Too high to fly: What we've learned about the Seahawks leading up to the home stretch

You looked too long for heaven — now you're blinded.

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Man, I take a vacation for a couple weeks and everything goes up in smoke. Is this what parenting feels like?

I watched the Seattle Seahawks eke out a win against P.J. Walker and the Browns, who schemed Seattle's defense up with remarkable elegance and forced Geno Smith to beat them on offense. Then, I got on a plane for Hawai'i and mercifully missed the Ravens game, and then the Commanders game on the way back.

By the time I got back, the most brutal stretch of the season for the Seahawks was beginning, and they were backsliding into it. I spent the next game screaming at the TV for most of it — par for the course for your average Seahawks-Rams game. By the time I got back from Thanksgiving dinner, the 49ers had already put the 'Hawks in the spin cycle, and I had already had enough roasted bird for one day.

And, of course, there was this last Thursday's game in Dallas, and it's time for me to rewind time two decades again. 2004, Monday Night Football in Seattle, and the Cowboys are in town late in the season. The Seahawks are jostling with the Kurt Warner-less Rams for the NFC West crown, the Cowboys have been rudderless at QB since Troy Aikman hung up the wristband, and none of it will ultimately matter because the Eagles added Terrell Owens to an already stacked roster, and will invariably cut through the NFC like a chop saw.

What have we learned about the 2023 Seattle Seahawks?

But for now, the Seahawks are coming off a huge loss to Drew Bledsoe and the Buffalo Bills, and they need to bounce back in a huge way to keep pace with a Rams team that, despite having lost one of the seminal QBs of his generation, is still impossibly talented and headed by offensive guru Mike Martz. It's a must-win for them, and the offense, normally potent, but having fits and starts of late, showed up to play, with two touchdowns in the first quarter.

One commonality we've been over when comparing this team to those old Holmgren teams, though, is that the defense always seems to find a way to let the opponent back into it. Or, in this particular case, give up 26 unanswered points over the course of the next two quarters to make it 29-14. And then, of course, the talent on the offensive side of the ball — Jerry Rice was this team's WR4, after all — suddenly woke up and dragged the Seahawks to a ten-point lead with just 2:46 left to play.

What happened next, I have not forgotten since and likely never will. Vinny Testaverde took the Cowboys on back-to-back two-minute drives, aided by an onside kick recovery, and threw about a dozen darts through the Seahawks' swiss cheese defense, including one to Keyshawn Johnson about halfway across the field into the back of the end zone into a Tyler Lockett-sized space.

Watching Dak Prescott perforate the Seahawks' defense like my grandmother's sewing machine was, shall we say, an exercise in existentialism. 20 years later, between Super Bowl wins, genuinely good coaches being completely helpless to save the abysmal teams they fielded, and everything in between, my Seahawks find themselves in the exact same place they were in when I was a child — an overwhelmingly talented team with a legendary head coach that just can't get out of their own way.

It's easy to look at the overwhelming morass of talent, ask why, and try to reduce it to a singular point, be it Geno Smith's unruly play, Shane Waldron's confusing playcalling, Pete Carroll's general Pete Carroll-ness, or whatever else makes your circuits overheat. But truthfully, if it was any one problem, this team is talented enough to compensate for that. It's more than that.

The offense has a third down problem. They have a red zone problem. They have three starting-caliber receivers, but their best offensive packages usually only allow for one or two of them to take the field at a time. The defense? Hoo boy. Individually, potentially 9 out of the 11 starters could be Pro Bowlers any given year, perhaps even more if and when Uchenna Nwosu heals up. Yet they manage to be an even bigger problem. The middle of the field is consistently exploitable behind the linebackers. They've allowed over 375 yards of offense in 7 of the 12 games they've played thus far.

What we've seen to this point is not what a team as talented as Seattle should look like. They have yet to show us a "complete performance," where both the offense and defense put their best foot forward and outclass their opponent. This last game against the Cowboys was one of the closer attempts they've made, and they lost, gave up 130 yards' worth of penalties, didn't force a single turnover, missed a field goal, and came away with five empty drives despite never punting once during the game.

It's often the case that when your roster is truly talented, all the extra flourishes that make fans and journalists go ga-ga for the Kyle Shanahans and Sean McVays of the world become unnecessary. Most of the best defenses of the last 30 years have run overwhelmingly simple variations of one of two schemes — Monte Kiffin's or Vic Fangio's. Most of the best offenses don't do anything crazy when crunch time comes — they instead rely on one or two playmakers to dominate their assignment, whether that's Peyton Manning, Tyreek Hill, Tom Brady, or Adrian Peterson.

And that's where I think the rubber meets the road with this Seahawks team. Much hay has been made over their last play-call on Thursday, choosing to bring Deejay Dallas across the formation instead of looking for any one of their star receivers. In a vacuum, it really isn't a bad idea — you're counting on Dallas to over-pursue the QB and leave your primary kick returner a bunch of room to run and potentially get out of bounds. The logic behind the play-call isn't bad at all.

But at the same time, you're basically taking all your best players out of the play. Metcalf, Lockett, JSN, and Noah Fant are all away from the play. You're functionally taking Geno Smith out of the play, as well, because it's a one-read play, especially with Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence bearing down on him at ludicrous speed. You're entrusting a pivotal game with playoff implications to Deejay Dallas, Anthony Bradford, and whichever one of Abe Lucas or Jason Peters is fresh enough to play at double speed.

These Seahawks are too talented to try to outfox their opponents like that. This whole season has been a clinic on how far a team can go without an identity to stick to. They're ultra-effective in big personnel but insist on their 3WR sets to justify the JSN pick. They claim to want to run the football but are constantly abandoning it when they can't run out of shotgun. They brought back Bobby Wagner to help shore up the middle of the field, but are just as vulnerable there as they were last year. They want to be blitz-heavy to make the most of Jordyn Brooks, Bobby Wagner, and Jamal Adams, but they can't get consistent pressure to save their lives.

These Seahawks have nothing to fall back on and say "this is who we are, and we defy you to prove otherwise." They are a ship without direction, a captain without a compass, a crewman with no title. For their own sake, they need to simplify the game they're playing and decide who they want to be. And they can take it from me, someone who has a little too much experience with this — there is nothing in this world so demeaning as lacking self-identity.

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