What are the chances the Seahawks’ offense will have a marked uptick in production Sunday at the Clink against Arizona?
About the same as the Seahawks have of repeating the absurd play that did in the Cardinals Nov. 9 in Glendale — a 54-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Doug Baldwin after retreating quarterback Russell Wilson spun away from the rush so many times he created a waterspout.
Indoors. In the desert.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was at midfield early in the fourth quarter, his team trailing 15-10 but expecting a stop because the Seahawks were second-and-21 at their own 44. Imperiled by three defenders who missed him twice, Wilson had fallen back to his own 28 before unleashing. As Baldwin made a leaping catch, Arians could be seen buckling at the knees and bending over in football agony.
After his defender fell, Baldwin went untouched to the Arizona 2-yard line before being pushed out of bounds by safety Budda Baker, the ex-Huskies star. The play set up a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham for a 22-10 lead that was the difference in the 22-16 victory.
From the sound of it on a teleconference Wednesday, the play has burned into Arians’ retinas to the point he can’t unsee it.
“I thought Antoine Bethea had an interception,” he said of the strong safety who closed on Baldwin. “I thought at first that Russell was trying to throw it out of bounds and it wasn’t going to make it, and Antoine was standing right in front of me. Right before he jumped, he slipped, and Doug catches it and goes down to the two.
“It was one of those real, real high moments and then the elevator hits the bottom.”
Asked about Wilson’s freakish game-saver, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll Wednesday waxed sarcastic: “Yeah, we’re working on that in practice this week.”
It may have been the most stupendous of Wilson’s miracle completions this season that have kept the offensive dinghy afloat in the hydroplane race to the playoffs. But it remains a risky stunt, as the Cowboys proved Sunday when they ran down another double-whirly by Wilson for a 23-yard loss on third-and-5.
Over the past two games the Seahawks have totaled 285 yards on offense, in part because Wilson has had more misjudgments and mis-throws than at any time this season. Course corrections from coaches in-season are difficult, and besides, they don’t want to smother the good plays like the heave to Baldwin that broke open the Cardinals game. Still …
“He didn’t play very well the last two weeks,” Carroll said Monday, as blunt an assessment as he’s offered about Wilson. “He didn’t put any yards on the board. He knows. He’s one part of it. The touchdown passes were beautifully thrown and executed. He ran the ball really well again. He’s playing his butt off. I got no problem with that.
“I just wish our production was there to show it, and make it a little easier on the defense.”
There’s only so much a coach can do.
“He has to do that on his own; he has to figure out when not to,” Carroll said Wednesday. “It was really unfortunate last week. It was a third and five. There’s an opportunity to make a first down and I know he was thinking he might be able to escape to run for it. Before you know it, he’s going in the wrong direction and he got in trouble.
“Those are huge plays and he’s more likely to make the positive ones than he is to have those plays happen. But it has happened a couple times and they’ve been big, big problems for field position. So we encourage the heck out of him to create for the positive. He’s been remarkable at it over the years. So every once in a while you got to give it up a little bit to get some.”
The problem with the rationale is that Arizona might be playing the NFL’s best defense right now, in a game Seattle must win to have a chance to stay alive for the playoffs’ final wild-card spot.
Since the first Seattle game, the Cardinals are No. 1 in the NFL in total defense (255 yards per game) and sixth for the season (311 ypg). They have allowed 22 points in the past three games, including a 23-0 thump at home Sunday over the New York Giants. Another good game against Seattle’s meager attack will likely put Arizona defense in the NFL’s top five in terms of fewest yards allowed — for a franchise-record third consecutive season.
As difficult as it’s been for Seattle’s offense play against qualify defenses by the Eagles, Jaguars, Rams and Cowboys, the seriously bad boys are coming to town Sunday. Arians was cocky enough after Sunday’s game to declare the Clink, where his teams have won three of the past four, as Arizona’s “home field,” where they would promptly “kick their (butts).”
The quote was intended for team ears only, but Arians shrugged off its widespread dissemination.
“Well, when you’re talking to your team in the locker room, you’re talking to your team; you’re not talking to the press,” he said. “It wasn’t supposed to get out, but it got out. All coaches say things to their teams to get them fired up.
“That’s what I said.”
So it’s out there. And Carroll said the Seahawks are working on Wilson’s double-whirly, electric-football, mayhem-maker to get Arians doubled over again.
As targeted behinds go, Sunday seems to be a target-rich environment.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.