So now the question to answer over the next two months is this: just what are the Seahawks halfway to achieving?
At 4-4, is Seattle halfway to the playoff season many believed was possible when the year started? Or are the Seahawks halfway to another mediocre season that will leave us wondering if 2013 is when they turn the corner?
As Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has pointed out, his team has been in every game this season, and if they had finished just a few more drives, or gotten just a couple more stops, they could be 8-0. Then again, what Carroll doesn't say is that, other than a dominant win over Dallas, the Seahawks also could have lost every game if just a couple of drives hadn't gone their way, meaning they could just as easily be 1-7 as 8-0.
So far, the Seahawks very much are what their record says they are. They're a team good enough to be in every game, but not yet good enough to win every game -- or even the majority of them.
That very well could change during the next eight games. For starters, Seattle's schedule gets a little easier with five of eight games at home, including the rematches with all three division opponents. And while a road game in Chicago is daunting, Seattle has won there two years in a row, and away games against the Bills in Toronto and at Miami are winnable.
Seattle is also a team that, in theory anyway, should get better as the year goes on. With so many young players playing key roles, particularly rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, the Seahawks have plenty of room for growth, not just in future seasons, but in the second half of this one.
"We have things to correct, and we're going to work on them, and we have things to get better at," Carroll said. "This team is still young, they're still growing, they're learning and they're still with us on pushing for a big finish to the second half of the season."
If the Seahawks are going to have that big finish Carroll is hoping for, if they're going to go from mediocre to consistent winner, they'll have to build on the things they're already doing well -- and improve in a lot of other areas. So with that, we take a look at where the Seahawks stand at the halfway point on offense, defense and special teams.
What's worked so far: The running game picked up where it left off last year, and Marshawn Lynch is on pace for a 1,500-yard season. The pass protection, which was an issue early in the year, is getting better. The offense has been getting off to good starts in games, particularly of late, scoring on its first possession in four straight games.
What has to improve: The passing game has made some big strides under Wilson as the season has gone on, culminating in Sunday's loss with what Carroll said "was probably his best game. It was his most solid performance." But that progress needs to continue for this offense to be good enough for a playoff push. For starters, the Seahawks need to figure out how to build off of those aforementioned strong starts, rather than go quiet for long stretches of the game. After scoring on their first three possessions against Detroit, the Seahawks came up empty on five straight possessions until their fourth-quarter touchdown drive. The two biggest problems for Seattle's offense have been third-down and red-zone conversions, and while there have been signs of improvement in both areas, there is still room for growth.
What's worked so far: Quite a bit, actually. The run defense has once against been stout, though not impenetrable (just ask the 49ers). The secondary has slowed some of the league's best passing attacks and the linebacker play, arguably the biggest question mark on defense coming into the season, has been better than anyone could have expected with rookie Bobby Wagner starting at middle linebacker. Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is quietly having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. Rookie Bruce Irvin has shown, at times anyway, why Seattle made him a surprise first-round pick. Jason Jones, signed as a free agent, has made an impact on passing downs.
What has to improve: Easily the biggest issue plaguing Seattle's defense has been its inability to get off the field on third down. The Seahawks rank third in scoring defense, fifth in total defense, yet are somehow the worst team in the NFL at getting off the field in third-and-long situations. Those third-down struggles have played a big role in giving up game-winning touchdown drives to Arizona and Detroit. A better pass rush would also help the third-down issues. Yes, Irvin's addition has helped, as has Jones', and Seattle's 21 sacks ranks a very-respectable seventh in the NFL, but eight of those came in one half, and the pass pressure has been lacking at times, especially on the road. Right now, the Seahawks defense is very good. Clean a few things up, and it will truly be elite. .
What's worked so far: Punter Jon Ryan is having his best year following a very good 2011 season and has often helped the Seahawks win the field position battle. That's imperative for a defensive team tending to play close, low-scoring games. Coverage has been very good on punts and kickoffs, with veteran linebacker and special teams co-captain Heath Farwell leading the charge.
What has to improve: Leon Washington has had several long returns that have helped swing field position, none more important than his punt return that gave Seattle a short field for its game-winning drive against New England. However, the Seahawks have yet to spring Washington for the home-run plays he made so often in 2010. Also, it might be getting greedy, but a few more turnovers like Seattle created against Dallas would certainly make life easier for the Seahawks.
If the Seahawks can fix a few things, and keep doing other things well, they'll be a playoff team. If they play the second half the way they played in the first half, they'll be looking at something close to a .500 record.
"We're going to continue to ride on the defense and continue to ride on running the football and continue to count on our special teams," Carroll said. "And as we grow hopefully with the way things are set up, we can make some noise here in the second half."
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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