Seahawks looking for a win in Arizona, not style points

RENTON — The last time the Seattle Seahawks played the Arizona Cardinals, 58-0 happened. And now that the two NFC West teams are facing off again, now seems like a pretty good time to remind folks of something.

Fifty-eight to nothing; that just doesn’t happen in the NFL.

Blowouts are incredibly rare in the NFL; 50-point blowouts are anomalies, not something to get used to. Even the very good teams have to slog their way through many of their victories.

Maybe this is just what happens when a team finishes as strong as the Seahawks did last season, creating crazy high expectations for this year. Being 5-1 isn’t good enough; the Seahawks should be blowing opponents out, right? For some, it’s not longer OK for the Seahawks to simply be squeaking out victories despite noticeable flaws, or as one question to head coach Pete Carroll posed it, gaps and holes, in their game.

“Gaps and holes?,” Carroll said, “Well I’m not sure what you’re expecting here, but we’re trying really hard to play really well in all phases, and there are other teams out there, you know, and they’re trying real hard too. They’re trying to make you look bad if they could.”

What Carroll is saying is that it’s hard to win every week in the NFL, let alone win by staggering margins. This is a league built to create parity, from its salary cap to the way the schedule is made, so as much fun as it might have been to see the Seahawks outscore the Cardinals, Bills and 49ers by a 150-30 margin over a three-week span last December, that’s simply not a realistic expectation over the course of 16 games.

Instead, a more realistic best-case-scenario in the NFL is to win convincingly when everything is going right, and to simply win any way you can when conditions are less than ideal. Like, say, when you’re playing without three starting offensive linemen. Or with your big offseason acquisition, receiver Percy Harvin, still recovering from hip surgery. Or when starting tight end Zach Miller, the best player to help mitigate the loss of left tackle Russell Okung, is also out with a hamstring injury.

“It’s nice to learn while you’re winning, and I think that’s where we are and that’s what we’re hoping to continue until. …” Carroll said before veering off course to inject a dose of reality. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to reach the levels that we saw late last year where we were scoring points at a huge rate and all that. That was an enormous run that we had.”

While Seattle’s defense has been, save for a few breakdowns in Houston and Indianapolis, nothing short of spectacular, the offense has been somewhat uneven through six games, at times putting up big numbers in the air, and at other times struggling to throw the ball while running it well. But it’s getting carried away to start worrying about what’s wrong with quarterback Russell Wilson or the offense.

Wilson hasn’t put up the same gaudy numbers that he did in the second half of last season, but he has still been very good while playing under near-constant duress in the past few games, and his ability to make plays with his legs is perhaps the only reason the Seahawks escaped Houston with a victory. Wilson didn’t put up huge numbers against Tennessee last week, but after the game he felt like he was as in tune with the offense as he had been all year, and Carroll agreed.

“No question,” Carroll said. “He was on it. He was on every phase of it, he really felt like everything was happening just the way it was supposed to. He saw everything and he could come off and tell you every single guy he needed to see in the routes and stuff like that. He still overlooked a couple of reads and things when trying to get the ball down the field, it got him out of rhythm a little bit, but he saw it all. He ran efficiently and effectively and made all of the checks and adjustments. He was just on his game.”

Can Wilson be better? Absolutely. As Carroll notes, he has missed some reads, and while most of his turnovers have been in situations where he had to force something, he could take care of the ball a bit better. But is a slight downturn in his numbers a sign of a sophomore slump? Not at all. Sure the Seahawks would like be better on third down, or more efficient in the red zone, but they’re still putting up strikingly similar numbers to last season’s averages, which include those outlier games late in the season.

So if the Seahawks are still able to be a top-10 scoring offense despite having played five of the NFL’s top 11 defenses, based on yards allowed, doing so minus perhaps their most dangerous offensive player, and if they can survive without 60 percent of their starting line, not to mention tight end Miller for two games, maybe we can save the handwringing for another day.

“We expect to do more and be better in the passing game,” receiver Golden Tate said. “Not saying we’re doing bad by any means, but with the injuries, I think we’ve responded well. A lot of teams, if they lost three of their starting offensive linemen, two of which are Pro Bowlers, I don’t know if many teams would come out 5-1.”

Injury update

Carroll didn’t sound overly optimistic about Chris Clemons’ chances of playing earlier this week, but now Carroll says there’s a chance the defensive end plays tonight.

“Clem’s questionable,” Carroll said. “We’re going to work him out in pregame. He practiced a little bit today. He definitely has a chance.”

The rest of the injury news was as expected — linebacker Bobby Wagner (ankle) won’t play, tight end Miller will, and running back Marshawn Lynch should be fine despite sitting out Tuesday’s practice because of a hip injury.

“We just were monitoring it,” Carroll said of Lynch. “He made it through last week so he could play and he felt fine in the game. The recycle process here is a little different in this week for him. But he feels good enough and he should be good, but we won’t really know until we get out there and start playing.”

Tackle Breno Giacomini, who injured his knee in Seattle’s Week 3 win over Jacksonville and had his knee scoped the following week, continues to be out, but is “turning the corner” since having fluid drained from his knee over the weekend.

Herald Writer John Boyle:

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