The Seahawks rebounded from an 0-2 start by winning two straight, and now at 2-2 Seahawks coach Pete Carroll feels like his team is trending in the right direction. The Seahawks aren't a finished product—far from it—but Carroll sees things his team can build on moving forward.
"We have made marked improvement," he said. "We're finding ourselves, we're finding our way to play the game. Offense and defense fitting together very well. The kicking game continues to be solid. We have a chance to continue to improve. I think we're just getting rolling. There's a lot more to come on the offensive side of the ball in terms of how we mix and how we do the things we want to do. We really needed to focus and establish that we could run the football and find our offensive line's nature. I think we've really tapped into that. That's really important and it's a long, long season. There's so many things that are going to happen during the course of the year. The start isn't really the telltale of what these seasons are all about. The fact that we've made progress and we have found something that we really like and the way we want to go is huge."
With the first quarter of the season now in the rearview mirror, it's time to look back at the players, moments and trends that stood out through the first four games:
Offensive MVP: Quarterback Russell Wilson
Like the rest of the offense, Wilson has had some ups and down early in the season, and while his numbers are solid—62.8 percent completion percentage, 7.3 yards per attempt, 7 touchdowns, 3 interceptions and a 94.0 passer rating—he would be the first to say he is capable of doing more.
But the biggest reason Wilson gets the nod here is this: in Seattle's two wins this season, the offense has not turned the ball over, and considering the quarterback is so often responsible for taking care of the ball, that's a very important stat not just for the team but for Wilson.
"We basically win when that happens," Carroll said of not committing turnovers.
And it's not like Wilson has just been a game manager who's not making big plays. While the running game stole the show in Arizona, Wilson was very good in the win over Dallas, throwing two touchdowns while posting a 109.8 passer rating. He also helped orchestrate the game-winning drive in the final minutes at Arizona.
Tyler Lockett definitely deserves a mention here for his fast start to the season, particularly with Doug Baldwin missing most of the first three games. Seattle's running backs have also stepped up, especially Chris Carson in Week 3 and Mike Davis last weekend, who gave the Seahawks back-to-back 100-yard rushers after Seattle failed to have a single running back accomplish that last season.
Defensive MVPs: Safeties Earl Thomas & Bradley McDougald
It's hard to pick between Seattle's two safeties, who were both outstanding in the first quarter of the season, so we'll call it a tie.
Through four games, Thomas leads the Seahawks with 22 total tackles, 16 of them solo tackles, while McDougald has a team-high 20 solo tackles and 21 total. Thomas has three interceptions and five passes defensed, while McDougald has two interceptions, five passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Unfortunately for the Seahawks and for Thomas, he was placed on injured reserve Tuesday due to a fractured tibia, but he deserves a ton of credit for the way he played through four games.
"He's a great football player, and has demonstrated that for a long period of time," Carroll said. "He came out and had probably his best start of any season he could recall."
The Seahawks do still have McDougald, however, and based off his start to the season, he should have plenty more big plays in him going forward.
"Everything he's doing he's doing well," Carroll said. "He has just been in coverage well, he has tackled well, he has made big plays, he has made picks already. He has been around the football. Gosh, he's just off to a great start to the season. We always knew he was versatile, but we appreciate it more and he's just so comfortable with the system now. He's making things happen, considerably more obvious than last year. I think he's already coming out and just showing us more things that he can do."
Also standing out, as always, is middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. On the defensive line, Frank Clark and Jarran Reed each have three sacks and have both been very good against the run as well.
Special Teams MVPs: Punter Michael Dickson & Linebacker Barkevious Mingo
The Seahawks traded up in the fifth round to draft Michael Dickson, and so far the rookie out of Texas has indeed looked like a special talent at his position.
Dickson currently ranks second in the NFL with a 44.1 net average, which is generally regarded as one of the most important stats for a punter, and his 48.4 yards-per-punt average ranks sixth. He also ranks sixth in the league with nine punts downed inside the 20. And if seeing a punt bounce into the end zone for a touchback last Sunday seemed odd, that's because it was the only punt Dickson has had go for a touchback this year. Dickson also showed his uniqueness in Week 2 by drop-kicking a kickoff after a penalty on Chicago moved the kick to midfield, landing the ball just short of the goal line to help pin the Bears inside their 20.
The best example of how big of a weapon Dickson can be at his best was his season-opening performance at Denver when he had a net average of 57.5 on six punts, four of which were downed inside the 20. In that game, Dickson had a 69-yard punt go out of bounds at the 6-yard line, a 59-yarder that was downed at the 2-yard line, and a 57-yarder that went out at the 13-yard line. On their six possessions following Dickson punts, the Broncos scored just a single field goal.
But special teams is more than just kicking, punting and long-snapping; there are also the "core" players who do the dirty work on the punt and kick coverage and return units, several of them playing on all four of those units.
Of that group, Barkevious Mingo, Neiko Thorpe, Tre Madden and Justin Coleman have earned some of the highest marks from coaches. Shaquem Griffin also deserves a mention here for his team-leading four special teams tackles.
The Seahawks signed Mingo this offseason in part for what he can do on defense, and he has been good there, starting at strongside linebacker while also serving as an edge rusher in nickel packages. But after signing Mingo in March, Carroll also quickly pointed out that he should be a big contributor on special teams, and in addition to recording 10 tackles and a sack on defense, Mingo has indeed been one of Seattle's best special teamers while also being among the team leaders in playing time in that phase of the game.
"He has really been a factor," Carroll said. "He's a factor with his effort. He was always, all the way back to his college days, a great effort guy. When we saw him in the offseason, honestly I'll tell you that I was kind of surprised that it didn't show up more, just chasing the ball and doing things in practice and all. I was concerned about it and mentioned it to him, because we had thought we'd got a guy that was going to just fly and rip and play. He always talked about never getting tired in games and stuff like that and that's why he was able to play so hard. As soon as the game started, it showed up. He has been really one of the guys that (special teams coordinator) Brian Schneider talks about the most because he gives such consistent effort and he works so hard at doing things right. He's really controlling his position now, the SAM backer spot, for us. He's really gained a lot of ground on it. He's sharp, he's on it. He's been effective on the perimeter. You've seen him make plays in the backfield in some difficult situations. To really appreciate him, you just got to watch him. He runs like crazy. He runs forever. He never does get tired, he just plays like crazy. He played on all four special teams units throughout, hasn't missed a play yet I don't believe. He also is contributing in the nickel rush packages too, some. He's doing a great job, having a terrific season."
Best Rookie: Tight End Will Dissly
There are a few worthy candidates here, including the aforementioned Dickson, as well as cornerback Tre Flowers, a fifth-round pick who hast started three of four games, missing one due to injury. First-round pick Rashaad Penny has had a pretty significant role in the offense, one that figures to grow as the season goes along, and defensive end Rasheem Green was a regular in the defensive line rotation through three games—he missed last week's game with an ankle injury. But early this season, it has been Dissly, a fourth-round pick out of Washington, who has played the biggest role of the bunch.
The Seahawks selected Dissly first and foremost because they considered him to be the best blocking tight end in the draft, and he has indeed been a big part of Seattle's run blocking and pass protection. But in addition to his talent as a blocker, Dissly has also proven to be a weapon in the passing game, leading the team in receiving yards through two games with 142 and two touchdowns on six catches. Unfortunately for Dissly and Seattle's offense, he joined Earl Thomas on IR this week, the result of a patellar tendon injury sustained after making a 5-yard reception in Sunday's game.
Overall, this year's class has shown some very positive early signs, and as is always the case with rookies, the Seahawks will expect that group to be even better as the season goes along.
Best Free-Agent Addition: Guard J.R. Sweezy
Sweezy became available late in the offseason when he was released by Tampa Bay in late June, and the Seahawks eventually decided early in training camp to bring back the player they drafted in the seventh-round of the 2012 draft. At the time, the Seahawks appeared to be somewhat settled at guard, with Ethan Pocic on the left side and D.J. Fluker on the right side, and then Sweezy sustained a high-ankle sprain during his first practice back with his old team. So it wasn't a sure thing by any means that Sweezy would contribute right away this season, but with Fluker dealing with a hamstring injury early in the season, Sweezy started the first two games at right guard, then he moved to left guard when Pocic injured his ankle.
Sweezy has played well in both roles, and Carroll has noted in particular that he likes the interior line combo of Fluker, Justin Britt and Sweezy that Seattle used last week. Even with Pocic likely to be back from his injury this week, Carroll indicated that Sweezy will stay in the starting lineup at least for Sunday's game against Los Angeles.
Fluker is also worthy of consideration here, though he did miss two of the first four games. As mentioned earlier, Barkevious Mingo has been important both on defense and special teams, and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen has been an important part of the defensive line. The Seahawks have also gotten contributions at receiver from a pair of free-agent additions, Jaron Brown and Brandon Marshall.
Best Play, Offense: Wilson To Lockett 52-yard Touchdown vs. Dallas
Wilson's 51-yarder to Tyler Lockett for a touchdown against Denver might have been the more impressive route and throw, but we'll give the slight nod to their long touchdown over Dallas for a couple of reasons. First off, that score came in a win, which never hurts, and secondly, what happened before the snap was an example of what Wilson did so well in that game.
One of the things Carroll praised Wilson for in that game in particular is the way he used tempo to affect Dallas' defense. That doesn't just mean Wilson and the Seahawks went up-tempo, but that they did subtle things to change it up from time to time to keep Dallas off balance. Just before the ball was snapped, Carroll, who was mic'd up for NFL Films, notes, "This is as one-on-one as we can get right here boys," and Wilson sees it too, realizing the safety who potentially could drop to help with Lockett had crept up near the line of scrimmage where he was still communicating with teammates. Wilson snapped the ball quickly, Lockett beat a corner who looked to be expecting safety help—help that arrived too late—and the Seahawks had a key play in their first win of the season.
Also worth a mention here are Dissly's rumbling 66-yard catch and run in Week 1, Carson's hurdle over Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby in that same game, and Mike Davis' 20-yard touchdown run last week, a play that would have been impressive just for the run, but that gets bonus points for having Wilson provide a key block near the end zone.
Best Play, Defense: Earl Thomas' Shoe-Top Interception Following Tre Flowers' Pass Breakup
One of the best things about Seattle's play on defense early this season has been its ability to take the ball away, so it's only fitting we single out one of the team's seven interceptions. As has been the case on a few interceptions this season, this one required teamwork, with Flowers making a textbook play to rip the ball away from the intended receiver before Thomas somehow pinned the ball to his shin/foot before it hit the ground. The play was so unlikely that it initially fooled officials, who ruled it an incomplete pass, but Carroll challenged and the call was overturned.
Just as impressive was Thomas' second interception in that same game, a pass initially broken up by Bobby Wagner that Thomas was able to pull in with one hand as he went to the ground.
Bradley McDougald's forced fumble at the end of a long Ezekiel Elliott run was a huge play in that game as well, not just because it gave Seattle the ball, but because it ended a scoring threat when Dallas was trying to get back into the game.
Best Trends: Running Game Growth On Offense And Takeaways On Defense
As mentioned earlier, the Seahawks defense has been very opportunistic this season, creating nine takeaways, including seven interceptions. Last year the Seahawks had 25 takeaways, not a terrible total by any means, but not up to their lofty standards, so improving on that total was a focus this offseason, and so far they're off to a good start, especially when combined with an offense that has not committed a turnover in the past two weeks.
"It has really been important," Carroll said. "… Our guys are coming through in a big way, making their picks. I think we're being little bit more aggressive and it's just paying off for us in terms of getting the ball. There's nothing better. There's nothing better than taking football off your opponents."
On offense, the Seahawks came into the season wanting to get their running game back on track after two subpar seasons in that department, but in their first two games, a number of factors, including third-down struggles and long down-and-distance situations kept that from happening. The past two games, both Seahawks victories, have seen the offense get back to the type of balance Carroll loves, with Seattle running for a combined 284 yards on 73 carries.
In particular Carroll has been encouraged by the growth he has seen in the line, both in how that group has paved the way for consecutive 100-yard rushers, and also in their improved pass blocking—Wilson was sacked 12 times in the first two games and four times in the last two.
"I think it's really worth noting that the offensive line continues to improve," Carroll said Monday. "When you look at the first couple of weeks when we had all the sacks, the last couple of weeks we just haven't. Way better pass protection-wise, and also the running game has really come to life. Running the ball over thirty times the last couple of games is really a message that we are trying to project that this is how we want to play these football games. That was good stuff. Justin Britt played really good coming back. He played well with D.J. and with Sweez on the other side of him, so that just looked good, looked strong. The running game was really highlighted by Michael Davis's play. Mike, he just played a terrific football game, was active and creative and tough and aggressive and did a beautiful job. Rashaad Penny played well too. In his nine carries, he did a nice job. He got some space and ran hard and you can see him coming along. It's a real good statement for the running back room for us. Chris (Carson) played well last week, and these guys come back and hit it pretty good and get another 100-yard rusher. That's good stuff."
Thing To Improve: Third-Down Offense
Had the Seahawks not won in Arizona Sunday, the fact that they went 0 for 10 on third down would have likely been one of the biggest reasons why. The Seahawks managed to win despite those third-down struggles, but regardless of that result, that's something the offense knows it needs to improve upon going forward. The Seahawks were solid on third down in their win over Dallas converting six of their first nine and 44 percent overall, but in their other three games the Seahawks have gone 2 for 12, 5 for 13 and 0 for 10.
"There were a couple things that we could've done to convert, and they're really subtle things about the throw or the route or the break of the route rather than pulling up on a route and stuff like that," Carroll said of that 0 for 10 showing against Arizona. "There were really subtle things that we could've done better and unfortunately, it just stacked up to be a terrible night on third down… We just need to turn that around. It's a remarkable game in a sense, to see that we had (the advantage in) time of possession on the clock again this week and we didn't convert on third down. There's so many more plays and opportunities out there that we missed out on, so we take a lot of positives out of the fact that we overcame that."
Team photographer Rod Mar shares exclusive images from the Seahawks' Week 4 road game against the Arizona Cardinals.