When last they played the Washington Football Team, at the Loo Dec. 20, 2020, the Seahawks won ugly, 20-15, improving their record to 10-4 and clinching their eighth playoff appearance in the previous nine seasons.
No one was more delighted with the results than seasonal newcomer SS Jamal Adams, acquired at considerable expense from the perennially malodorous New York Jets.
“I’m not used to this — I know you guys are,” he told reporters post-game. “Seattle, you know, always goes to the playoffs. I (was) used to sending my cars home by this time, already packing up, learning where’s the vacation, when am I seeing family?”
When the teams get together Monday night in Landover, Md., the Seahawks are 3-7, having lost five of their last six, explained in part by an offense that is 30th in the NFL (298.6 ypg) and 31st in defense (401.8 ypg).
They have an off-form Russell Wilson who, on his 33rd birthday, needs to rely more on a running game that suddenly has lost to injury for this game LG Damien Lewis and three of their top running backs (Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and Travis Homer). Because starting RB Alex Collins is not 100 percent, coach Pete Carroll may be forced to use someone named Josh Johnson, an undrafted rookie from Louisiana-Monroe who has yet to play a down in the NFL.
“He’s got a real physical style to him that we like,” Carroll said Saturday of Johnson. That’s nice. Carroll also believed Penny was worth a first-round draft choice.
Because the NFC has a vast array of similarly mediocre teams, the Seahawks still are still in the hunt for a playoff berth. So Adams needs to keep his cars in Seattle and his vacation brochures in a drawer.
At least until Tuesday.
Apparently trying to help reporters understand the task, Wilson Friday analogized it to college basketball’s March Madness, where it’s six games of one-and-done to become champion. Actually, it’s worse than that for Seattle’s version of Eastern Fredonia Tech State’s chances — the Seahawks are likely to need to win all seven just to get to the playoffs, then troubles would get serious.
Shane Waldron, who in his rookie year as Seahawks offensive coordinator has few numbers so far to justify Carroll’s hire of him, put it more distinctly.
We need to start clicking and start clicking fast,” he said Friday. “That clean, crisp execution on every play has been something that we have been searching for.”
While the injuries to Wilson and Carson are obvious reasons for some of the offense’s execution failures, there’s also another way to look at it: The offense doesn’t have a single starter out-playing his contract, and most have underplayed their values.
To begin with, of the Seahawks’ 17 highest cap-number salaries according to overthecap.com, only six are offensive starters — Wilson, LT Duane Brown, WR Tyler Lockett, RT Brandon Shell, RG Gabe Jackson and TE Gerald Everett. Among them, only Lockett, Jackson and Everett can be said to have played to expectations based on salary.
What that says is, knowing that injuries are also a factor, the Seahawks either misjudged the talent, or didn’t invest well the available cap money across the 53 roster spots. More than coaching strategy or game planning, talent shortfall is the largest problem. No player is making a surprising contribution.
Looking back to the most notatable example, Wilson’s outstanding play during the four years of his rookie contract as a third-round pick was a major factor in the team’s success, allowing more cash to be allocated to improve other positions. Now that his deal is worth $140 million, including $17.5 million this year, the Seahawks roster around him has grown thin.
Another current example is Monday’s QB foe, Washington’s Taylor Heinicke. In February, the journeyman Old Dominion signed a two-year extension for a total of $8.75 million. He became the full-time starter when Ryan Fitzpatrick was injured and helped WFT (4-6) to two wins in a row, including a 29-19 victory over defending champ Tampa Bay two weeks ago when he had a QB rating of 110.2.
The best antidote for QB salary bloat is, of course, quality drafts. Seahawks fans know that story. Draft errors cumulatively have come home this season, particularly with the minimal production from former first-rounders Penny and DE L.J. Collier.
Then there’s plain bad luck.
The Seahawks in April had only three draft choices. Tje first two have been hurt most of the season.
Second-rounder WR Dee Eskridge has played only 28 snaps after a concussion in the first game. Fourth-rounder Tre Brown, who appeared to have solved the travail at cornerback, is out for the season (patellar tendon surgery) after 255 snaps over five games, including three starts. Sixth-rounder OT Stone Forsyth is a project.
The draft failures, coupled with injuries, mean that the only route to the improved execution sought by Waldron is the return by Wilson to his pre-injury form. Friday he indicated he was unlimited in pursuit of resources to help rehab his repaired finger.
“I’m consistently every day doing stuff,” he said. “Now it’s just part of my routine, part of my program, part of my system. Every once in a while, I’ll have Ciara help me. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Ciara, can you run downstairs?’ or ‘Can you help me real fast?’ That’s just the dedication to the craft.”
If Wilson has a breakout game Monday, he needs to suggest to general manager John Schneider that Ciara can bar made available to help at draft time. It’s not as if Schneider has the cred to say no.