By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — If Seattle’s victory in St. Louis Monday night taught us anything — besides the fact that Rams defenders seem to think Russell Wilson is a pinata, who if pummeled frequently enough will yield some candy — it is this:
Expectations for the Seahawks are off-the-charts high this year.
Monday’s victory, sloppy as it was, gave the Seahawks a 7-1 record halfway through the season, the best start in franchise history. Yet just about all the talk after the game and in the days that followed was about Seattle’s flaws. And that isn’t unfair. That’s what comes with being a Super Bowl contender — people will pick apart everything, including victories.
And much of the criticism was merited. Seattle’s offense, which has been inconsistent all season, was more or less a disaster in St. Louis. The Seahawks defense has been so good this year that an up-and-down offense hasn’t cost Seattle in the standings, but being one-sided isn’t a formula for playoff success.
But while you may be freaking out about the offense’s struggles, the Seahawks look at it differently as they prepare to kick off the second half of their season against Tampa Bay today. If they can be 7-1 without hitting their stride, what will they do if the offense ever gets on track?
“We’re 7-1 and the offense hasn’t even found its rhythm yet, to be honest with you,” receiver Doug Baldwin said. “That’s obviously a credit to our defense and special teams, but that’s astounding for what we can be. If we can put it all together once we get everybody healthy and the communication is there, look out.”
It’s no surprise that Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, a guy whose positivity could turn Eeyore into an optimist, agrees with Baldwin that his team’s flaws only point to how good things can get going forward.
“We’ve accomplished a lot at the halfway point, but we’re so far away from playing the way we’re capable of playing, so it’s exciting to see where we can take it,” he said.
If Carroll is right, if the Seahawks are still on the rise, then this is shaping up to be a season that might actually live up to those crazy high expectations.
“This year’s special, it’s magic, you just can feel it,” safety Earl Thomas said. “I’m definitely taking it all in, enjoying it and trying to make the most of it.”
But before the second half gets underway today, let’s look back at the best first half in Seahawks history and hand out some awards.
Earl Thomas, Russell Wilson. Is splitting this award a copout? It sure is, but it’s pretty impossible to choose between the two. In his fourth season Thomas has, simply put, gone from being one of the best safeties in the NFL to one of the best players in the NFL. On a defense full of talent, Thomas is the most indispensable player.
But it’s also impossible to overstate how much Wilson has meant to the Seahawks, even if he isn’t putting up huge numbers. If not for Wilson’s escapability, Seattle would be losing close games instead of winning them beacause of the team’s pass protection issues. Along with a good defense, Wilson is the biggest reason Seattle escaped Houston with a victory, and in Carolina he showed he can put up big numbers if the situation calls for it.
Kicking and punting game. Special teams play rarely gets a lot of attention, but Seattle’s play in the “other” phase of the game has been pretty exceptional, minus a pair of notable blunders on blocked field goals in back-to-back weeks.
Kicker Steven Hauschka is 16-for-17 on field goals this season, with the one “miss” being a blocked kick.
Jon Ryan, meanwhile, continues to be one of the game’s best punters, and his talents, combined with some outstanding coverage, especially by gunner Jeremy Lane, has led to Seattle’s opponents returning just 10 punts this year for all of 15 yards.
Please hurry back award
Russell Okung. Percy Harvin’s hip has been the most talked about injury of the year, but nobody is missed more right now than Okung, who has been out since Week 2 with a toe injury. Harvin’s return will undoubtedly make Seattle’s offense more explosive, but Okung will help give Russell Wilson time to operate, and yes, to get Harvin the ball.
The lack of impact by the rookie class. Yes, Seattle’s improved depth makes it harder for young players to shine, and the fact that there is not a first-round pick in this year’s draft is certainly a factor as well. However, given Seattle’s track record of finding mid- to late-round gems, you figured some rookie would force their way onto the field and have a big impact.
Tight end Luke Willson has been solid, and Michael Bowie was forced into action by injury, but a year after seeing Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner burst on the scene, this has been a quiet year for Seattle’s rookies. Explosive running back Christine Michael has been a complete non-factor, as has defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who was injured early in the season, and is now routinely a healthy scratch on game-day. Another rookie who early on looked like a potential impact player, defensive tackle Jesse Williams, went on injured reserve with a knee injury before the start of the season.
Team’s best addition
Michael Bennett. By the end of the year, Harvin could take this award, but for now no offseason acquisition has been bigger than that of Bennett, who has been one of the best players on one of the league’s best defenses. Bennett has played all over the defensive line, getting pressure on the quarterback as an interior and edge rusher, and currently has a team-high 41/2 sacks.
Offensive line play. And we’re not just talking about injuries here. Yes the prolonged absence of Okung and Breno Giacomini is a big factor, but Seattle’s guards have struggled at times, too.
Not surprisingly, All-Pro center Max Unger has been the most consistent presence on the line, but he too missed a pair of games with an arm injury. Through eight games, Russell Wilson has been sacked 27 times after being sacked 33 times all of last season. Injuries or not, that needs to get better in the second half.
“We have to execute better,” said offensive line coach Tom Cable after his team gave up seven sacks to St. Louis. “No excuses. We just got our tails kicked and we’ll learn from it and be better this week. At the end of the day, we have to play better.”
Steven Hauschka’s attempted tackle, and the impending fallout. Had Seattle lost to Tennessee, or had Hauschka been injured, it wouldn’t have been a laughing matter for the Seahawks. But because Hauschka eventually returned to the game after being flattened by Titans kick returner Darius Reynaud, and because the botched field goal attempt with regular holder Jon Ryan kicking and Chris Maragos holding didn’t cost Seattle the game, the Seahawks locker room was full of laughter after the game.
“I was like, ‘He might be dead right now,’” Maragos said while imitating Hauschka’s ill-fated tackle attempt.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.