Seahawks at the quarter mark: Strengths, weaknesses and questions after 3-1 start

Pete Carroll landed in Seattle early Tuesday morning after the team’s resounding Week 4 win over the Giants elated about where his team is a quarter of the way through the season.

During his weekly radio show, recorded shortly after his arrival from the East Coast, Carroll volunteered how much he loves this Seahawks team and how fun the players are to coach. He also expressed confidence in his team, which is beginning to form an identity.

“We’re just getting going,” said Carroll, whose team has won three straight since a disappointing Week 1 loss to the Rams. “We’re just getting started.”

As the Seahawks (3-1) enter their bye week, let’s take stock of the team with a look at their notable strengths, weaknesses and questions that need to be answered. All stats are provided by TruMedia unless stated otherwise.

Biggest strength: Run defense

On designed carries, Seattle’s defense ranks second in yards allowed per rush (2.7), third in rush EPA, second in success rate and fourth in first-down rate (18.6 percent). The Seahawks have stopped runs for negative yardage or no gain at the third-highest rate in the league (26.5 percent). The raw numbers are good, too — sixth in total rushing yards allowed and third in yards per carry on all runs — but the designed attempts are a more accurate look at how well a team is playing the run.

Seattle’s personnel changes are paying off. Bobby Wagner has been excellent defending the run. He and Jordyn Brooks have strong chemistry, and the two inside linebackers are among the top six at their position in total tackles for loss and run stuffs (tackle for no gain). Nose tackle Jarran Reed’s presence has made a difference, too. He’s consistently taking on double teams yet still being disruptive enough to either make plays on the ball or set up his linebackers.


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Devon Witherspoon’s physicality and ability to play the run factored into Seattle’s decision to take him with the No. 5 pick in the draft. In three games the rookie cornerback has three tackles in the run game for either no gain or exactly one yard, including a hard thump on Giants running back Gary Brightwell on Monday night.

Seattle returned a couple quality run defenders in outside linebackers Uchenna Nwosu and Boye Mafe, and the moves made in the offseason have helped transform that unit. Playing the Giants’ offense is going to spike the numbers for a lot of teams this season, but Seattle has been consistent enough to feel confident in the run defense the rest of the season.

Biggest weakness: Third down offense

After the game Monday night, quarterback Geno Smith was asked where he’d like to see the offense improve coming out of the bye.

“Consistency,” Smith said. “I would say being better on third downs, (that’s) still an area we need to improve.”

There’s only one offense worse than the Seahawks at converting on the third down: the Zach Wilson-led New York Jets. Seattle has converted only 28.9 percent of its attempts on third down (the Jets are at 26.5 percent). The league average is 39.6 percent.

In Monday’s win over the Giants, Seattle went 3-for-12 on third down, though only two of those conversions truly extended drives. The first was Drew Lock’s 51-yard completion to tight end Noah Fant on third-and-10 in the first half. In the third quarter, Smith completed a play-action pass to receiver Tyler Lockett for 23 yards on third-and-1. The other conversion was a Ken Walker III run for three yards on the final play of the first half.

Seattle’s third-down failures once again featured a myriad of issues. Walker was stuffed on third-and-short. Left tackle Stone Forsythe was beaten on Smith’s only third-and-medium dropback. With Smith in the game, Seattle went 0-for-5 on third-and-long. Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux twice beat right tackle Jake Curhan for sacks. Smith threw a third-and-7 pass into the dirt in the third quarter and had a third-and-8 completion to DK Metcalf called back in the first half because the receiver didn’t re-establish himself in the field of play.

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Geno Smith would like to see the offense perform better on third downs. Of his 84 completions, 43 have resulted in first downs this season. (Joe Nicholson / USA Today)

Seattle’s backup tackles have played well filling in for Charles Cross and Abe Lucas, but they haven’t been able to consistently hold up on those long third downs. The Seahawks also don’t seem equipped to help their tackles by getting the ball out quickly in those situations. Seattle ranks third in yards after catch per completion on third down (6.6), but that number is inflated by Fant’s catch and run from Lock. With Smith on the field, that YAC per completion number on third down is 3.79 yards, much closer to the bottom of the league and below the league average of 4.63.

The Seahawks have playmakers. They just aren’t getting them the ball in space on third down to help the offensive line. Getting Cross back in Week 6 should help, and Lucas’ eventual return should as well, but Seattle still needs to be better at utilizing its playmakers on third down.



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Biggest question: Pass defense

The Seahawks are allowing 280 passing yards per game, which is the third-highest mark in the league. They’re 31st in third down defense (52.4 percent) and allow opponents to throw for first downs at the fourth-highest rate in the league (36.4 percent).

The fact those numbers are among the worst in the league even after shutting down the Giants on Monday speaks to how bad Seattle was against the pass in Weeks 1 through 3. New York has one of the worst offenses in the league so beating up on Daniel Jones and his makeshift offensive line isn’t very instructive. However, Monday night was the first full game with Witherspoon and Riq Woolen at cornerback. And if Jamal Adams and Tre Brown clear concussion protocol after the bye week, Seattle’s secondary should be dangerous. That’s a versatile defensive backfield that can impact the game at all three levels. And Monday night illustrated how they can affect the front line, too.

Seattle’s next four games are against the Bengals, Cardinals, Browns and Ravens: two bad offenses by EPA per play (Cincinnati, Cleveland), one average unit (Baltimore) and a top-10 unit (Arizona). If the secondary heals up and plays to its potential, and the run defense remains stout, Seattle’s defense could be the most dominant it’s been since early in 2017 when the Legion of Boom was still intact.

Biggest surprise (negative): Downfield passing 

Smith hasn’t been able to test defenses deep the way he did last season. He ranks 32nd out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks in air yards per attempt (6.2) and has the seventh-highest rate of pass attempts at or behind the line of scrimmage. Metcalf is 21st out of 85 qualified receivers in air yards per target, which is a decent placement for him, but Lockett is 47th and rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba is 84th. Defenses have decided to fully commit to eliminating Seattle’s explosive passing game, largely by playing two-high shells and having cornerbacks play off-coverage on the outside receivers. The Seahawks are still seventh in explosive pass rate (16.3 percent), but the tight ends are doing some heavy lifting in that area. Explosive plays to receivers have been harder to generate.



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Biggest surprise (positive): Offensive line depth 

Seattle has spent a majority of the season playing backups on the offensive line. For most of the game Monday, Seattle played four backups (including two Day 3 rookies) and the lone starter, center Evan Brown, was playing left guard. It wasn’t the prettiest performance, but that unit looked far more competent than the group the home team had. What offensive line coach Andy Dickerson has done to prepare guys like Forsythe, Curhan and rookies Anthony Bradford and Olu Oluwatimi to be serviceable players on a weekly basis is truly impressive. Seattle would like to have its starters healthy, of course, but O-line depth is nearly impossible to find, yet this team has it at all five spots.

(Top photo of Jordyn Brooks, left, and Bobby Wagner: Christopher Mast / Getty Images)

The Football 100, the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, goes on sale this fall. Pre-order it here.

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