Time is a funny thing isn’t it? Just last season the Los Angeles Rams and the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks were battling it out in the Wild Card round of the playoffs to see who had the unfortunate pleasure of advancing to the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field. As we know, the Rams pulled off the 30-20 upset at Lumen Field which the Seahawks have been unable to recover from ever since.
Now a year later, LA currently holds the #5 seed in the NFC and if the Seahawks decided not to trade away their first-rounder in next year’s draft, they would be picking in the top-five. It’s been a nightmarish campaign for Seattle in 2021, punctuated by the brutal finger injury star quarterback Russell Wilson suffered the last time these two teams faced off.
Much has changed indeed and this could (heavy emphasis on could) be the final matchup Los Angeles has against the duo of Wilson and Head Coach Pete Carroll. To get an answer as to how Seattle should approach that question and more, I sent five Qs to Mookie Alexander at Field Gulls and in turn he replied with five corresponding As.
Q - Last week against the Texans, running back Rashaad Penny had a career-high game rushing for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Do you believe his performance was simply an outlier or do you feel it’s a sign of greater things to come?
A - It’s somewhat of an outlier. That Texans run defense is extremely horrible and it felt like they just had zero gap integrity and on at least one occasion they just totally ignored backside contain for one of Penny’s bigger non-touchdown runs. But before his ACL injury in late 2019, Penny had over 100 yards against the Eagles on just 12 carries, and over 100 scrimmage yards against the Vikings the week after that. He has shown glimpses of promise but staying healthy has been a problem for him, and this year he was largely ineffective up until the 49ers game, so to see him string together back-to-back positive weeks is encouraging.
Is he about to emerge as the first-round star the team hoped he’d be? I don’t think so, especially since running back is just the worst possible position to be injury prone. This is essentially going to be Penny’s first time getting starter-level carries on a consistent basis, so the rest of his season is really an audition for re-signing.
Q - Aside from poor outings against the Packers and Cardinals, how would you assess Russell Wilson’s play in the prior three games since returning from his injury?
A - I thought he was really bad against the Washington Football Team save for two drives, but he looked more like himself against the 49ers and Texans. He’s looked more sharp and accurate (47/65 for 497 yards, 5 touchdowns, and an interception that was not his fault at all) but also willing to throw to the short middle of the field, where he’s been hesitant to even try to throw really throughout his career but also heavily this season. His decision making was certainly much better through these last two games compared to the bizarre process of some of his throws against Green Bay, Arizona, and Washington, so maybe there is some rust from being out for so long in addition to his finger not exactly being fully healed based on the typical timeline.
I’m not sure he’s all the way back but certainly he’s closer to his usual form than that three-game spell where he barely looked like a functional quarterback. Now the next step is rebuilding that chemistry with DK Metcalf, as it’s not really been great since before the bye week.
Q - Bleacher Report recently published an article on the worst NFL trades of the past decade which included the Seahawks blockbuster deal for Jamal Adams. Given he’s currently out for the season, would you agree with BR’s assessment and what could be done to help salvage the trade?
A - Kenneth asked me a similar question before the first Rams game and I said the Harvin trade was the worst of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era, even though Harvin helped win the Super Bowl. Not to make this out as Adams being a terrible or bad player (he’s not), but this is such a bad trade. The injuries are bad luck but this has been an average at best defense for the two seasons he’s been here, and giving up two first-round picks for him suggested that they expected Jamal to be a generational talent who could singlehandedly transform an inconsistent defense into a great one. Adams is a talented player who has made more good plays than bad ones, but that was a hefty price tag they paid for him and I don’t think the return on investment has been enough to justify that trade.
Really nothing can be done to salvage this. They’ve lost their two firsts and they’ve given Adams his contract extension. Unless something crazy happens they’re going to have no playoff wins in the two seasons that they didn’t have a first, and they might just end up turning that 2022 pick into a top-10 selection for the Jets. It was a “win now” move that has not produced the desired results.
Q - Despite Wilson being sidelined for part of the season, the team wasn’t an offensive juggernaut like the league had expected. What are some ways the Seahawks could get stronger offensive production going forward?
A - Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has increased the under-center play-action rate in recent weeks, and the Seahawks are one of the best play-action teams in the league. I’m still lukewarm at best when it comes to his first season as the team’s OC, but the play-action proficiency and usage is upticking again after a weird lull, so that’s good to see. Getting the rushing attack back into life I think will revive this offense to some degree, as it’s now abundantly clear that Seattle’s offense cannot consistently function without a competent running game. Doesn’t mean run more, but run more effectively.
The woes of the offense have really been centered on being poor on 3rd down. They are 30th in 3rd down and very often it’s because they’re in obvious passing situations, and one of the issues for the Seahawks is they have not been able to handle obvious passing downs particularly well. Pass protection has been a problem (again) and Wilson has missed some throws that he should make, as well as taking sacks he shouldn’t take. Statistically he’s been one of the least productive 3rd down QBs which is an area he’s always struggled but 2021 in particular he’s been a liability. Bad run blocking has resulted in far too many short-yardage failures on the ground, too. I am going to lose it if we see one more 3rd and 1 toss play that gets blown up in the backfield.
So really they need to do a better job on 3rd down, but ideally they do a better job of avoiding 3rd down altogether. Then when they do face 3rd down there has to be far better execution than what we’ve seen. A lot of this comes down to the offensive line needing to play better, which... yeah that’s been an issue more years than not.
Q - Questions on the futures of Pete Carroll and Wilson are about as inevitable as Aaron Donald. What do you think Seattle’s management should do with both when the time comes?
A - What should they do? Move on from Carroll. It’s been a great ride but one playoff win over five seasons and missing the postseason twice (again, unless something wacky happens) is the sign of a team on a downward trajectory. If nothing else, Carroll the personnel guy has done more damage to the team than Carroll the coach. The state of this defensive line and the lack of a consistent pass rush outside of Darrell Taylor is shocking, and coupled with yet another year of mostly mediocre offensive line play you get a team that will struggle to win in the trenches on a regular basis. Russell Wilson should be kept and ideally we see him with a more offensive-minded head coach, as it’s way easier to replace a franchise head coach than a franchise quarterback.
What will most likely happen? Everyone stays on board for one more year. That means Wilson stays (even if he requests a trade), Carroll stays, and so does general manager John Schneider. But the way this season has gone it’s absolutely necessary for a shake-up to occur. The only bad scenario I see is Wilson gone but Carroll and Schneider remain, as that’s just going to create revolt among fans and trading Wilson without getting a proven high-level QB in return is essentially saying a complete rebuild is happening.