Somewhere between the 5-0 start when he was the darling of the NFL, and a spray of 10 turnovers that bore the brunt of the blame for three losses in four games, Russell Wilson lost a little something.
Not sure what it was. Swagger, edge, arrogance, something ineffable and immeasurable like that. It’s probably not irretrievable. But its absence was mainly why the Seahawks scored only one touchdown Sunday against the New York Giants, after a modest two on Monday night in the win at Philadelphia.
The Giants defense is good, but so, increasingly, is the Seahawks defense. All it was asking from the offense was a second TD. The defenders were playing against a 34-year-old backup quarterback, Colt McCoy (105 yards passing), who was making his fourth start in his past four seasons, and wouldn’t play well from behind.
So the Seahawks took a clank-ridden 17-12 defeat (box) that cost them the NFC West lead they held for six days until the Rams beat Arizona Sunday. Both are 8-4, but LA has the tiebreaker edge. And when it comes time to hand out playoff seeds, if the Seahawks don’t get what they were seeking, they can look back at a rare December loss to a 4-7 team missing its leader for their step-on-the-upturned-rake moment.
Wilson, coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer are going to have a little chat.
Maybe they already did. Wilson was way longer than usual to his post-game Zoom meeting with reporters. But when Carroll took to the podium first, no post-game conversation had taken place.
“I haven’t visited with him at all,” he said, responding to a question about his concern for Wilson’s recent play. “I’m going to look at this game and break it down and figure it out; talk to Russ, talk to Schotty, and get to the essence of it. I’m not going to just throw out some thought right now, randomly.”
Except Carroll often does throw out random thoughts. What he did offer with certainty was his reaction to the curious afternoon at Lumen Field.
— NFL (@NFL) December 6, 2020
“I’m really surprised that this is how we looked against this game plan that they had,” he said. “I thought we could do a lot of stuff that just didn’t happen for us. I need to see why, and really break it down. I can’t tell you right now.”
One thing was apparent. Wilson has been so careful to avoid a bad throw — his one interception was a perfect throw that RB Chris Carson let bounce off his face mask — that he is hanging on to the ball awaiting a better window. That makes him more sackable. The Giants obliged with five (and 10 hits) for a whopping 47 yards, plus for the second week in a row an intentional-grounding penalty, where loss of down is the harsh part.
“We took some monster losses in the sacks,” Carroll said. “That just takes you out of the whole drive. It’s totally challenged from there on. They weren’t like, six- or eight-yard sacks. they were like 20s.”
None were that bad, but Carroll’s exaggeration told a part of the story. He’s irked.
“He’s in the middle of it all,” he said, responding to a question about the degree of Wilson’s responsibility for the pass-game problems. “I need to look at the protection, and see how long we’re hanging on the ball. It felt like he was taking a good look down the field when we weren’t immediately rushed.”
For his part, Wilson, who was 27 for 43 and 263 yards, with a rating of 78.0, and rushed seven times for 45 yards, offered a polite push-back.
“You always want to eliminate sacks,” he said. “You also don’t want to eliminate the key moments. You go back to, for example, the Arizona game, the one I kind of scrambled and hit DK (Metcalf) for the touchdown. A lot of people would say, probably just throw it away, or whatever. We hit the touchdown.
“So there’s give and take.”
That give and take between QB and coach is at the heart of all NFL offenses. It often makes or breaks teams. As Seahawks followers of the #LetRussCook phenomenon know, Wilson finally was given the freedom to throw early and often in the 5-0 start. While it wasn’t the only reason for success (weak foes helped), Wilson was clearly delighted with the additional opportunities.
But when the turnovers started, Carroll sought to revert to his long-favored “balance,” particularly with the return to health of RBs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde.
But the plan Sunday went haywire quickly. When the opening series began well with five plays gaining 57 yards (three completions, two Carson rushes), Wilson, from the Giants 13-yard line, wasn’t close on three consecutive incompletions. The subsequent three points were the only ones the offense generated until 6:15 was left in the game.
A part of the problem is beyond Wilson. The offensive line isn’t doing nearly as well as it was early. Sunday the problem was at right tackle, where Brandon Shell and backup Cedric Ogbuehi were out with injuries. When third-stringer and starter Jamarco Jones strained a groin muscle, the Seahawks finished the game with Chad Wheeler, called up Friday from the practice squad.
On the left side, Duane Brown, 35, and Mike Iupati, 33, are nursing chronic hurts. C Ethan Pocic missed three games in the concussion protocol. RG Damien Lewis is a rookie. TE Greg Olsen is likely out for the year.
The receivers, especially including the usually reliable Tyler Lockett, were responsible for several drops.
Wilson will never disparage a teammate, but was asked whether the circumstances made him more indecisive.
“I didn’t feel indecisive by any means,” he said. “I think sometimes they had things covered. Sometimes you got to move around. They made a couple big-time plays in certain
Curious decisions abounded at a critical juncture in the third quarter. The Giants had just blown up the plodding game with 77 rushing yards in three plays for their first score, and two-point conversion pass, to go up 8-5.
On the next possession, the Seahawks were at fourth-and-1 at their own 48. Rather than call on Carson (65 yards on 13 carries) to do his thing up the middle, Wilson rolled left, was chased and nearly sacked before throwing incomplete to Carson.
It was both a bad play call and poor execution, but Carroll defended it by saying, “We put Russ out on the edge and he had three big options there, as well as running.
“They did a nice job defending it.” And apparently Wilson didn’t do well executing it.
Said Wilson: “That was probably one of the most key parts of the game, because it was fourth-and-one, right in the middle of the field, and we didn’t get it. If we get that, the whole game may change.”
SEAHAWKS FORCE A SAFETY 😯
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) December 6, 2020
The turnover on downs led to a five-play Giants drive and a second touchdown in about five minutes. It gave the visitors a great emotional shot for a fourth consecutive win, this one a signature triumph for rookie coach Joe Judge.
In the second quarter, the Seahawks had another fourth down, deeper in NY territory at the 37. Carroll decided not only to skip going for the needed six yards, he passed on a 55-yard field goal attempt, instead punting the Giants deep. PK Jason Myers hit a personal best from 61 yards earlier in the season.
Carroll explained that in pre-game warm-ups with Myers, the coaches make a judgment on the kicker and conditions to create a maximum limit at both ends of the field.
“It was beyond (the marker), so I was happy to punt the ball in deep,” he said. “And, playing that kind of style at the time, rather than trying a monster field goal and we didn’t make it.”
Whatever the rationale, the Seahawks got nothing from two fourth-down calls Sunday, and nothing from two fourth-down calls in the the Monday game against the Eagles.
As a partial result, the Seahawks have three touchdowns in the 24 combined possessions of the past two games. In September, they scored three touchdowns between COVID-19 tests.
“We kind of have lived with a lot of big plays, and a lot of explosion,” Carroll said. “That
didn’t happen today. They did a nice job of keeping that from happening.”
The question for the week is what role Seahawks coaches and players had to keep that from happening, because Carroll and Wilson at the moment aren’t on the same page.