It's Not Just Russ; the Seattle Seahawks Are Becoming a Force in the NFC

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 3, 2019

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 02:  Running back Chris Carson #32 of the Seattle Seahawks rushes against the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field on December 2, 2019 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

They are not the Seattle Russell Wilsons.

The MVP candidate might be the Seahawks' best player, and he's certainly their most famous employee. But in Seattle's 37-30 Monday Night Football victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Seahawks declared to a national audience that they're a top-tier contender for plenty of reasons—only one of which is the fact Wilson is a superstar in his prime.

Seattle overcame an all-time fluky touchdown to beat Minnesota despite the fact banged-up No. 1 wide receiver Tyler Lockett was held without a catch. It was a reminder that the team is experienced, well-coached, resilient and mentally strong, which is scary considering it now leads the NFC West and is on track for a first-round bye in the playoffs.

The Seahawks racked up 24 first downs to the Vikings' 17, they were penalized just once, and they registered three-plus takeaways for the fourth time in their last five games.

They now rank behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots with 27 forced turnovers, which might surprise those who still view the post-Legion of Boom defense as a liability. That unit might no longer be as star-studded as it was half a decade ago, but pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney—a Sept. 1 trade acquisition—has emerged, and he's well-supported by Bobby Wagner, Mychal Kendricks and Shaquill Griffin.

Seattle recorded just 10 sacks in its first six games, but it had eight in its last two games before hitting Kirk Cousins seven times Monday night.

With that unit making plays and the running game excelling, Wilson doesn't have to be perfect. And the running game was indeed effective again. The Seahawks have won five consecutive games, all by one score, and backs Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny have rushed for a combined 684 yards in those five outings.

One hundred seventy-six of those yards came against a Vikings run defense that ranked fourth in defense-adjusted value over average at Football Outsiders entering Week 13, and that allowed the Seahawks to control the ball nearly twice as long as Minnesota (Seattle ranks fourth in the NFL in that category).

The Seahawks are the only team in the NFC with eight 140-yard games on the ground, and seven of those performances have come in their last eight games. And what's amazing is they've played three top-five run defenses in that span. Not only did they compile 218 rushing yards to control the Vikings (who rank fifth against the run), but also, Carson averaged 6.6 yards per carry and went for 105 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who rank second) and Penny averaged 9.2 yards per attempt and amassed 129 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles (who rank fourth).

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 02:  Running back Rashaad Penny #20 of the Seattle Seahawks carries the ball against the defense of the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field on December 02, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Image
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

If those guys can keep it up, imagine how much fun they can have against the Carolina Panthers (29th) and Arizona Cardinals (24th) down the stretch. And it's worth noting that fellow NFC playoff-contending foes the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers—Seattle's other two remaining regular-season opponents—have also struggled to slow down opposing running games, ranking 14th and 22nd.

Don't get me wrong: The Seahawks are far from perfect. The defense has yet to consistently generate pressure over a string of games, and they're vulnerable on that side of the ball if they aren't getting to the quarterback or forcing turnovers at what is arguably an unsustainable rate.

But they also keep winning without a top-notch passing game. Lockett hasn't been himself since suffering a scary leg injury in Week 10, and that has seemingly affected Wilson. The 31-year-old is having a career year, but he's no longer the MVP front-runner, and he's now gone three consecutive games without posting a triple-digit passer rating (after doing so in eight of his first nine).

Wilson was just 1-of-5 on deep passing attempts Monday night—though his one completion was for 60 yards and a touchdown to David Moore—and he's completed just five of 20 such attempts during his three-game rut. That's in stark contrast to the first nine weeks, when he compiled 32 completions on 65 attempts and a silly 126.0 passer rating on deep balls.

He'll very likely rebound, and NFC playoff contenders Minnesota, Philadelphia and San Francisco will regret they didn't take advantage against Seattle when Wilson wasn't at his best.

It might be too late then, because the Seahawks have only gained stature and confidence of late. They might have always known they're a strong team, and that Wilson didn't need to do as much heavy lifting as it appeared.

Now we all know it.

It's time to start looking at the Seahawks as more than just a quarterback.

   

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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