knowing that this is where the other guy is going to be. So I feel pretty good, I like our growth. I feel like we've got a lot more to go out there. We've got guys coming back like K.J., who is definitely going to help us. So I really feel like it's only up from here."
The Seahawks know building off of their recent success will take a lot more work, starting this week when they face a Lions team that has also won three of four since an 0-2 start, and the rest of their schedule features some tough tests. But the Seahawks also feel very good about what they've found in their play over the last month, and also have the benefit of finishing their season with five of their last seven at home, the positive side of starting the season with so many road games.
"Those following closely, you can see, we've totally changed," Carroll said following his team's 27-3 win over Oakland. "We should have won (against the Rams in Week 5) if we just would have handled it our best and taken care of it. We would have had four in a row, and it would have been obvious we're on a roll right now. But we can feel it, the players know it, and their attitude is fantastic."
Photos from Wednesday's practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in preparation for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.