RENTON, Wash. – The Seattle Seahawks need only dip into their own history to see how dramatically things can change from one week to the next in the NFL.
In a three-week span in 1979, Seattle beat Atlanta on a Monday night while gaining 411 yards, lost to the Rams the following Sunday while being held to minus-7 yards (still an NFL record for offensive futility) and then beat Cleveland 29-24 while gaining 427 yards (and to make things even more bizarre, the Atlanta and Cleveland games were on the road, while the faceplant against the Rams was in the Kingdome).
OK, so we’ll grant that’s a 40-year dip into NFL history.
But it’s a lesson in the week-to-week roller coaster that can be the NFL that holds up to this day, repeated anew each season, if maybe not usually so extreme.
Which brings us to Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh.
It’s a matchup of two teams hoping things – or, many things, anyway – aren’t as bad as they seemed last Sunday.
Seattle won its opener against the Bengals, 21-20, but did so despite allowing the second-most net passing yards in the NFL in week one (395) while gaining the fourth-fewest yards overall (233). The yards gained were fewer than Seattle had in any game in 2018.
The offensive effort was particularly hard to figure, coming as it did against a Cincinnati team that had allowed the most yards in the NFL in 2018.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer had no trouble admitting it was a performance that left him, well, somewhat sleepless in Seattle (hey, sometimes the cliché fits).
“We feel very fortunate to come out with a win,“ Schottenheimer said Thursday. “We feel very fortunate we were able to find ways to win the game in the fourth quarter with some big plays. It’s cool when you can win a game and not play every well. I didn’t sleep very good Sunday night but I would have slept worse if we didn’t get the win.”
Consider the Steelers, then, to have probably not slept all week after Pittsburgh was hammered 33-3 at New England Sunday night. It was a shockingly wide margin of defeat for a team that felt it has what it takes to get back to the playoffs this season after missing them a year ago for the first time since 2013, finishing 9-6-1.
“No need to sugarcoat it,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after the Sunday night game. “We weren’t ready for prime time tonight.”
But the Seahawks are assuming they will be ready for this Sunday afternoon. They have no choice.
“First off, I think New England was being New England,” coach Pete Carroll said this week. “I thought they looked great. They looked great in all phases. It was like, whoever they played was going to have problems. We’re going to the next game. They’re coming home and they’re hurt a little bit by that one. They’re going to come flying back. It’s Mike’s team. They’re going come firing back at us.”
But if one game can be written off as a blip in the NFL – especially the opener – two is more like a trend in a league where that accounts for 12.5% of a team’s entire season.
In the wake of the scare against the Bengals, much attention was understandably placed on the yards allowed by the secondary. But as the dust cleared, it became apparent that was, in part, part of the plan.
Seattle wanted to play more of its base defense and was content to use linebacker Mychal Kendricks (to whom it is paying up to $4.5 million this season) in more coverage situations to leave the best run-defending 11 on the field as often as possible. Carroll figured the Bengals could dink and dunk a lot between the 20s but not so much inside of the 20s.
That’s why his main defensive concern seemed to be the giving up of two big plays for touchdowns. Seattle could have an injury-induced change in the back end if Tedric Thompson can’t play due to a hamstring injury, and also figures to play more nickel this week with Jamar Taylor re-signed.
From this vantage point, the offensive issues may have been more troubling. The Seahawks stuck with a between-the-tackles running game assuming they’d eventually wear down the Bengals, as they did often last season.
But that never happened, and the Seahawks needed a few breakdowns in the Cincy secondary (and DK Metcalf and Chris Carson just flat-out winning a few plays) to get anything done offensively at all.
Don’t expect Seattle offensively to be as stubborn or arrogant, the latter a term Carroll used, this week.
But will it all be as easy as making a few tweaks here and there – play more nickel on defense, show a little more variety on offense – and, voilà, the Seahawks will look like the Seahawks everybody expects?
Playing on the road against a desperate team in a tough environment obviously only complicates things.
Ultimately, a victory is all that really matters.
If Seattle gets it, the Seahawks would be 2-0 and in some somewhat rarefied air – Seattle has been 2-0 just one other time in the Carroll era, the Super Bowl-winning year of 2013, and just 10 times in 43 previous seasons as a franchise.
But passing the look test this time might be nice, too.
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