It’s time to hand out some midterm marks.
The Seattle Seahawks reached the midpoint of their season when they beat the Atlanta Falcons 27-20 last Sunday, and they begin the second half of their season when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday.
Seattle completed the first half 6-2 and in second place in the NFC West, two games behind the 8-0 San Francisco 49ers and a game ahead of the defending-champion Los Angeles Rams. If the playoffs started today, the Seahawks would claim the NFC’s top wild-card playoff berth and travel to face the Dallas Cowboys.
“The first half is over, 6-2 isn’t exactly the best it could have been, but it’s pretty darn good at this time,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We made the most of it. I wanted to really finish this half, get it over with and see where we were as we kick into the second half, because the whole thing gets started now.”
Winning time may start now, but how did the Seahawks perform in reaching this point? Here’s Seattle’s report card from the first half:
Scoring: 26.0 points per game, 11th in the NFL
Yardage: 382.9 yards per game, ninth in the NFL
The biggest development during the first half of the season was the maturation of quarterback Russell Wilson into a genuine MVP candidate. Wilson was imperious during the first half of the season, completing 68.4 percent of his passes, compiling an absurd 17-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and leading the NFL in passer rating at 115.5. His connection with receiver Tyler Lockett continues to be telepathic, as Lockett has followed up last season’s perfect passer rating of 158.3 on targets with a 138.1 number this season.
Meanwhile, running back Chris Carson has given the Seahawks the power running game Carroll craves. Carson ranks fifth in the league in rushing, having gained 659 yards on 159 carries (4.1 yards per carry), and his punishing style in which he seeks contact and keeps his legs churning helps set the tone for the Seattle offense. And perhaps most importantly, he’s overcome the fumble issues that plagued him early in the season.
Scoring: 24.5 points allowed per game, 20th in the NFL
Yardage: 376.4 yards allowed per game, 23rd in the NFL
This is not your father’s Seahawks defense. The Legion of Boom has been almost completely dismantled, and the players brought in to replace them have not been able to replicate the kind of dominance Seattle had from 2013-16, when the Seahawks led the league in scoring defense every year.
The biggest culprit has been the pass-rush. That was the team’s biggest question mark during the offseason, and the team thought it addressed the problem by signing free agent Ziggy Ansah and trading for Jadeveon Clowney. However, Seattle’s pass-rush has generated just 13 sacks, which is tied for 25th in the NFL.
The good news is that Seattle’s defense has been opportunistic. The Seahawks have 15 takeaways this season, and their rate of 1.9 per game ranks fifth in the league. That’s a big reason why Seattle has an impressive plus-7 turnover margin. And middle linebacker Bobby Wagner continues to be amazing.
However, in losses, and even in some victories, the defense has been unable to come up with big stops at crucial junctures of the game, something that used to be a staple of Seattle defenses.
The Seahawks signed Pro Bowl kicker Jason Myers this offseason, hoping he could be a difference-maker. Myers has been fine — he’s 10-for-13 on field goals, with all three of his misses being 48 yards or longer — but he has yet to make that game-changing kick. He’s consistently put kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks.
Punter Michael Dickson has also been adequate, but he hasn’t matched last year’s standards when he was a rookie sensation as he’s seen both his gross (48.2-46.2) and net (42.5-40.5) punting numbers take a dip, and he no longer seems able to magically make punts bounce sideways inside the 5-yard line and go out of bounds.
The Seahawks have been a net negative in the return games. Seattle hasn’t broken a single return — the long kickoff return is 33 yards and the long punt return is 10 yards — while the Seahawks allowed big returns in both the kick and punt games, most crucially giving up a punt return for a touchdown in the loss to New Orleans.
There have been some good coaching moments on the offensive side of the ball, from making quick adjustments to a quick passing game when Wilson was under heavy pressure, to keeping the faith with Carson through his fumbling issues. The analytics people will say Carroll continues to be too conservative when it comes to going for it on fourth down, but the Seahawks have had some good moments when it comes to that, too.
On defense, the coaches have yet to develop a scheme to generate a consistent pass-rush, as the tendency to just have four players rush in a straight line hasn’t been effective.
Carroll has spent the first half of the season testing what the replay officials will do now that pass interference (and uncalled pass interference) is now challengable. Having lost those challenges on multiple occasions, we’ll see if Carroll’s had his curiosity sated yet.
Before the season began the Seahawks were almost universally picked to be a middle-of-the-pack team. The fact Seattle sits at 6-2 at the season’s midpoint therefore represents tremendous progress. The biggest factor in that has been the completion of Seattle’s transition from being a team that’s identity is its defense, to being a team based around its quarterback.
But while the 6-2 record is positive, there are indications Seattle’s record may be a tad fortunate. The Seahawks have a slender plus-12 point differential, and five of Seattle’s six victories were by a single score, including three by less than a field goal.
So it was a first half of encouraging developments, with some areas still to work on. It lends itself to a sense of cautious optimism heading into the second half of the season.