To get ready for Sunday's game, I exchanged five questions with Danny Kelly from Field Gulls, SB Nation's Seattle Seahawks blog. My answers to his questions can be found later over at FG, and his answers to my questions are below.
1. The Seahawks have been involved in a lot of close games this season, and they've had a lot of success in them, beating the Packers by two points, the Panthers by four points and the Patriots by one point. Why have the Seahawks done so well in tight games?
Well, while Seattle has had some success in close games this year, they've also lost several close ones as well. The Seahawks have had six of the seven games they've played this year come down to the final drive, either for them or their opponent. Seattle narrowly lost to Arizona Week 1 (Hawks were inside the 10-yard line with under a minute remaining, trailing by four and had several missed throws/catches in the end zone); they came up short against St. Louis (driving downfield, down by six with just over a minute remaining, Russell Wilson threw an interception at the Rams' 35 after a Seahawks TE fell down on his route); and then this last week, Seattle regained the football with about a minute left trailing by seven, with the opportunity to drive downfield to tie or beat the Niners. San Francisco's stout defense held Seattle deep in their own end though on that failed drive, and Seattle lost.
Ultimately, it's a matter of a number of factors. With Russell Wilson at quarterback, it gives Seattle a chance because of his dynamic playmaking ability and accuracy on downfield passes. He trusts his receivers to make plays and throws the ball up for them to go and get it. In the times they've asked Wilson to be a gunslinger, he's actually looked pretty decent doing it.
More importantly, though, Seattle's incredibly stout run defense doesn't allow teams to run out the clock as easy as they'd like, and leads are harder to get or maintain. If you're going to try and run the football late in the game, to pick up first downs and to take time off the clock, the Seahawks front seven are going to make it very hard on you. This specific ability to stuff the run has given the Hawks extra chances late in games -- forcing teams to go three-and-out, and where you didn't figure Seattle would even get the ball back, they're regaining possession late with more chances for heroics.
Now, I think the biggest factor that is at play in all this is that Seattle runs a very conservative offense based around Marshawn Lynch and occasional shot plays downfield, and the Seahawks just aren't efficient enough on offense at this point to build up big leads. They've been getting field goals instead of touchdowns. Playing the field position game over going for long field goals, mostly.
This has meant that Seattle's defense has been keeping them in games by limiting opposing offenses as much as possible, and almost every game has been close, down to the wire. My stress levels are taking a beating this year, and I would expect another close one this weekend.
2. At home, the Seahawks are a perfect 3-0. On the road, however, they are only 1-3. Does the "12th Man" really provide that much of an advantage or are the Seahawks just struggling to get things going away from home?
The 12th Man does bring a lot, I think. It's an intimidating stadium to play in, and I've heard from just about everyone -- players, fans, coaches, analysts -- over the last few years that it's the loudest stadium in the NFL, or close to it (I don't have a ton to compare to, but it's really, really loud, especially at field level). It was built by Paul Allen for this very purpose. For this reason, Seattle's players tend to feed off the energy there, and it augments their play. I think there are a combination of factors that make Seattle a very tough place to play for opposing teams (the distance, the weather, the crowd noise, the Seahawks' confidence there, etc.), but the Seahawks have been, for lack of a better word, bad on the road. I could probably count on one hand the amount of "good" road wins for this team in the past two seasons -- at Chicago last year, at the Giants last year -- and ... that's about it. The Carolina win on the road this season was of the ugly fare, and Seattle's only other road wins to speak of in the past two years were at St. Louis.
This is one reason, actually, that some of the talk around here this week has been centered around Seattle's opportunity to make this a "statement" game against a team that most feel is better than their record would indicate. The Lions are talented, and if Seattle can get a win in a 10 a.m. PDT game on the road, well that's actually a pretty big deal. This is a big game for the Hawks in their playoff hopes, too, considering they're 0-3 in their division. Going 4-0 against NFC opponents outside their division would be integral to establishing some tiebreakers.
3. Although I saw him play quite a bit at Wisconsin, I was pretty surprised that Russell Wilson established himself as a starter so quickly. How big of a surprise was that for Seahawks fans, and have you been happy with how he's played so far?
It was a pretty big surprise for most people, I think. Once we all saw in the preseason how dynamic and exciting he can be, he made himself a lot of fans, but he's still very raw and his play has been up and down. Much like the team as a whole, Russell has been very good at home but pretty awful on the road. With Matt Flynn sitting behind him, he's being held to higher expectations than you'd think a third-round rookie QB would be, but I see incremental improvement each game.
Here's what I don't like -- he's still wary to throw over the short middle of the field. He's still quick to take off and run instead of staying in the pocket. He's still too turnover prone. It's unclear how big of a problem his height will be in the long run, but there are signs that he is not seeing things as well as you'd like. Now, this could be a function of him being a rookie and learning how to read pro defenses, as opposed to being directly related to his height, but we just don't know. I'm personally willing to give him the time to develop because I think he's got a lot of potential as a starter in this league, both physically and mindset-wise.
Here's what I like about Wilson -- he's fearless when it comes to pulling the trigger on tight throws. He's got excellent downfield accuracy and touch and doesn't make many bad decisions on where to go with the football. He fits within the scheme Seattle really wants to run, featuring Marshawn Lynch as the workhorse, helping the passing game by effectively selling play-action. Wilson has a ways to go, I don't think that anyone would deny that, but in the big scheme of things, people seem to be pretty optimistic of his prospects. That said, people are pretty impatient, particularly those that think Matt Flynn is and would be superior. Because of that, there's a bit of a controversy from week-to-week here.
4. The Seahawks have an exceptional defense. What was the process like in terms of how Seattle assembled all of this talent (big free agent signings, great draft picks, trades, etc.)?
Well it's a combination of some great draft picks and some steals in free agency and trades. Seattle has put together the core of their defense with picks like Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor. They plucked Brandon Browner from the CFL, signed Jason Jones, signed Alan Branch and traded for an obscure bench player from the Eagles in Chris Clemons. He's now a Pro Bowl-caliber DE with two 11-sack seasons in a row, and he's already got seven this year in only seven games.
They used a few of the existing players they inherited but didn't quickly jettison and put them into positions to succeed. They moved a struggling DT in Red Bryant to defensive end and he's flourished. They moved 3-tech Brandon Mebane to NT and he's flourished. They retained savvy veteran Leroy Hill and he's been solid; they retained Marcus Trufant, moving him into the slot as a nickel corner and he's been solid as well. They have up-and-comers in Bruce Irvin and hopefully nickel corner Walter Thurmond. This is a great defense, and honestly I can only see them getting better.
People tend to make fun of Pete Carroll because he's, well, different than most coaches in the NFL. He's not a grumpy, stoic Belichick or an angry, umm, crazy (?) Jim Harbaugh. He's boisterous, positive, has an active Twitter account, makes videos with Rob Dibble and Will Ferrell, has a book and says "cool" A LOT. But, make no mistake, he's a genius when it comes to defense, and he has transformed what was one of the worst defenses in the NFL to a top-five unit in a matter of two seasons.
5. Like the Lions, the Seahawks are in a very tough division. When Week 17 rolls around, do you see the Seahawks battling for a division title or at the very least a playoff spot?
Honestly, I don't think they'll catch the Niners. I don't see San Francisco sliding -- they're well coached, have great player leadership and just too much depth and talent. They're built for the long haul when it comes to a 16-game season and the playoffs. That said, the Seahawks could be in a good spot to hopefully challenge for a wild card spot, with wins over Green Bay, Dallas and Carolina. If Seattle can somehow manage wins at Detroit and possibly when they host Minnesota, they'd be in a good place for a playoff run. Now, obviously, that's not going to be easy. But, in terms of hopes, as fans, we are certainly still kind of riding the "it's possible" train seven games in.