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Health will be greater factor in Seahawks postseason hopes than September success

Seattle’s slow starts are no news—injuries have been the difference maker come playoff time in past years

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Losing is always raw. Losing direction is a rarer problem. After a game like Sunday’s when the Seattle Seahawks got smoked 30-14 in the second and third quarters and sliced by DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry for 195 yards rushing, you feel like a pound of brisket.

The problem, like I said, isn’t as much the 1-2 record as the sloppiness all over—pointedly in run and pass blocking, but lately also in Russell Wilson’s throws and Justin Britt’s snaps, and even the trusty defense, last year’s best run defense in the league, showed bad pursuit angles and tackling on a 75-yard touchdown run, another 25-yard run and a 55-yard screen pass to the end zone. Add to that the 61- and 27-yard runs by the San Francisco 49ers and compare to 2016 when Seattle didn’t allow any runs longer than 34 yards, and just five longer than 20 yards all season.

The offensive challenges are less surprising than defensive issues, but failure to find any solutions other than chucking it to Doug Baldwin ought to be. Grievances against Wilson turning from fake news to legit critiques of arm mechanics and footwork express the underlying dread of collapse that has daily girded this Golden Age since its beginning. But however disturbing the results so far, we gaslit onlookers remain trained by the principles’ record over the same period: September duds redeem themselves as Seahawks football comes home to domination as the leaves turn yellow brown. Perhaps the recipe for recovering never arrives this year—the story always changes—but three games shouldn’t shake the opportunity Seattle still has.

I mean look around the league: The Super Bowl winners are barely 2-1 after a cliffhanger at home against the Houston Texans, the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers lost to a team with no quarterbacks or receivers, the Green Bay Packers went to overtime against an 0-3 Cincinnati Bengals team, the top-rated defense in the league got mobbed at a neutral site by the Jacksonville Jaguars of all things, and Jared Goff is the best passer in the land. We don’t know what good looks like yet. The truth is all teams are reacting and adjusting right now and the outlook appears different than it will in a month, nevermind January.

I wrote last year about championship teams who started with a string of lopsided or otherwise embarrassing losses. And sure the 2016 team didn’t get to any Super Bowl after all. But even after two gross opening games and memorably ineffective stretches in and after the 6-6 tie in Arizona, they eventually reached performance that placed them as the most efficient team by DVOA before Earl Thomas got hurt. Indeed, when stories of the 2014 to 2016 Seahawks get compared to the title-winning 2013 unit, the different outcomes in the playoffs really come down to health more than to the 4-0 start.

A year ago, Seattle didn’t get eliminated by the Atlanta Falcons because it scored three points against the L.A. Rams in week 2, it lost because its pass defense plummeted to one of the worst sides in the league without Thomas. When the the season ended in Carolina after 2015, it wasn’t because of overtime losses to Bengals and St. Louis Rams, or because Kam Chancellor held out for two weeks, or because Cary Williams. No, it was because against one of the top defenses in the league the Seahawks had no Jimmy Graham or Thomas Rawls and just a crust of Marshawn Lynch and still suffered effects of a historically-frigid environment in the Wild Card game. In 2014 weird losses to the San Diego Chargers and again the Rams didn’t keep Seattle from reaching the Super Bowl—and only lost a lead in that game because Cliff Avril and Jeremy Lane both missed the second half, while Richard Sherman and Chancellor dealt with lingering elbow and knee sprains respectively. All those teams suffered ugly losses or looked like they had lost their way at various times early in their season, but each also eventually went over the top as the best team in football at some point by the end of the year, before the unlucky playoff losses.

Nor did the ugly opener against the Panthers, nor falling behind 20-3 to the 2-14 Houston Texans, nor a close win over a much weaker version of these TItans nor another overtime victory over a terrible Tampa Bay Buccaneers team, both again at home, much effect the 2013 Seahawks when those DVOA leaders romped through the postseason generally healthy. Of course the difference in the standings had some bearing on homefield advantage and the season-closing results the last two years, so avoiding avoidable losses does count. But by far the greater coefficient will be what quality and depth of team Seattle can field at that moment.

So worry about what happens in the rest of 2017 if optimism feels too much like blindness, but the Seahawks are likely to reveal themselves as a better-coordinated group than we’ve watched so far this autumn and their future probably hangs more on what happens to their bodies right now than what happens in the scoresheet. Dewey McDonald is done for the season after tearing his ACL on the opening kickoff Sunday. George Fant’s same injury already altered the course of the offensive line’s development. But the football season is still fresh, so Seattle has to hope most everybody else’s limbs stay that way.