Seahawks review: Three likes and dislikes about the 16-12 victory over Carolina
This post is a little late because I was driving back from Eugene, Ore., on Sunday and listened to the Seahawks game on the radio. I didn't want to comment until I had actually watched it.
It was almost as tense viewing the game after knowing the outcome as it was waiting for Steve Raible to describe the action while I was in my car. The Seahawks needed that one badly, and though they almost gave it away several times, they improved their record to 3-2 with another dominating defensive performance and just enough offense to get by.
Here's the good and bad from the game as I saw it.
1. Penalties, especially those by tackle Breno Giacomini, continue to burden the offense . Giacomini opened the game with two first-quarter penalties that cost the Seahawks 81 yards, including a 56-yard pass to Golden Tate negated because of holding. At the end of the quarter, Giacomini received an unnecessary roughness penalty that seemed both iffy and a reflection of the bad reputation he is getting. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll benched Giacomini for a series after that penalty, his third personal foul in a span of five quarters. Russell Okung had another holding call to continue his frustrating trend. The Seahawks don't have a good enough offense to withstand all the repeated mistakes.
2. The passing game was more productive than its NFL-worst norm, but as an offense, the Seahawks still aren't scoring enough. Yes, there were bright spots, albeit against a statistically horrible Carolina defense. But the Seahawks still managed only three field goals and one touchdown, and that touchdown came after Brandon Browner made an incredible, fumble-forcing play on an option run to give the Seahawks the ball 27 yards from the end zone. If Browner doesn't take that football away from DeAngelo Williams, do the Seahawks find the end zone and win that game? The offense was better. Russell Wilson threw for 221 yards and completed 76 percent of his passes despite two interceptions. The Seahawks converted 7 of 14 third-down opportunities, and that 50-percent rate is superb. Still, in three red-zone tries, they scored only one touchdown. It's not good enough yet, but this was small progress. The Seahawks are averaging 17.2 points per game and have reached 20 points in just one of five games.
3. Russell Wilson must take care of the ball better. With two more interceptions Sunday, Wilson now has thrown five picks in the last two games. While he was the victim of bad luck against St. Louis, the two interceptions against Carolina were less fluky. He has to be more careful with the football. As someone beating the drum for the Seahawks to be more aggressive on offense, it seems contradictory to want them to take more chances and minimize risk. But the two things aren't mutually exclusive. They can be aggressive without hemorrhaging turnovers, and Wilson has a history of passing efficiency. Wilson played a decent game Sunday, his most productive of the season, and it would've been even better if that 56-yarder to Tate hadn't been called back. But he has to limit the rookie mistakes.
1. The entire defense -- from Browner's play, to Bruce Irvin's two sacks, to Richard Sherman's blanketing of Steve Smith, to Bobby Wagner's sideline-to-sideline speed and on and on and on. You can't praise the Seahawks defense enough. The unit was brilliant again, limiting the Panthers to 190 yards, a little more than half of what they were averaging entering the game. Cam Newton completed only 12 of 29 passes for 141 yards. The Panthers' well-respected running backs were non-factors. The Seahawks defense was responsible for only three points and made big plays throughout to provoke and then preserve this victory.
2. Wilson's improvement was evident on third down and in getting the ball to wide receivers Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin and tight end Zach Miller. Our Seahawks beat writer, Danny O'Neil, has been tracking the Seahawks' third-down performance like crazy the past few weeks, searching for a smarter answer to the offense's struggles. In this game, O'Neil had Wilson completing 9 of 10 passes for 75 yards on third down, which led to the Seahawks converting five times on third down through the air, including the touchdown pass to Tate that came after Browner stripped Williams. The Seahawks hadn't converted a third down with a pass in their previous two games. But they were more effective against Carolina's poor defense, and Rice (five catches, 67 yards) and Miller (three catches, 59 yards) finally were able to impact the offense. It was also nice to see Baldwin, who has been battling injuries all season, catch three passes for 37 yards. The Seahawks need his productivity, too.
3. The defense we praised earlier was at its best in crunch time. How about Sherman forcing a fumble in the fourth quarter to rob Carolina of a first down? The goal-line stand with three minutes left in the game? And Irvin sacking Newton and forcing a fumble on Carolina's final possession? The defense showed plenty of mental toughness to go with their physical might. They were tested again and again. They could've easily relented and blamed the offense for putting them in a bad spot. But they didn't. It was an impressive performance from beginning to critical end.
This is who the Seahawks (3-2) are and likely will be all season. They're so extraordinary on defense -- and so blah on offense -- that they're bound to play these types of games. Four of their five games have come down to the final possession. It's becoming typical in 2012. They're built to make you bite your nails.
And you know what? Even though I criticize the offense regularly, I'm beginning to embrace this style of play. If the Seahawks are going to be an incomplete team as they finish off their rebuilding, they're far better off being lopsided in this fashion. You've seen them be an offensive juggernaut that can't defend before, and they were a nightmare on the road because of it. At least defense travels. At least defense ensures you can create a realistic winning scenario every week.
The Seahawks' margin for error is small, but with a defense like this, they'll always be in games. And if they win their fair share, they'll be in the playoffs.
This isn't ideal, but as the Seahawks pursue ideal, it's workable.