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He Said / She Said: Seattle Seahawks’ Second-Half Outlook

Friday, November 06, 2015

 

Oregon Sports News football writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath take stock of the Seattle Seahawks (4–4) at the midway point of their season. And we’ll probably find some other things to argue about.

Next game: Arizona Cardinals, 5:30 p.m. PT Sunday, Nov. 15
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.

Rogers: As expected, the Seahawks evened up their season record with a skin-of-their-teeth 13–12 victory over the sputtering Dallas Cowboys. They are two games behind division leader the Arizona Cardinals and half a game behind the St. Louis Rams. I still don’t see another NFC West division title for them this season. But what do you think, Jess — are they back on track for a playoff spot? Keep in mind the Atlanta Falcons and the Minnesota Vikings are ahead of the Seahawks in the NFC playoff chase and the New Orleans Saints also just evened up their season record this past Sunday. 

Ridpath: Last week’s victory was absolutely crucial for Seattle’s 2015 prospects. But I’m not sure barely beating a team led by Matt Cassel (who seemed to just crumple in the game’s waning minutes) tells us much about what the Seahawks will do next. 

Looking within the division, both St. Louis and Arizona have a nice balance of tough matchups and  “gimme” games to look forward to (the Rams can count on wins against the Bears, Lions, and 49ers, while the Cardinals should breathe easy facing the Eagles and 49ers). Comparably, Seattle’s slate for the rest of 2015 brings roughly similar challenges and gifts. But I hesitate to call any of their games a sure thing because I still don’t feel like I know who the blue birds are this year, nor what they’re capable of (both good and bad). Like many 12s out there, I’m still waiting for the real Seahawks to please stand up.

When it comes to securing a wild card berth, I think we can safely say two things: 1) the NFC South is clearly in the picture, and 2) the NFC East clearly isn’t. That means the Seahawks’ last best hope may be a heavy helping of losses for the Vikings, currently the #2 team in the NFC North. Aside from Minnesota’s week-15 matchup against the Bears, the rest of their season looks like a tough row to hoe. 

In any case, if Seattle does make it to the playoffs, it will likely be another skin-of-their-teeth accomplishment. Julian, what has surprised you most about the Seahawks’ unexpectedly mediocre performance so far this season? 

Rogers: I think we have seen the real Seahawks so far. And that is probably the biggest surprise. Compared to their 2014 and 2013 Super Bowl selves, this year’s model is a more vulnerable version. They earned their .500 record by failing to advance their passing game, displaying previously unseen vulnerability in the defensive secondary and consistently underperforming on the offensive line. My expectation, since disproven, was that the Seahawks looked like the strongest NFC West team again this year.

I wasn’t expecting more of the same on offense. The Seahawks spent most of the past two seasons as the 26th- or 27th -ranked passing offense. That is exactly where they find themselves again, half-way through the season (26th). I expected the Seahawks to improve into the league’s upper-third, but it appears this is just not in their DNA, despite the arrival of Jimmy Graham. 

While the Legion of Boom has taken its lumps, allowing previously unseen free runners in the secondary and a handful of crucial big catches — often blamed on mental mistakes — the Seahawks do still find themselves ranked as the second-best passing defense behind Denver. Statistically, they’re up to par. Qualitatively, there is reason for concern. 

Seahawks observers may find it hard to square the memory of big crucial catches in their four losses with the blue birds’ almost top ranking. But here’s why: The Seahawks have feasted on some bottom-barrel quarterbacks: Colin Kaepernick (since benched), Jimmy Clausen (since benched), Matthew Stafford (got his offensive coordinator fired), Cassel (Dallas’ third QB of the season; soon-to-be benched.) 

Jess, what has surprised you about the Seahawks and the chase for the playoffs half-way through the season?

Ridpath: Everything you said, and then some. You mentioned surprising “mental mistakes,” and I’d like to add to that list Seattle’s several penalties for having 12 men on the field. I can’t find the exact stat, but this particular error sticks out in my mind — and not just because they got away with one in last week’s game in Dallas. 

Not being able to count to 11 cost them dearly in their week-two loss to the Packers, when Seattle’s defense opened the game with what looked like a three-and-out … until the play was called back. The Packers turned that drive into seven points. Add that to Michael Bennett’s three (!) offsides penalties (which Aaron Rodgers turned into 100+ yards, including a touchdown), and you get an ugly collection of mental errors that cost them the game.

You also mentioned Seattle’s failure to capitalize on Graham to boost their passing game. To me, this is the biggest disappointment of the season. Eight weeks in, and he only has three games with at least 75 receiving yards — compared to four games with 31 yards or less. 

The good news is that Graham is averaging 11.8 yards per catch. It’s hard for me to understand why Seattle can’t (won’t?) find a way to get him the ball more. With their season half over, it’s too late to say that Graham and Russell Wilson just need time to develop their chemistry. In fact, some are already saying it’s time to talk trade. 

Looking across the league, the biggest surprises this season have been the NFC East (so bad) and the NFC South (so much better than last year). In particular, I think Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford has been astonishingly disappointing. He’s performed so poorly that a Philly native I know is begging to see Mark Sanchez get the start. That’s cringe-worthy. On the surprisingly good side have been Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. My biggest oops of the year was predicting that Newton didn’t have the arm to beat Seattle. Wrong.

Okay, Julian. Your turn. Which prediction do you most regret going public with so far this season? 

Rogers: That would have to be my prediction that the Seahawks would win another NFC West championship. I was wrong on two fronts: I underestimated the difficulties they would have in maintaining their level of play with the new personnel — brought on by new salary cap realities. I also underestimated the caliber of the Arizona Cardinals. With a healthy and motivated Carson Palmer and a still-at-the-top-of-his-game Larry Fitzgerald, along with a tough (fourth-ranked) defense, the Cardinals are the real deal. The division is theirs to lose. 

I agree with the surprises you named. I’m now a Panthers believer, and I certainly was not after last season and the loss of Kelvin Benjamin in the preseason. I’ll add to the list: The 2–6 Baltimore Ravens. I figured them to be a .500 at worst team. They’ll be .500 at (unlikely) best, now that Steve Smith has been lost for the season. 

I also figured the Detroit Lions would be a playoff contender, neck-and-neck with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikes (5–2) are a serious contender for not only a playoff spot, but the NFC North crown. The Lions (1–7) are a contender for the first overall pick in next April’s draft. I did not expect the Green Bay Packers to be undefeated through six games, but they have clearly been exposed as of last Sunday by the Denver Broncos. The NFC North division will be interesting to watch. 

The AFC looks to be the stronger conference with three undefeated teams to date (New England, Denver, Cincinnati), compared to the NFC’s one (Carolina). Jess, we don’t have a Seahawks game to predict, so let’s raise the bar a little. We’re half-way through the season. Who do you see as the six playoff teams in each conference, when it’s all said and done? Here are mine, seeded in order:

NFC

Carolina Panthers

Arizona Cardinals

Green Bay Packers

Dallas Cowboys

Minnesota Vikings

Atlanta Falcons

AFC

New England Patriots

Denver Broncos

Cincinnati Bengals

Indianapolis Colts

New York Jets

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ridpath: So we’re at the half-way point, and you’re ready to go all in, eh? I’ll agree to show my cards, sure … but only if you agree to a friendly wager. (We can work the details out later.)

Your picks for the two #1 seeds are right on in my book. But I think you’ll be wrong about three things in the NFC: Green Bay will get the second seed over Arizona. Dallas will be absent. And Seattle will eek by with the final wild card spot.

In the AFC, the top three seeds seem relatively certain. But I’ll go out on a limb and say I’m expecting Cincy to beat Denver to the #2 spot. Don’t ask me why … it’s just a hunch. The bottom three seeds are anybody’s guess. So I drew names out of a hat, thinking that I’m more likely to get lucky than be right.

NFC

Carolina Panthers

Green Bay Packers

Arizona Cardinals

New York Giants

Atlanta Falcons

Seattle Seahawks

AFC

New England Patriots

Cincinnati Bengals

Denver Broncos

Houston Texans

Pittsburgh Steelers

Oakland Raiders
--------------------
Owning Up

Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week

What he got right: The game winner. I’m 5–3 on the season. I suggested the Cowboys were just another patsy, destined to help the Seahawks’ climb back to respectability. I stand by it. And yes, I do predict the Cowboys will bounce back starting later this month, when they get Romo back and take back the NFC East division, which is almost as unimpressive as the AFC South.

What he got wrong: I said I thought the Seahawks would have to take another step forward to beat the Cowboys. That wasn’t really the case. The Seahawks squeaked by with a win, but beating the inept Cowboys — now losers of five in a row — by one point isn’t much of a statement. The blue birds still have room to grow and the schedule now gets a lot tougher after the bye. 

What she got right: The game-winner, keeping me even with my counterpart at 5–3. I predicted that Dez Bryant would not be a big factor — because I was hoping the Cowboys would not push him too far too fast. Indeed Bryant was a non-factor (two receptions for a mere 12 yards), but it was mostly because Richard Sherman succeeded in shutting him down. And because Matt Cassel sucks.

What she got wrong: I thought Seattle would find a way to score a helluva lot more than 13 points — and that they’d win by a wide margin as opposed to a nail-biting single point.

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.

 

Related Slideshow: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time

Hank Stern ranks his top twelve favorite sports films. 

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#3 Hoosiers

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#2 Bull Durham

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