For a team that has gone 7-1 the Seahawks are drawing a lot of criticism from their fan base of late. That is some indication of how good this team is. For a team that is supposed to be a Super Bowl contender winning games is not enough. This team is supposed to win games in a convincing fashion such that we believe they can keep winning games and ultimately win the last game of the NFL season in February.
While I would caution fans to keep their expectations within reason and appreciate the wins as they come, this team has exposed some weaknesses that could be problematic down the line. It does matter how you win as well as that you win. There are many underlying factors that go into winning a game that are far more predictive of future outcomes than the binary result of the game itself.
Today I thought I would address three of the biggest weaknesses the Seahawks have exposed that may not have cost them wins yet, but will in the future if they aren’t addressed. Given the amount of ink spilled on the topic of pass protection I’ve tried not to address it directly, though it is the indirect root of so many of Seattle’s problems that unfortunately it can’t be ignored, even when I’m actively trying to ignore it.
Problem #1: Converting on Third Down
The Seahawks are tied for 26th in third downs converted with the likes of the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants. A 34% conversion rate will not be enough to sustain the drives necessary to beat good teams in this league. There are a couple of factors at work here. One is the aforementioned pass protection. On third down opposing defenses can bring in their most dangerous pass rushing sets against an offensive line that has been sieve-like in 2013. The other issue here, one that could be resolved in the near future, is the lack of a true go-to receiver on that down. In the Matt Hasselbeck era the Seahawks could consistently look to Bobby Engram on third down and he would come through again and again and again. It’s not clear who that guy is for the Seahawks right now. Doug Baldwin has the ability to be that guy, Percy Harvin definitely has the ability to be that guy, but it hasn’t happened yet. In theory the return of the Seahawks starting offensive tackles and Percy Harvin could make a world of difference in this area.
Problem # 2: Penalties
The Seahawks have allowed opponents to get 19 first downs from penalties, Michael Bennett personally has seven penalties in eight games and the Seahawks had only 52 more yards on offense than they relinquished in penalties on Monday night so it’s safe to say that penalties are a problem. To be fair the Seahawks created nothing on offense against the Rams so that last comparison is a little unfair but 83 yards is still a big issue. Whenever people talk about penalties they are quick to dismiss them as a correctable problem, but I’m not sure to what degree that is the case. The Seahawks could definitely stand to cut down on their penalties and in many cases I’m sure they have the ability to do it but I don’t think they can become an extraordinarily disciplined team overnight. During the Mike Holmgren era this team was very good at avoiding penalties and since Pete Carroll has taken over the opposite has been the case. This is largely due to employing the type of players, like Brandon Browner (who got a lot of penalties in the CFL as well) and Kam Chancellors, that are just going to make the yellow flags come out. It’s hard to have anything profound to say on this topic but it sure is frustrating.
Problem #3: Fumbles
This is another problem that links back to poor pass protection but Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch have to do a better job of protecting the ball regardless. Wilson did not fumble at an extraordinary rate last year, especially for a quarterback who runs (I know he wouldn’t like it if I said “running quarterback”) so there is no reason to believe this is an inevitable career long problem. He just needs to get it sorted out for now ASAP. Marshawn Lynch has actually been OK in this area only fumbling twice this year. It could also be noted that Golden Tate’s stubborn refusal to take a fair catch is something that could easily lead to a fumble or two if he isn’t careful. The Seahawks as a team have 18 fumbles in 2013, the second most in the league, and that won’t cut it given the aggressive and physical defenses they will be facing down the stretch.
The Seahawks are a 7-1 team and no one can take that away from them. However, this is a 7-1 team with serious warts and there are some things that need to be tightened up if they are going to beat teams like San Francisco and New Orleans. The pitiful performance against the St. Louis Rams caused a small degree of panic among the Seahawks faithful and that’s probably a little bit unfair. That game was always going to be a close one given that it was a divisional game where the Rams greatest strength matched up with the Seahawks greatest weakness. However, there is legitimate reason for concern and as the Seahawks go into the second half of the season and there are quite a few issues to address. Pete Carroll might do well to start with these three.