Seahawks review: Three likes and dislikes about the 28-24 loss to Detroit
Here are my highs and lows from the Seahawks' disappointing loss Sunday in the Motor City:
1. The defense was at its worst, especially on third down. Of all the troubling and uncharacteristic stats about that defensive effort, the Seahawks' inability to get off the field on third down was the most bitter fact. Detroit converted 12 of 16 third-down tries. The Seahawks now rank 26th in the NFL in third-down defense. They're a very good, young defense, but as the season progresses, it's become clear that this isn't a great defense ready to be measured against the elite. The Seahawks have great cornerbacks on the outside, but their defense has a hole underneath; they allow most of their yards on short passes that expose to coverage issues involving the linebackers, safeties and nickel cornerbacks (usually Marcus Trufant). Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 34 of 49 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns, even though the Seahawks limited wide receiver Calvin Johnson to just three catches. Titus Young killed the Seahawks (nine receptions, 100 yards, two touchdowns), working the middle of the field mostly. The Seahawks recorded just two sacks and couldn't get any consistent pressure on Stafford, who got rid of the ball quickly. The Seahawks allowed 415 yards, couldn't hold onto a 17-7 lead and couldn't close the door after the Seahawks retook the lead at 24-21 with 5:27 remaining. The Lions went 80 yards on 16 yards to win the game at the end. Though the Seahawks allowed more yards to New England, this was their worst defensive performance of the season by a good margin. And the defense hasn't been at its best for three straight games now.
2. Outside of Marshawn Lynch's 77-yard dash, the Seahawks struggled to run the ball. You shouldn't discredit what the Seahawks did to break that long run, the longest of Lynch's NFL career. It was an amazing job of blocking and running. Lynch, a wrecking ball of a running back, ran untouched for one of the few times in his career. It was an incredible play. But beyond that, the Seahawks didn't do much. They rushed for 133 yards because of that explosive play, but they had 18 carries for 56 yards (3.1 yards per carry) outside of that 77-yard run. This team is usually more consistent in the run game.
3. After a good start this season, the Seahawks' pass rush is drying up again. Much of the Seahawks' pass-rush improvement stems from that dominant first half against Green Bay on "Monday Night Football." They sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times before halftime and pressured him several more times. That was a brilliant performance. But those eight sacks represent 38 percent of the Seahawks' 21 sacks this season. In fact, they've only had two games in which they've produced more than two sacks in a game (eight against Green Bay and four against Carolina). So, 12 of their 21 sacks have come in two games. They're better at rushing the passer this season, and they've had low-sack games in which they've still gotten decent pressure. But the Seahawks haven't solved that problem completely. And whenever they lose a pass rusher, it shows. The absence of injured defensive tackle Jason Jones was an underrated factor in Sunday's game.
1. Russell Wilson threw a season-high 35 passes, and for the first time this season, he didn't get sacked. For certain, the Seahawks don't have a dynamic passing game, but knowing who they are, it's hard to complain about the production they received Sunday. Wilson was 25 of 35 for 236 yards, establishing season highs for completions and attempts. He threw two touchdown passes and had one interception. He got the ball in the hands of Golden Tate and Sidney Rice, who combined for 13 receptions. Wilson and Rice still need more time to clean up some timing and chemistry issues, but the Seahawks can win with this kind of showing from the passing game. The performance was much cleaner than what we've seen so far this season. And give the offensive line a huge amount of credit: Wilson wasn't sacked, and he wasn't pressured much.
2. Zach Miller's amazing fourth-quarter touchdown catch capped what may have been the Seahawks' best drive of the season. Which was more incredible: Miller's circus catch or the fact that it ended a 12-play, 87-yard, six-minute, fourth-quarter drive on the road to give the Seahawks a lead? If you're searching for a reason to be encouraged after another exasperating defeat, review everything about that drive. There were no big plays or crazy blown coverages by the defense on that drive. The Seahawks ran the ball on just four of those 12 plays. For the most part, the drive was about Wilson methodically leading the Seahawks down the field. Wilson was 6 of 8 for 85 yards on the drive, which gave the Seahawks a 24-21 lead with 5:27 remaining. And Miller finally came through with his first touchdown reception as a Seahawk. He hadn't caught a touchdown pass since Dec. 26, 2010, when he was with the Oakland Raiders.
3. The penalty bugaboo hasn't been much of an issue lately. The Seahawks were penalized just two times against Detroit. (Two other penalties, both against Brandon Browner, were declined.) Over the past three weeks, the Seahawks have committed just nine penalties.
The Seahawks are halfway through the 2012 season, and they have a 4-4 record. It's disappointing, but it's not really alarming. In fact, it's about what most expected: a mediocre-to-slow start and a strong finish with a home-heavy second half of the season against manageable competition. But it's not just about the record. It's about how the Seahawks have played that is a little bothersome.
I still think this is a 10-6 team, but the Seahawks' small margin for error continues to shrink. Can you depend on them enough to expect a 6-2 record in the season's second half? The offense remains a concern, and while the defense has carried this team, the Seahawks have to muster a better pass rush, have to be better than 26th in the NFL on third down and have to stop giving up so many third-and-long conversions. Cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Browner can't be the only players good in coverage. Otherwise, teams will continue to punish the Seahawks with the short-passing game.
The problem with being such a defensively-dominant team is that every flaw is magnified. The Seahawks need their offense to function like it did Sunday in Detroit, except with more consistency in the run game. And the defense needs to return to a form similar to what it showed in the first five games, when the Seahawks rose to No. 1 in the NFL in total defense. The loss to Detroit felt like punishment for the three road losses the Seahawks suffered in which they played good (or good enough) defense but lost because of the offense's ineffectiveness. Even good defenses kick a game or two. You can't rely on shutting down opponents in every game. That's why those previous road losses felt so bad.
Can the Seahawks get their arms and legs working in unison more often? If so, they're capable of ending the season in an impressive manner. But right now, they're an inconsistent bunch deserving of a middling record.