RENTON — There is a lot to like about the Seahawks defense through four games this season, and there are just as many things not to like about the offense.
But one thing Seattle is doing equally well on both sides of the ball — or not so well in this case — is win the all-important third-down battles.
It is hardly a surprise that the Seahawks have struggled to convert on third down given their offensive limitations, particularly in the passing game. Seattle has converted just 28 percent of its third downs, which ranks 27th out of 32 NFL teams.
What is a lot harder to explain, however, is how a Seahawks defense, which is one of the best in the NFL by so many statistical measures, is struggling to get off the field on third down. Seahawks opponents are converting on third down at a 43-percent rate, which ranks 24th in the league, and in the case of Sunday’s loss to the Rams, they were converting on third-and-long.
“The issues for us on both sides of the ball are on third down,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We had big issues on third and long on defense, and third down in general on offense. That’s where we have to focus and get our stuff right.”
The Seahawks lost to St. Louis for a lot of reasons. There were the three turnovers, some questionable calls by the coaching staff — most notably the decision to open the second half with an onside kick — and a fake field goal that caught the Seahawks napping, resulting in the Rams’ only touchdown. But if the Seahawks had been better on third down, on both sides of the ball, they could have won in spite of other mistakes.
The Seahawks were just 2 for 9 in St. Louis, and Russell Wilson did not complete a single third-down pass. Not all of those misses were Wilson’s fault, but the one that stood out the most came in the third quarter when, facing third-and-four from the Rams’ 12-yard line, a scrambling Wilson didn’t see a wide-open Zach Miller and instead tried to hit Sidney Rice in the back of the end zone.
“The one we all want back is the one to Zach,” Carroll said. “… That’s the one I think we regret most of all because it would’ve changed the game.”
When the Seahawks offense looked so good driving 80 yards for a touchdown on its first possession, it did not face a single third down. What bothers Carroll most about the offense’s third-down woes is that his team has actually put itself in favorable third-down situations. Not converting on third-and-15 is one thing, but coming up short repeatedly on third-and-four is another.
“First and second down have been very effective for us, and we have not had a lot of third and long, we’re pretty good at that,” Carroll said. “These are workable numbers. These are on schedule type of numbers as far as the early downs. And we’ve mixed the runs and passes, so we just need to get better. This is a very hard part of the game for all young quarterbacks, it’s red zone and third downs. That’s where it gets most difficult, and we need to get better in both areas.”
Defensively, the Seahawks held the Rams to 5 for 13 on third down, which is not a bad rate. What is a lot harder for Carroll and his defense to swallow, however, is that all five of those conversions were third-and-10 or longer, and they all came on St. Louis scoring drives.
On St. Louis’ opening possession, Seattle had a chance to force a three-and-out, but instead allowed the Rams to convert on third-and-13, keeping alive a drive that would end on a field goal. St. Louis’ drive that set up its only touchdown only got as far as it did because Sam Bradford was able to complete long passes on third-and-14 and third-and-10 to keep his offense on the field. And that final field goal that gave the Rams a six-point lead? That drive was sustained by conversions on third-and13 and third-and-10.
Carroll doesn’t believe that will remain an issue, not for a defense that has allowed the second fewest points (14.5 per game) and yards (275.8 per game) in the NFL and features one of the league’s best secondaries. Third and long should be when a defense, especially one as good as Seattle’s makes big plays, not allows them.
“It shouldn’t be (an issue),” Carroll said. “It just shouldn’t be. There’s just been issues. We’ve missed some opportunities, we’ve had some great plays to be made get away. I can’t believe that we’re not going to put it away now. There were five plays in the game with 90 yards worth of offense on third-and-10-plus. That just doesn’t happen very often. We have a couple of things that we’re adjusting to make sure that it doesn’t continue, because that’s the easiest opportunity we can look for. We’re kind of better when it’s harder than when it’s easier so we need to clean that up.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.