Having a feeble passing offense is not necessarily the worst thing to happen to an NFL team — as long as the rest of the team is nearly perfect to the point of sainthood.
But should a sinner slip in among the defense, special teams, running game or play calling on either side, well, the opportunity is there to go straight to hell, no need for hand basket.
The Seahawks are 31st among 32 in passing yards, 23rd in passing-game rating at 79.5, and they are going into Sunday’s game at Detroit without one of their best receivers, Doug Baldwin, out a few weeks with a sprained ankle.
The easy explanation is that the passing game has yet to remove the training wheels because of the rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson.
That’s true enough, but the harder explanation is that even with Baldwin, this group of receivers isn’t very good, although coach Pete Carroll would rather share a camping tent with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh than admit it.
Team management dropped hints all year, then the receivers dropped five balls against San Francisco.
Carroll and general manager John Schneider took flyers on flawed free-agent veterans such as Terrell Owens and Kellen Winslow, hoping they might get the same kind of one-year bonus they had in 2010 with former USC star Mike Williams, who ate himself out of the league for two years, worked himself back, then ate himself out again.
No luck such luck in 2012. To complicate matters, the Seahawks didn’t pick a wide receiver in the draft, then Carroll chose Wilson over the more experienced Matt Flynn, while having them split reps through most of training camp and exhibition season.
So Wilson and the receivers didn’t even have the full benefit of working together for six weeks before hostilities commenced. That’s a lot of how the Seahawks arrive at only 104 passes attempted through seven games, second fewest in the NFL.
Carroll still thinks that’s OK. Then again, he’s highly unlikely to offer: “I knew we forgot something!”
I think were fine, I think were alright,” he said Wednesday. “Were always going
to try to keep getting better, and John Schneider is always going to keep looking and working at it, but I dont think (the quality of the receivers as a group) has anything to do with whats going on.
“I think its the process weve been through in developing a quarterback and the offense. Its taken away from the numbers. Our guys can make the plays. I dont have any problem with that. I think youve watched Golden Tate emerge and hes become a big factor for us. Sidney Rice being healthy is a big deal. Ben Obomanu is not getting the ball like wed like, but nobody gets it enough. Were OK. I like where we are.
Except that when the group collectively drops five passes, two by Tate, and the Seahawks have only nine completions in as taut a game as Oct. 18 in San Francisco, won 13-6 by the 49ers, the notion of receiver competence leaps out like a gazelle surprised by a cheetah.
One bad game doesn’t condemn a season, but it does invite the use of a magnifying glass. Rice, the Seahawks’ No. 1 receiver, has been targeted 38 times, catching 22. The No. 2 guy, Tate, has been targeted 27 times, catching 13. That’s 54 percent, a low number for the two prime downfield targets.
Slot receiver Baldwin, last year’s top receiver with a modest 51 catches, has been healthy only intermittently with a variety of injuries, catching 11 in 19 targets. That’s been a blow.
“I think we mightve got three weeks in a row where he practiced,” Carroll said. “Thats just not enough for the kind of things that we do with him. With all of the timing thats involved, he needs to be right, we need to be right, and the quarterback needs to understand. We have not had the opportunity to get that going.
“Even though those guys did work out well in the summertime together, it just wasnt enough. I dont think theres anything holding him back other than hes not healthy.”
The other key receivers, tight ends Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy, have combined for 22 catches in 33 targets, which is not much production for an offense that would love to run lots of two-tight-end sets. But both are used primarily to protect Wilson and to block for Marshawn Lynch.
One free agent pickup, Braylon Edwards, has been just OK (15 targets, eight catches), and the guy who may get some of Baldwin’s playing time, newcomer Charly Martin, has all of two catches and 25 yards.
The first hint of public dissatisfaction came Sunday after Wilson threw deep to Edwards, in triple coverage, and was picked off. It was Wilson’s only interception, but cameras caught Rice, open on an underneath route, throwing his mouthpiece to the ground in disgust.
“I would say I was frustrated, but I get frustrated when we win too,” Rice said, trying to dismiss the Sunday gesture. “I was a little upset. In a close game against a real solid defense, you can’t turn the ball over.
“But it was frustrating for everybody.”
The fact that the passing game, with all its new people and moving parts, is the last thing to come together this season, is no surprise, particularly with the rawness of Wilson. But when all but one of the Seahawks’ first seven games has been decided by seven points or less, it means the margin for error is small and the matter of aggravation is large when all else comes together to deliver the ball to the appointed destination, and clanks off a veteran guy.
It’s true that the Seahawks burned up a lot of seasonal karma with Tate’s “intercept-down” against Green Bay on that epic Monday night. But it isn’t karma when the ball, unopposed, lands in hands that don’t need the help of poor officiating, and doesn’t stay there.