Led by budding under center Gino Smith and an opportunistic defense tied for fourth in the NFL in turnovers created, Seattle currently sits half a game ahead of San Francisco. With seven games left and a rematch between the two teams at Lumen Field in Week 15 looming, as coach Pete Carroll noted, “it’s all ahead of them” and they’re in control of their own destiny.
Given their odds of holding on to first place in the division, here are five reasons why the Seahawks are building to hang on and clinch the West and five why they’re struggling to hold on over the 49.
Why Seattle will win the NFC West
1. They have the best quarterback in the division.
Before the start of the season, few forecasters had rated the Seahawks’ quarterback anywhere but the basement in the NFC West. But with Geno Smith dropping dimes every week and playing like a legitimate MVP candidate throwing to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett and his array of weapons, it’s almost impossible to make a case for any quarterback in the division ahead of him heading into the last seven games. After leading his team to the Lombardi Cup in February, Matthew Stafford suffered an elbow injury and has now suffered two concussions in three weeks, calling into question his readiness for the struggling Rams team. Kyler Murray isn’t healthy either and hasn’t lived up to his contract most of the year with the Cardinals either two games under .500. Jimmy Garoppolo was solid replacing Trey Lance and running back under center for the 49ers, but he still had six fewer touchdowns and 500 fewer yards than Smith. In the most important position in the sport, the Seahawks have a clear, unlikely advantage and should have MVP for most of their remaining games.
2. They have a young offensive line that should only improve down the stretch.
In terms of low expectations, an offensive line that boasts starters Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas on tackles wasn’t much short of a quarterback on the totem pole on the Seahawks’ roster heading into the regular season. Laying a new line with three starters in front of the quarterback spelled a recipe for disaster. However, as much as Smith was surprised, the front line was more than serviceable for the first 10 weeks of the season, particularly on pass protection. As a unit, led by center Austin Blyth and the immediate impact of Cross and Lucas for edge protection, Seattle ranks fifth in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate metric and ten in Pro Football Focus’ pass block rankings. If there is clear room for development, the Seahawks have received marginal blocking at times, ranking 22nd in Run Block Win Rate and 17th in the Block Run category. But there were flashes of intelligence opening loopholes for Walker in this regard. With Kroos and Lucas continuing to grow with the rest of the line, run blocking should naturally improve in the last seven weeks, which would be a huge boost to an already good offense.
3. Recent success with impulsiveness seems to be sustainable for individuals.
During their dreadful defensive start, the Seahawks produced eight combined sacks as a team, and have been struggling to reach the quarterback while also scrambling in the running game. Once the coaching staff adjusted to allow the front line to play more aggressively with one-hole techniques, everything changed. Vital to rapid improvements across the board defensively, Uchenna Nwosu and Shelby Harris led the way as Seattle earned 19 sacks during a four-game winning streak. Some of this boils down to playing offensive lines, including Arizona twice without star quarterback Rodney Hudson. However, defense Clint Hurt opened the year with sublime lane-rushing ambitions thanks to an experienced athletic combination of tackles and edge rushes, and planning adjustments have finally allowed that talent to flourish. With Darrell Taylor and Bona Ford playing better of late, this group should be able to bounce back from a tough outing against Tom Brady and the Bucks to a solid second inning turnover that harassed passers.
4. The talented secondary will be strengthened by reinforcements.
If there was any other reason to believe that the Seattle defensive line could still play on opposing quarterbacks, it was a young and burgeoning secondary that quickly became the backbone of Hurt’s defense. Still only in his third year playing linebacker, Tariq Wollen has caught five passes in his first 10 NFL games, more than any other player in his position to date. Improving as a forward and contributing in a myriad of ways, he’s the front runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year for a reason. On the flip side of it, Mike Jackson has no interception totals, but he only allowed one touchdown and broke up seven passes in coverage while giving up a completion percentage of less than 60 percent. He was also a brave player. In the slot, rookie Coby Bryant occasionally had problems with coverage, but he forced four fumbles and quickly grew up in a position he never played in college in Cincinnati. That group will be further bolstered with the return of a healthy Trey Brown, who could prompt Jackson or Bryant to play right away after his brilliance in five games last season. If these youngsters continue to improve and Quandre Diggs rediscovers his Pro Bowl form alongside an emerging star in Ryan Neal, the defense should only get better in the last couple of months.
5. THE FAVORITE SCHEDULE HAS FIVE GAMES AGAINST THE RUSSIAN 12S TEAM.
Over the past several seasons, Seattle’s once vaunted home field advantage has not yielded the same profits for the team that it once did. But from the show’s booing of Russell Wilson on his season-opening homecoming, the deafening roar returned to Lumen Field and the venue returned to its rightful place among the NFL’s toughest teams for opposing teams. That’s a huge deal in a tight NFC West race because fans will now have a chance to make a real difference with San Francisco flying north in a Thursday night game next month and four home games in the last five weeks. If the 12 bring their A-game and maybe even help run the seismometer a time or two along the way, it greatly helps the Seahawks’ odds of piling up a bunch of wins and staying on top of the division.
Why Seattle Won’t Win The NFC West
1. Geno Smith’s revival tour hits a bump in December.
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In addition to Smith playing through the first 10 games of the season, skeptics will continue to wait for the veteran to return to the ground and resemble a quarterback who lost his starting job with the Jets years ago and spent more than half a decade. Backup. If he had a significant drop in accuracy, saw turnovers soar, or simply wasn’t effective in leading his team to stretch points, Seattle could have a hard time winning games with mediocre defense and a running game that was. Sometimes great with a lack of consistency. While the Seahawks don’t expect that to happen, it’s worth noting that he hasn’t played more than five games in a season since 2014, and it’s not out of the question for his play to wane a bit as the season approaches in December.
2. Many first-year freshmen hit the dreaded “starter wall” in closing month.
Up to this point, the Seahawks had relied on more rookie contributions than any other team in the league and they’ve been very successful in doing so. But after playing 14 or 15 games at most at the college level, the final month can be treacherous for first-year players and they can hit a proverbial wall in the grinding end-of-season experience that is the NFL. This may be particularly the case for Cross, Lucas, and Woolen, who have been rookies since day one and have already logged over 600 catches each through 10 games. This comes close to the number of snaps both Lucas and Cross had in recent college seasons and has already surpassed the most shots Wolin had in a college season. Since replacing Penny, he’s averaged nearly 20 carries per game over the past five weeks, and keeping an eye on his workload should also be a priority. Coach Pete Carroll didn’t seem overly concerned about Seattle’s rookie play and felt the bye came at a perfect time to combat such a problem, but recognized coaches keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t show any signs. from overloading.
3. Injuries to key positions have a negative impact on a roster with depth restrictions.
Like any other team in the league, the Seahawks had to move on with several standout players who were injured in the first half of the season, including safety Jamal Adams and running back Rashad Penny. Neither of those players are expected to return this season, but Ken Walker III and Ryan Neal stepped up as replacements and played at a high level, allowing the team to miss out on a win without them. Injury luck is a big part of the equation when it comes to teams making deep playoff runs, and while Seattle has overcome injuries like those suffered by Adams and Penny, if a few key players go down in the last seven weeks, depth can become a real threatening issue. Chances of holding on to a divisional title or even clinching a playoff spot.
4. The leaky run defense continues to be exploited with hole-heavy offensive schemes.
As part of their overall defensive improvements beginning in Week 6, the Seahawks turned the corner to packing runs, allowing 62 or fewer rushing yards to non-quarterbacks during a four-game winning streak. But first, the unit fell behind two weeks ago, allowing the Buccaneers’ 32nd rushing offense to rack up 161 yards on the ground, putting their struggles with running bouts and missed runs up front as a potential Achilles’ heel. In their first five games, Seattle averaged 170 rushing yards per game, allowing opponents to strip them at will. While it seems unlikely that the defense could return to this level in the second half, the loss in Munich showed that opponents can still control games against them with the ground game and that doesn’t bode well with games against San Francisco and Kansas City still to come. On scheduling if they can’t figure things out.
5. Good luck runs out on special teams, leading to blunders in close games.
After a dismal start to the season, Seattle overall had one of the best and most consistent special teams in the league. Coach Larry Izzo’s collection ranks sixth in DVOA All Football Outsiders, led by a near-perfect performance from kicker Jason Myers, who made all but one of his field goal attempts and went five 50-yard attempts this year. The team is also ranked No. 1 in DVOA for kickoffs thanks to a crew of talented guys like Nick Bellor and undrafted rookie Joey Blount. Myers’ efficiency and effectiveness in kicking coverage units and games has helped the Seahawks a lot, but if there is any kicking game slump or injuries hit coverage units, it will pose a huge problem for a team that will likely need to be able to finish close games to stay in first place.
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