Well, it finally happened. The Seattle Seahawks lost their first game at CenturyLink Field since Week 16 of the 2011 season. The 14-game winning streak from head coach Pete Carroll and Co. was impressive, but there’s a point in time where all good things come to an end.
Seattle’s loss wasn’t ideal considering it was trying to clinch home-field advantage and the NFC West, yet that’s OK. Why? Because the Seahawks' loss to the Arizona Cardinals was a blessing in disguise.
Just like every other team in the NFL, the Seahawks have their fair share of problems. The offensive line looked atrocious against defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ blitz-heavy scheme, the wide receiving corps failed to consistently win one-on-one matchups and quarterback Russell Wilson was ineffective on third down.
Obviously, Seattle’s problems are minute compared to some of the teams that have coaching and personnel issues, but the Seahawks coaching staff can’t afford to downplay the team’s issues from the Cardinals game. Poor execution on third down and the inability to win one-on-one matchups could prove to be detrimental in the playoffs.
Coach Pete Carroll and his players have to take this loss to heart. If they don’t, teams like the Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers will look to exploit them in the playoffs, just like the Gridbirds did on Sunday. Those three teams have combined for seven measly road losses this season.
More often than not, top-tier teams excel at home, but the clubs mentioned above are living proof that the best teams in the NFL can win at home and on the road. Moreover, two of the three teams mentioned above have outstanding defenses.
As it stands right now, the 49ers have the third-best defense in the NFL, and the Panthers have the second-best defense in league based on total yards allowed per game. Let’s not forget San Francisco and Carolina both played Seattle tough at particular points in the season.
Carolina lost a Week 1 heartbreaker to Seattle 12-7, while San Francisco beat Seattle 19-17 Week 14. However, both of those knock-down-drag-out games took place away from the Emerald City. This, in turn, means Seattle still has the upper hand in front of its home crowd. One loss in its last 15 attempts doesn’t change that.
Nonetheless, the Seahawks need to get their act together in one week’s time. The first step will be getting right guard J.R. Sweezy healthy. His absence was greatly felt against the Cardinals. Sure, you don’t hear his name called all that often, but his presence is vital to Wilson and the passing game.
According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Sweezy has only surrendered one quarterback sack, four quarterback hits and 18 quarterback hurries. Furthermore, PFF has awarded him with a plus-0.5 pass-protection grade in 915 snaps this season. Surely Seattle could have used his above average protection skills on Sunday.
In Week 7 at Arizona, Sweezy held his own against the Cardinals’ vaunted front seven. He didn’t allow a single quarterback pressure when these two teams met back in October.
The second thing the Seahawks must do is find a way to get the run game cranked back up. Ever since they topped the 200-yard mark in Atlanta, running backs Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin have struggled to breakthrough. Over the last five games, Seattle’s rushing attack averaged 108.6 yards per contest and 3.8 yards per carry.
From last night: Marshawn Lynch And Seahawks Run Game On Bad Streak http://t.co/TxuznPsJNq— Brian Nemhauser (@hawkblogger) December 20, 2013
The ineffective nature of the team’s ground game falls on the offensive line’s shoulders, which left tackle Russell Okung was quick to point out at the conclusion of Week 16. Here’s what Okung told Curtis Crabtree of SportsRadioKJR.com: “The offense played terrible. The offensive line has to play better.”
Tom Cable’s (offensive line coach) unit has plenty of talent, yet it has to find a way to play at a high level on a regular basis. Mental errors and blown assignments have killed way too many drives the past few weeks.
The third area of improvement heading into Week 17 is third-down efficiency, as Seattle’s third-down struggles aren’t isolated to the Arizona game. The failure to convert and keep drives alive started last week in New York.
What worries you most about Seattle's performance against Arizona?
Since Week 15 kicked off, the Seahawks have converted five third-down attempts on 26 tries. That is by far the worst two-week stretch for the ‘Hawks in 2013. When postseason play begins, Carroll’s offense won’t win a single game if it converts only 19 percent of the time on third down.
The good news is that Seattle has already garnered a playoff spot in the NFC. Additionally, every lackluster situation presents a learning opportunity and can be treated as a blessing in disguise. Super Bowl teams find a way to correct their mistakes and adjust on the fly, which is why the Seahawks will be just fine.
They are still the best team in the NFC, and they have proven in the past that they can overcome adversity.
Today may have been the wake up call they needed to regain the necessary strength to fuel postseason success in January and February.