Three-time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman and Seattle’s star-packed defense is again carrying the load and the Seahawks’ chances to win. The offense has been stuck in neutral to begin this season, entering Sunday’s game at Tennessee. Joshua Bessex
Three-time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman and Seattle’s star-packed defense is again carrying the load and the Seahawks’ chances to win. The offense has been stuck in neutral to begin this season, entering Sunday’s game at Tennessee. Joshua Bessex

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Richard Sherman and Seahawks defense, with the offense stuck again: “It’s really on us”

September 19, 2017 03:55 PM

Good—no, great—thing Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and, now, Sheldon Richardson play for the Seahawks.

Imagine how much the Pacific Northwest would be freakin’ out today without those guys.

Their defense is why the maddening, what’s-wrong-with-these-guys Seahawks (1-1) aren’t 0-2 for the second time in three years entering Sunday’s game at Tennessee (1-1).

Then again, what else is new?

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"We've got a lot of highly paid guys on our side of the ball, a lot of guys who played the game at a high level. And there's a certain standard that's expected," Sherman, the three-time All-Pro cornerback, said.

That was moments after Seattle held San Francisco without a touchdown in a 12-9 victory that the Seahawks’ offense turned into a unsatisfying slog.

"We expect it from ourselves,” Sherman said. “We expect that, regardless of what happens on the other side of the ball.

“At the end of the day, it's really on us."

By now, Seattle’s star-packed defense is used to allowing just one touchdown through two games--and used to seeing its offense with just one touchdown through two games.

It happened just last year.

These Seahawks needed one, magical play by Russell Wilson last weekend to limp past the 49ers last weekend. Only a 36-yard drive with all runs that drained the final 4:47 to seal the win kept Seattle from finishing a game below 300 total yards for the sixth time in two seasons--and second time in two weeks. The Seahawks have scored 12 points or fewer in seven of its last 18 games.

They lost their opener 17-9 at Green Bay without scoring a touchdown and scraping together their fewest yards in a game in three years (225).

Through two games Seattle’s defense has essentially allowed just one touchdown drive. The second TD the Seahawks surrendered in Green Bay came after their offensive line got run over again; Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels sacked Wilson and forced a fumble Green Bay recovered at the Seattle 6. Let’s try to count how many defenses are going to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers from scoring at Lambeau Field while starting at the plus-6-yard line.

“Really fired up about the defense,” coach Pete Carroll said.

No, I didn’t cut and paste that from last season. Or last week. Carroll said that after the win over the 49ers on Sunday.

Wright, the Pro Bowl linebacker, saved it with a sure, immediate tackle in the open field in the fourth quarter. He wrapped his arms around Garrett Celek from behind after San Francisco’s tight end made a catch down the middle on third and 9 with Seattle ahead 12-9. Wright stop of Celek 3 yards short of the line to gain made the 49ers punt with 5 minutes left. San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan rightly thought Seattle’s almost-inert offense would give the ball back to his team before game’s end, for another 49ers chance to win. But it never did. Seahawks rookie Chris Carson ran for three first downs on the most sustained, huddling drive of Seattle’s season so far to seal the win.

Is this undeniable onus on the Seahawks’ defense to just about win the games right now a burden?

“It's not any tougher for us, or anything different we think about,” Sherman said. “We think we hold ourselves to a high standard. You've got guys like Mike Bennett, Cliff Avril, Bobby Wagner, Kam, K.J., etcetera, etcetera, down the line, Earl, myself, rookies playing lights-out football.

“We expect to get stops like that.”

Richardson has been brilliant and integral in the two games since the 2014 Pro Bowl defensive tackle arrived from the New York Jets. Seattle got him in its trade of a second-round pick and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse (who, by the way, caught two touchdown passes last weekend in the Jets’ blowout loss at Oakland).

Richardson spent much of Seattle’s opener in Green Bay’s backfield. He drew two holding penalties and dragged Rodgers to the ground just after the Packers’ QB threw the ball away to avoid a sack. And that was just in the second half. Last weekend Richardson’s value showed up on the 10 plays he wasn’t anchoring Seattle’s defensive line. Carlos Hyde’s 61-yard run in the second quarter on an outside zone-read play, which Richardson was stuffing when he was in the game, came right where Richardson would have been. Richardson was again getting a costly breather on the sideline when San Francisco moved from its own 30 to the Seahawks 20 in the fourth quarter for its go-ahead field goal and 9-6 lead.

“Sheldon's done a great job since he's been here,” Sherman said.

Then he added: “We got to find a way to get those stops in and get those plays correct.”

It’s that narrow a margin of error for the Seahawks’ defense right now, because of the offense.  

Through two games the Seahawks have scored as many touchdowns as they did last season. That’s one more than zero. Like in 2016, the offense has gone an entire game with just field goals, and its used a no-huddle scheme for its only TD to squeak past a team its was heavily favored to beat in its opener. Last year Seattle rallied late in hurry-up mode to beat Miami 12-10 in its opener, then lost 9-3 the following week at the Los Angeles Rams. Check out the headline on that link; could have been the same one on last weekend’s game story.

What helped Seattle in week three of 2016 was hosting San Francisco, which has won just twice in its last 18 games. The Seahawks broke out late in that home game against the 49ers to score 37 points in a win, then scored 27 in a victory the following week at a bad Jets team. After the bye and by the time Atlanta came to CenturyLink Field in mid-October, the offense was functioning again. But after a 26-24 win over the Falcons, the offense returned to awful while the defense saved Seattle from another loss in a 6-6 overtime tie at Arizona. It’s been on an off for the offense ever since.

This season’s week three is much tougher, at the rising Titans who are favored by many to win the AFC South. Then comes a poor Colts team perhaps without Andrew Luck in a prime-time home game, then a test at the Rams. We know they inexplicably give Seattle all kinds of problems on their home field--even if the Los Angeles Coliseum will be nearly empty on Oct. 8.

Maybe the Seahawks can try going more no-huddle against the Rams. Or against the Titans. Against anybody. The Seahawks’ lone touchdown drive last weekend, 10 plays and 82 yards with Wilson running all over the field, came after they went no-huddle for the only time against San Francisco.

This season, Seattle is averaging 14.2 yards per play (185 yards on 13 plays) and scored 12 of its 21 points including its only touchdown on drives its gone no-huddle.

When huddling the Seahawks are averaging 3.1 yards per play (352 yards on 114 plays) and have produced just three field goals.

I detailed last week the case for the Seahawks going more up-tempo in the middle of games. After the win over the 49ers, I asked Wilson why it keeps working.

“Well, you now, it sterilizes the defense every once and a while,” he said.

That’s it! Sterilization is the key to unlock Seattle’s gridlocked offense. Who knew?

What Wilson means is going no-huddle prevents defenses from substituting between plays. So defenders get tired, and their schemes get more basic.

Plus, Wilson generally throws the ball more quickly with shorter, quick-strike throws. His besieged line doesn’t have to block as long. Wilson hasn’t been sacked or even hit on any of the three drives Seattle has gone to the hurry-up offense this season. He’s been sacked six times and hit 17 more times after huddling.

Carroll said before the win over San Francisco some games lend its use more than others. In games against quarterbacks who can be lethal against his defense, he doesn’t want to use more no-huddle to give the opposing QB more drives in such games.

But last week the Seahawks were facing Brian Hoyer. He is on his sixth team in nine seasons. He is leading a 49ers team that has yet to score a touchdown this season. Yet Seattle went into hurry-up mode just that one, game-winning time.

If Carroll sticks to his stated rationale of last week, don’t expect many more drives with no-huddle Sunday in Nashville against the much more talented and potentially damaging Marcus Mariota and the Titans. They just put up 36 on the Jaguars in a runaway road win.

More ugly numbers--or, as Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin put it so fittingly following Sunday’s win, “ugly as hell”:

▪ Seattle’s 2017 offense has fewer total yards through two games than last season (537, to 658)

▪ fewer yards per play (4.2, versus 4.7), fewer first downs (33, vs. 38)

▪ fewer net yards passing (316, from 479)

▪ but more net yards rushing (221, to 179 last year)

▪ and fewer turnovers (one, to three at this time last season).

Wilson’s passing percentage is 56.1, down from 62.8 this time last year. His passer rating is 76.3; it was 80.7 through two games last season. He’s been sacked six times and hit 17 other times so far this season. Last season through two games he’d been sacked five times and hit 18 other times.

The key positive for the Seahawks’ offense--and season--now compared to then: By this time last season Wilson had a high-ankle sprain, thanks to Miami’s Ndamukong Suh landing on it, and was on his way to a sprained knee in his next game.

He’s healthy now.

He decided midway though the fourth quarter against San Francisco his running was the way to win the game. So he took off on a third-and-1 pass play with no intention to throw, and gained 7 yards. He scrambled two other times on pass plays, for 16 more yards. That set up his only-Russell-Wilson scramble away from four free-rushing 49ers and throw to Paul Richardson for the winning touchdown.

“It’s good to be able to run,” Wilson said. “Last year, I couldn’t run at all for the most part.”

That alone gives the Seahawks hope their offense will turn it around. Like he did to beat the 49ers, Wilson may have to do it himself.

Then leave it up to his defense to do the rest. Again.