The Seahawks haven't played like they know they're capable of 11 games into the season. At 7-4, they're still in the hunt for the NFC West title, and they've done plenty of good things, but they also know they haven't been the best versions of themselves.
As a result of some inconsistent play, and also because of how well Philadelphia has played on its way to a 10-1 start, Seattle will host the Eagles Sunday night as a home underdog, a rarity in the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era.
Players can understand why people might question the Seahawks a bit this season; key defensive players like Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Cliff Avril are out for the year because of injuries, and the offense is still trying to find a running game. But Seattle's veteran leaders also look at the talent on Seattle's roster, as well as the team's track record of improving its play late in the season, and still believe the Seahawks are serious contenders.
"Don't sleep on us, man," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "This team is really good. We're still talented. We can beat the best of the best. We are the best of the best. Just because we have injuries doesn't mean things will change."
Of being doubted, Wright said, "We lost some guys. It's human nature, I'm not mad when people do that. I understand, I get it, however, in this building, we've just got to know who we are, stay true to what we do and believe in ourselves. It's all good."
The Seahawks aren't confident because of blind faith; there are plenty of reasons to believe they can finish the season strong, even if their schedule gets really difficult in December with home games against Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Arizona and road trips to Jacksonville and Dallas. On defense, the Seahawks still have Pro-Bowl talent at all three levels even with some of their stars injured, and their secondary depth has allowed them to play even without two Pro Bowl starters. The offense still wants to establish a running game, but in the meantime Russell Wilson and his weapons like Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson are playing at a very high level. The offensive line could finally be settling into some continuity if the current group can stay healthy, and with Mike Davis likely back this week and Chris Carson perhaps coming back from injured reserve before the end of the year, the Seahawks will keep battling to find a more reliable running game.
But perhaps more than the talent on the roster or the players who could be back—the defense could also be getting back cornerback DeShawn Shead, a starter last season—the Seahawks believe they'll finish the season strong because that is such a big part of the culture Carroll has established in Seattle. The Seahawks have been a very good finishing team, both within games and in seasons, for almost all of Carroll's tenure in Seattle, and it's a trend that goes back to Carroll's days at USC when the Trojans almost always played their best football late in seasons.
From 2012 through last season, the Seahawks have a 15-4 record in November and are a league-best 19-5 in December and January. And that's not just coincidence or the way the schedule has worked out or simply good luck. It's very much by design that Carroll's teams tend to be at their best as the season winds down.
"It has a lot to do with how you prepare your guys to finish and getting them ready to do it with a real discipline and mentality; I think that's part of it," Carroll said. "And then good fortune is another part of it, a good quarterback is another part of it, but I think it's a commitment to the discipline that it takes to do stuff right when it comes to crunch time, it shows up in games and it shows up in seasons if you're fortunate and hopefully—we're almost at the fourth-quarter turn here, this is the last game of it—and we'll see. It's going to be a great way to jump into the fourth quarter playing Philadelphia."
Carroll has made the idea of finishing strong, of outlasting an opponent, a central theme of his program, and the buy-in from players has been there from the beginning, leading to the Seahawks playing some of their best games over the years in the final month of the season.
"We preach that," center Justin Britt said. . "We talk about finishing all the time, and competing, so whenever the third, fourth quarter comes around in the season, we're starting to take off when other teams are starting to die off. We hang our hats on that, that's our identity. And other teams know that, they know we're getting ready to take off in the fourth quarter of the season… The teams that win later in the season are the ones that get remembered. You've just got to handle your business, stay on the preparation and keep getting better."
Added Wright, "We emphasize it, we really emphasize it. We just have that confidence. We know that in December, that's when you take off. We've done a great job of it, so we're going to continue it. I believe we are."
And Seattle's focus on finishing isn't just talk. It shows up in how the team practices, in how they focus on details that are just as important in December as they were in offseason workouts and training camp.
"I think the emphasis on the little things, like the details of everything," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "We keep that emphasis throughout the year, and I feel like as the season goes on, I feel like some teams tend to get away from the smaller things and the detail things, and I feel like that is something that we do a good job on, our coaches do a good job on emphasizing all the time. Whether it is tackling, how we prepare during the week, we tend to stay on those details, and I think that is what separates us toward the end of the season, because the teams don't stay on those details towards the end."
With their next three games against opponents currently in playoff positions, all of them possessing dangerous front sevens, perhaps no unit will have its ability to finish tested more than the offensive line. But with Luke Joeckel back at left guard, playing next to recently-acquired left tackle Duane Brown for the first time last week, the Seahawks believe their line is poised to build off of last week's victory in which Wilson was not sacked for the first time since late in the 2015 season.
"That is going to get answered here very quickly," offensive line coach/assistant head coach Tom Cable said when asked about the progress of his line. "If you look at what this week is and the next week and the next week, we got a month here of real big challenges against really good defenses, so we are going to find out."
But no matter how tough these upcoming challenges may be, Cable, like Carroll is counting on the line and the offense as a whole to finish the season better than it started.
"It's really about our culture and the way we do things," Cable said. "For us, the preseason has always been about championship efforts and opportunities, so that when you get into November, December and so forth, you are used to that mentality. I think as you work on getting your football right, which we have really been focused on, you give yourself a chance to do it so these games that people say are big, are normal to us. So that is where we want to make it normal."
Photos from Wednesday's practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center as the Seahawks ready for their Week 13 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles at CenturyLink Field.