Who said there was no NFL preseason? The Seahawks finished it undefeated and start the regular season Sunday in Arizona against the 4-2 Cardinals, who dispatched the woebegone Dallas Cowboys 38-10 Monday night.
Or, considering that the cumulative record of Seattle’s five victims is 9-20, and that the NFC West is the NFL’s toughest division, you may prefer the golf analogy that the stretch of four division games in the next five is like advancing from Seattle’s little Interbay golf course to Augusta National.
Or maybe I’m just delirious after a week away from daily journalism. Whatever.
It seems clear to all that after an uneventful bye week — so far, no Covid-19 miscreants among the lads of the NFC’s only 5-0 team — that sustaining what has been borderline miraculous for the Seahawks gets more strenuous.
Particularly in view of a 2019 stat line that now leaps off the pixels.
Against the Cardinals nine games ago at the Clink, Russell Wilson completed 16 of 31 passes for 169 yards, had a passer rating of 78.6 and had just three completions to wideouts — one each to Tyler Lockett, David Moore and Malik Turner.
Mr. Unlimited was limited. And this season’s Mr. Wonderful, DK Metcalf, had one target for nada.
These days, Wilson completes three passes to wideouts while going from the bedroom to the kitchen for his kale/baby spinach/agave syrup breakfast smoothie. The wideouts get three catches between “oh, say,” and “can you see . . . ”
But last year, the second game against Arizona, a 27-13 loss, was Seattle’s worst of the season. The Seahawks had already clinched a playoff berth, and the next week rebounded with a solid game that they nevertheless lost to the 49ers, 26-21. But the Cardinals were 4-9-1 entering Week 15 and played most of the second half with Brett Hundley, the ex-Seahawk, subbing for injured QB Kyler Murray.
A win would have shifted the playoff set-up, and probably kept the Seahawks out of the frozen dark of Green Bay, where the season eventually ended in January’s playoffs.
“You cited some of the stats that I tried to forget,” said coach Pete Carroll, in his first Zoom chat Monday after the break. He wasn’t buying the notion that from those ashes came some of the playcalling changes that have produced the highest-scoring offense in the NFL this season (33.8 ppg).
“Turned it all around on that day — that was the pivotal game,” Carroll said sarcastically. But it was, in a different way — two running backs, Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise, were lost for the season with injuries. Those episodes combined with the earlier injury loss of RB Rashaad Penny to leave an 11-4 squad with rookie Travis Homer as the lone survivor.
That led to decision to unleash the Beast from his crypt and . . . wait. It’s not Halloween yet. Let’s go there later.
For various reasons, the Seahawks’ shift to become a little less dependent on the run and more reliant on Wilson’s ability to throw earlier in the game and in each series has proven providential.
“I don’t take much out of (the nature of the Arizona loss); I am pleased with the way we’ve been moving the ball around,” he said. But he wouldn’t surrender his primary directive: “You got to continue to hammer the line of scrimmage and make sure that the balance is there. We’re going to need it through the stretch of the schedule coming up.”
Indeed, the Seahawks have a load pending: At home Nov. 1 against San Francisco (3-3), Nov. 8 at Buffalo (4-2), Nov. 15 at the Los Angeles Rams (4-2), and a Cardinals rematch Thursday, Nov. 19, at home.
The notion of increasing the unpredictability against familiar foes is always a priority during the bye week of self-scouting. So it wouldn’t surprise to see a shift toward the more familiar.
“This is all about how many times we’ve called plays and defenses and pressures and coverages,” he said, “to make sure that we know what it looks like, in the messages and the signals we sent to our opponents . . . then figure out what we want to change.”
They won’t be changing anything about the level of teamwide excitement for playing well in close games for a second year in a now.
“I don’t remember going on the practice field after a bye with the guys all fired up like they were today,” Carroll said of the first practice. “A regular bonus Monday for us to get back in action, start moving around. They’re all out there standing in line, ready for us to stretch them out, for over five minutes early. I don’t know what the heck they were so fired up about, but they were jacked up and ready to go get back at it.
“It was very, very good response to come in and out of this thing.”
It would be even better for the Seahawks if they had SS Jamal Adams back to give chase to Murray (9 for 24 for 188 yards passing, and 74 yards rushing on 10 carries Monday). But Carroll was vague about Adams’ return from a groin strain that has caused him to miss the past two games.
“We’ve got to get through the week, see what happens,’’ Carroll said. “Take full advantage of the time to make sure that we’re doing the right thing. We want him when he’s right and back for the long haul.’’
Regardless of what the standings say, the long haul of the regular season begins Sunday.