Among my many language peeves that I call my pets is the over-use in sports of the phrase must-win. It’s almost as if broadcasters and writers are paid to use it in order to hype the next game. The abuse is rampant in the NFL. There’s only 17 regular-season games, so any team that loses two in a row is deemed to be in the snake pit with Indiana Jones.
The only must-win game is when a loss ends the season. That’s it. Any other available outcome means an escape from the snakes, and another game.
Which brings us to the 2-4 Seahawks Monday night and their engagement at the Loo against the 3-2 New Orleans Saints. Despite contentions to the contrary, it is not a must-win. No matter the outcome, they will play 10 more, and winning nine or more of them likely will get the season extended into the playoffs.
Having observed that, if you said to me today the Seahawks must win Monday, I probably would respond with a mild stare, and not even an arched eyebrow. I can hear the snakes’ rattles too.
It’s not even mid-season, and the Seahawks already have burned through their allotted seasonal face-plants. In the NFC West, they don’t issue many of those permits.
The Seahawks have lost their first two home games for the first time since 1997 and have equaled the worst six-game start of the Pete Carroll/Russell Wilson era. While deserved attention has gone to the myriad defensive failures that leave them last in the league in yards surrendered, the Seahawks offense is, at 32.4 percent, 25th in percentage of drives that end in a score. The Buffalo Bills are first at 52.9 percent.
But a couple of developments suggest the run game may be a little different Monday.
One was the first drive of the second half in the most recent game against Pittsburgh, in which Seattle scored a touchdown on a drive that included nine runs in 10 plays. The other is the return to health of RB Rashaad Penny, who will see his first action since his two carries for eight yards in the opener.
Since the rush-heavy drive was part of a 20-point second half, and since Carroll said Saturday that RB Alex Collins was ready to go after skipping the week of practice with some hurts, the Seahawks again have a competent tandem at running back. That is noteworthy since RB Chris Carson is still on the injured list, and Geno Smith is still standing in at quarterback for injured Russell Wilson.
Somehow, some way, efficiency has to be re-introduced into the offense, particularly since pass protection was poor against the Steelers. Unsurprisingly, Carroll is aware.
“We’re not re-creating the wheel here,” he said last week. “We’ve been able to demonstrate how you play football in that style. It just hasn’t quite caught on yet.”
It wasn’t clear whether he was speaking sincerely about his team or sarcastically referring to his league-wide reputation as a stubborn old-schooler. What was clear was the Seahawks have to adapt to the circumstances at hand.
“It couldn’t have been more obvious how well our (blockers) could come off the football up front, how efficient we could be, how many points you could score, and also how you can be explosive,” he said. “The guys did a fantastic job. We have liked these guys all along, but we have not, in any of these games, called on them.”
Nor have they called on Penny, whose calf injury was the latest in a series that has caused him to miss nearly as many games (26) as he played (28) in a bad-luck career of four years that has Penny labeled as another Seahawks first-round draft bust.
Last week at the VMAC podium, he sounded almost plaintive in explaining his misfortune.
“I really tried not to get hurt,” he said. “I prepare the right way to do everything right. I thought losing the weight (down to 220 pounds from 235) and coming in and doing what I do, was perfect for me this year. But I never let myself (get) down. I’ve always fought through because it’s a mental game.”
If words are influential in decisions about playing time, Penny made his case.
“I’m ready to go. I’m revved up. I’m excited,” he said. “I’m still young. I’m fresh. And I’m ready to go, and now’s the chance for me to show it.”
The problem Monday is the Saints defense is excellent, including ranking fifth against the rush.
“They are really disciplined, really strict with how they play, they use multiple fronts to keep you off balance, and fundamentally, they are really good,” Carroll said. “You have to have consistent technique and they are really good at it. They are hard to deal with.”
In view of that, there’s a good case to start Penny as a the contact runner, alternating with Collins’s make-em-miss style. Just because the Saints have been good doesn’t mean the Seahawks can’t launch on the opening drive as they did against the Steelers in the second half.
“I’m really excited to get Rashaad on the field,” Carroll said. “I’m hoping that he will have a chance to be a big factor in the game.”
The Seahawks have to do something other than hope Smith in his second Seattle start will suddenly blossom into Wilson in OC Shane Waldron’s offense. Nobody wants a healthy Wilson to return to a snake pit.