At Midseason, Seahawks are Down But Not Out of the Playoff Picture

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Fans and analysts alike set high expectations for the 2015 Seattle Seahawks. Coming off back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and having retained most of their core players, the Hawks seemed destined to soar atop the NFC once again.  Eight games into the season, Seattle is 4–4, tied with the Rams in second place in the NFC West. Why? Let’s take a look.

Fourth Quarter Struggles

The most glaring problem the Seahawks have had is closing out games in the final quarter. In Weeks 5 and 6, playing Cincinnati and Carolina, Seattle gave up leads of 17 and nine points respectively. 

The Hawks also barely squeezed out a fourth-quarter win in Week 8 over Dallas in a game they were on the verge of losing. Seattle has been outscored 58–33 in the final period of games this year, something coaches must address for the team to be able to contend in the NFC.

Secondary Inconsistency

For the first two games of the year, the Seahawks were missing their enforcer, strong safety Kam Chancellor, because of his holdout over contract disputes. Though Chancellor has returned, the secondary has been anything but stable. 

New corner Cary Williams has been inconsistent from week to week, locking down his side of the field in certain games while looking below average in others. Opposite Williams, star corner Richard Sherman hasn’t been productive either: He has yet to record an interception after defending seven passes. 

By comparison, Sherman defended eight passes all of last year and had four interceptions. For the Seahawks defense to regain its dominance from last year, both Sherman and Williams need to shut down the sidelines in their opponents’ passing game.

Where’s Jimmy?

Perhaps the biggest disappointment on the Seahawks this year has been tight end Jimmy Graham. General manager John Schneider acquired Graham and a third-round pick in a trade that turned out to be the off-season’s biggest move, giving up Seattle’s first-round pick and Pro Bowl center Max Unger. 

The trade has yet to pay off, as Graham has received only 55 targets, much less than half of his total in every season except his rookie year. And he has only two touchdowns, after scoring 26 over the last two years. 

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell must learn how to incorporate Graham effectively into the Seahawks offense, a scheme that is primarily run-based, or he risks another big trade wasted (see: Percy Harvin, 2013–14).

The Next Devin Hester

O.K., maybe it’s a little early to compare a rookie to an all-time great returner, but Hawks receiver Tyler Lockett sure does look like the next great returning threat. He has already scored two touchdowns in the return game, one on a punt and one on a kickoff, and he’s averaging more than 25 yards per kickoff return. 

Lockett has unleashed his speed in the passing game as well, recording 20 catches for 253 yards, a 12.7-yard average. Lockett can burn a defense deep at any point, and that threat alone often opens up shorter routes for other receivers. 

Running Back Circus

The Hawks have turned over much of their running back corps from last season in just a few weeks. Lead back and workhorse Marshawn Lynch has been the only consistency, but even he has struggled with lingering hamstring injuries and has topped 55 yards only three times.

Robert Turbin, a fourth-round pick in 2012, suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 3 of the preseason and was released after being placed on injured reserve. (Cleveland later claimed Turbin off of waivers.) 

Seattle’s third option, Christine Michael, was seen as the team’s back of the future but was traded to Dallas midseason. 

Since making those moves, the Hawks signed veteran complementary back Fred Jackson and undrafted rookie free agent Thomas Rawls. Rawls has impressed early, showing similarities to Lynch’s hard running style and averaging an outstanding 5.4 yards on 69 carries. He scored during a 23-carry, 169-yard performance in a close loss to an undefeated Cincinnati team on the road in Week 5.

Looking Ahead

Seattle was off last weekend, and in the following weeks the Seahawks will face division rivals Arizona and San Francisco, plus Pittsburgh (also currently 4–4), all at home. 

Arizona (6–2) leads the division by two games. A win over the Cardinals would put the Seahawks right back in the division race and would make Seattle a threat in the wild card hunt. A loss could knock them out of the playoff race altogether. 

By shoring up issues in the fourth quarter and in the secondary and building on strong performances by their young players, the Seahawks can catch up to those high preseason expectations.

Photos: Scott Eklund/AP (Chacnellor), Tom Pennington/Getty Images (Graham), Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images (Carroll)

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