Seahawks midseason report
Here's a look at the good, the bad and the puzzling about the 4-4 Seahawks at the midpoint of this season, broken down into nice, edible pieces.
The season thus far in one word: Imbalanced. The Seahawks have a top-five defense and a bottom-five offense. It's a formula for what they are currently: Average, with frustration because they're close to being so much better.
Recurring storyline: It's the close games, of course. Seven of the Seahawks' first eight games have come down to the final possession, which is taking the NFL's parity to a ludicrous level. The Seahawks are 3-4 in those games, including the infamous "simultaneous possession" game that the officials gift-wrapped for them on the final play. The Seahawks are built to play close games, and they have to get a lot better at winning them. This team could easily be 2-6 or 6-2. Their 4-4 record is about what they deserve.
Biggest reason for optimism: Overall, the defense is performing at a playoff-caliber level. Sure, it has its weaknesses, especially when it comes to getting off the field on third down and stopping quarterbacks who get rid of the ball quickly and gash them with short passes. But you can win big with this defense. You can go deep into the playoffs with this defense. The front seven is sound. The defensive backs are special. Most teams can't run on the Seahawks, and they can't throw down the field against them with much efficiency, either. The players are young and hungry and eager to improve. The defense hasn't been at its best over the past three games, but the Seahawks will return to form.
Biggest reason for pessimism: I think the Seahawks will improve in the passing game. I think they have improved considerably since the start of the season. But they have a low ceiling for this season because the receiving corps is suspect, and Russell Wilson has plenty of learning left. The question isn't whether the Seahawks can turn into a more explosive offense. We already know the answer to that. They don't pass well enough to be explosive. Can they get to a different, less restrictive tier of bad, though? That's the question. They're 31st of 32 teams in passing offense right now. Can they climb to 25th? They're going to struggle in the passing game, but can they stop being anemic? As you know, every little bit helps with this team.
Most outstanding player (offense): It's an easy call -- Marshawn Lynch. Lynch has rushed for 757 yards, second in the NFL to Adrian Peterson's 775, to lead an offense that would be horrendous without him. He's on pace to run for more than 1,500 yards, which would shatter his personal best of 1,204 yards, set last season. Lynch is also averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He's redefining the perception of what kind of running back he is. He's proving to be much more dynamic than originally thought.
Most outstanding player (defense): There have been so many good individual performers on this defense, but I whittled it down to Brandon Mebane and Richard Sherman. And I'm giving the nod to Mebane, who has grown from a very good defensive tackle to a Pro Bowl-worthy tackle this season. He has been the most consistently dominant defensive player in a lineup full of quality players.
Unsung hero: Fullback/special teams ace Michael Robinson continues to do all the little things well. He's the ultimate glue player, and if Lynch keeps producing like he has, Robinson may earn his second straight Pro Bowl bid.
Rookie of the half season: Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, a second round pick, has been the most consistent of all the rookies. He impacts games already with his speed. Sure, he has been burned, especially during the San Francisco game, but Wagner has added a new wrinkle to the defense. And he should only get better.
The obligatory Russell Wilson take: In three of his first four games, he performed well below an acceptable standard for a starting NFL quarterback. The Seahawks started 2-2 mostly because of that. In three of the past four games, he has performed at or above the acceptable standard, but the Seahawks were still just 2-2 in those games. He's doing a fair job now and improving at a good pace. Wilson ranks second among NFL rookies, behind only Robert Griffin III, in quarterback rating at 82.4. That's tied for 20th in the NFL. The passing game remains the Seahawks' greatest weakness, and they must improve greatly in that area. But it's not all on Wilson. In fact, he's becoming more consistent than other factors in the passing game, such as the receiving corps and pass protection.
Best moment: While I think that Brandon Browner's incredible game-changing play to force and recover a fumble against Carolina belongs first on the Seahawks' midseason highlight reel, I have to go with Wilson's 46-yard pass to Sidney Rice to win the New England game as the most significant play thus far. It's the play that quieted much of the quarterback controversy. And that comeback victory will probably stand as the Seahawks' biggest win of the year.
Worst moment: Allowing Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford to throw for 352 yards, convert 12 of 12 third-down opportunities and drive the Lions 80 yards in the final five minutes to beat the Seahawks 28-24 last Sunday. The Seahawks defense kicked this one badly. It happens, but it was so uncharacteristic.
Player who must step up in second half: The Seahawks need the Sidney Rice they signed to a big contract before last season. It's not that Rice hasn't played well. He's had to do his best in a tough situation, with a rookie quarterback and an offense still finding its way. Rice has 28 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns so far this season. It's not bad production when you consider the Seahawks are a team that doesn't pass much, but as the season progresses, they will need more. And as long as Rice is healthy, he's capable of providing more. If the Seahawks would focus more attention to making sure Rice gets his touches, it would make the offense better. It wouldn't surprise me if Rice caught 35-40 passes for 500-plus yards in the final eight games.
Player who might fall off in second half: Mebane, only because he has been so good. It's hard to imagine him making as much of an impact with defenses starting to key on him. But the attention that you must pay to Mebane could help other Seahawks flourish. His production might dip, but his influence should remain high.
Second half prediction: We can analyze the minutia all day, but the Seahawks' biggest problem simply might be that they're a young team still learning how to win and handle expectations. The way they've lost games frustrates the fan base (and rightfully so), but the players and coaches don't seem to be flustered. They're focused on improvement, and with a home-heavy schedule and facing a cast of average-to-awful quarterbacks, it's reasonable to expect a winning record over the final eight games. I believe this team will finish 6-2, with losses at Miami and Chicago, and slip into a wild-card berth with a 10-6 record.