Breakdowns of the game, as well as key plays, are all over this week. Many are here at Field Gulls, and throughout the Seahawks blogosphere and mediasphere. So instead of going over that ground, I will focus this week's Closing the Book on the themes I see developing over the first five games.
I highlight five:
1. Good teams can beat you (scheduling matters). Seattle's two losses are against two of the NFL's three 5-win teams. In each case, one of the league's best QBs managed to dance through the raindrops and escape near-certain sacks to make outstanding plays in critical situations. To be clear, in neither game is it reasonable to suggest that Seattle was a "tough luck" loser.
The team has not played especially well in either loss. The team also did not play especially well in its recent Monday Night Football win at Washington. When you are not at your best, it matters who you are playing. The difficulty of the schedule has exacerbated real issues with execution and depth. I haven't seen anything I think isn't fixable, but good teams will beat you when you don't dot your i's and cross your t's.
2. Young guys earning their stripes. Every season supplies its own narratives, and "defending champ" is probably the least interesting and one of the shortest lived. Now that it seems to have run its course a new narrative is rapidly forming, and it is quite compelling. It is about first and second year bit players trying to develop.
Guys like Jermaine Kearse, Jordan Hill, Robert Turbin, Jeremy Lane, Justin Britt, and Luke Willson are trying to make the transition from occasional to every down contributor. It is not at all obvious how they will develop, yet this team's potential is in large part hitched to their respective wagons. Everyone agrees that it is wise to build redundancy into any system. But in the NFL that depends mostly on how young guys develop.
3. The transition from hunter to hunted is real and rough. Two Sundays ago I watched a good bit of the Dallas/Houston game. It's a fun developing pseudo-rivalry. The game was hotly contested throughout. Yet, Dallas was simply not as physical against the Texans as they were against the Seahawks. I think that most times it is safe to assume that there are few if any sustainable differences in motivation and emotional intensity, at least not between roughly similar teams.
One exception, I believe, is when a team -- for whatever reason -- comes to be regarded as the "Evil Empire." Seattle is very much that team. You know you have reached that plane when players, fans, and media delight in every negative play, much less an outright loss. Players who might normally have difficulty maintaining focus and form are highly motivated to do so when they play the Evil Empire.
4. The NFL is an attritional league. Seattle is going through a stretch where their depth is being tested by injury. They did so last season as well, and managed to endure. But every combination of players -- both those present and absent -- and opponents is different.
All we can say with certainty is that every team will have injury, and those injuries will cause hardships but will also create opportunity. We will have to see in what combination these injuries, including Okung's alleged torn labrum, impact the team going forward.
5. The transition to 11 personnel. Let me say at the outset that this transition does NOT mean movement away from a power running game. Those of you around for the Holmgren Era will no doubt recall that Shawn Alexander ran for a lot of yards out of 3 wides. Suffice it to say, however, that the transition so far this season has been rugged.
Teams have defended Seattle's passing game largely in man, which (I think) has effectively smothered some of the screens and short passes Bevell sought to implement as standard down plays. As Doug Baldwin has intimated, the WRs have not handled it well. They aren't beating coverage and aren't making catches. It is also worth noting that man coverage can exacerbate some of Wilson's worst ball massaging tendencies. In a broader sense, the timing just has not been quite right for sustained periods of time on offense... Yet.