Oregon Sports News football writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath review the first quarter of the Seattle Seahawks’ 2016 season and look at what’s to come.
The good, the bad, and the New York Jets defense
Rogers: The Seahawks are on a bye, which is to say they’ll face the same level of resistance this week as they faced in last week’s victory in East Rutherford, New Jersey. How many times do you think Tanner McEvoy has heard already that catching touchdown passes is not usually THAT easy? When zone defenders decide to ignore you as you enter their turf and then do you the additional courtesy of falling down, it makes it pretty easy to cradle gently wafted passes for touchdowns.
The hero doing the pass-wafting was the rumored-to-be-compromised Russell Wilson, who proved me wrong, among a gaggle of nay-sayers, who thought he should sit this one out. Instead of being pummeled, Wilson had his best game of the season, despite not having his usual level of escapability: 23/32 passes for 309 yards, 3 touchdowns, zero interceptions.
It’s quite an indictment of a defense’s front seven if you can’t get at a hobbled quarterback playing behind one of the NFL’s most suspect offensive lines. DangerRuss, I tip my cap* to you.
Jess, how about those Seahawks receivers? Did they not steal the show or what?
Ridpath: Three words: “Pedestrian” no more.
From Jimmy Graham nabbing a one-hander to Doug Baldwin hanging on for a clutch catch despite a brutal hit, the Seahawks receivers were in top form against the Jets. In fact, they’ve been so good all season that Seattle is currently ranked 10th in receiving yards for the 2016 regular season.
That’s right. The squad with the league’s once dominant run game is officially (for now) a top-ten receiving team. That stat intrigued me so much I did a little poking around the NFL stats page to find out the last time that happened. Take a guess.
2007. I’m not kidding. It was Bobby Engram’s second-to-last season as a Hawk, and they were ranked 7th in receiving yards. Since then, the only time they’ve come close to performing that well was 2009, when they ended the year ranked 15th.
Key in this season’s receiving renaissance is, of course, the long-awaited emergence of Graham. Among all receivers, he’s ranked 25th in yards per game (Baldwin is 10th). Among tight ends, he’s second (behind only Carolina’s Greg Olson). He’s been especially effective at long gains, logging an average of 16.6 yards per catch — which puts him fifth among all players with at least 15 catches. (All stats from nfl.com.)
As the season continues, I wouldn’t be surprise if the blue birds continue down the road of this dramatic identity transformation — led by Wilson’s newfound comfort in the pocket and his receivers’ able hands, athleticism, and versatility. It’s a surprising sea change for a team that has long hung their hats on an oppressive ground game.
Speaking of surprises, Julian, let’s talk about the status of the NFC West four weeks in. I don’t think anyone expected to see the Arizona Cardinals at the bottom of the division — nor the Los Angeles Rams at the top. What gives?
Rogers: Are you ready for your division-leading Los Angeles Rams, 12s? There have been many surprises this young season, but the current reality of the Rams being in first place (!) and owning the tiebreaker over the Seahawks is right up there with the Carson Wentzexpress, the Minnesota Vikings’ imperviousness and the Carolina Panthers’ implosion.
Add one more shocker: The Cardinals’ likewise cratering to the depths of the NFC West. Both NFC Championship teams from 2015 are off to ugly and wholly unexpected starts for such talented rosters.
The first thing you look for when top teams fall are injuries. Yes, both Cam Newton andCarson Palmer were knocked out of their last games with concussions. That’s bad. However, both teams had already forged losing records before losing their quarterbacks tothe scourge that may one day be the NFL’s undoing. Both teams are shadows of their 15–1 and 13–3 2015 seasons.
For the sake of both veteran quarterbacks, I hope they can resume their careers without doing more harm. For the sake of the Seahawks, the early jump the Seahawks have on both still likely NFC playoff contenders is not insignificant. For the Panthers, they lost to two undefeated teams and the 3–1 Atlanta Falcons. The Cardinals also lost to the 3–1 New England Patriots and the still-suspect Rams — both at home. They next face the San Francisco 49ers tonight, without Palmer. If they lose on the road in Santa Clara, things could get really ugly.
The Seahawks may be in a position to effectively end the red birds’ postseason chances when they meet on Oct. 23 in Glendale, Ariz. Because the Seahawks’ own quarterback, apparently, is impervious to injury.
Jess, now that I’ve been chastened, I can never doubt Russell Wilson again. He’ll presumably be even healthier, post-bye. Are there any ways in which the Seahawks, with a hot start behind them, are not primed for a deep playoff run?
Ridpath: Count me among the many nay-sayers who felt Wilson should have taken a week off. He proved all of us wrong — and he did it with stubborn authority. I spent much of last week criticizing his over-the-top determination, but he demonstrated (again) that he is a tough-as-nails champion … and the blue birds’ heart and soul.
Russ and his super hero cape aside, the Seahawks have many enviable assets, including a blistering defense, a receiving corps on the rise, and a run game that, while declining a bit, is still a threat (currently 11th in the league).
The obvious X factor is the offensive line. Their best game in this young season came last week in New Jersey, with rookie right guard Germain Ifedi playing in his first regular season game. The first-round pick from Texas A&M delivered a solid performance —playing all 60 snaps and receiving kudos from Pete Carroll for his pass protection.
But one good game does not a solid o-line make. And it’s hard to forget how ugly things looked in weeks 1 and 2. That said, this year’s line is performing miles above their start in 2015. After four games last season, Wilson had been sacked 18 times. Heading into this year’s week-5 bye, the sack count is half that. If Ifedi, center Justin Britt (who was praised by Pro Football Focus for his performance last week), and their fellow lineman can keep going on this trajectory, Seattle will surely be among 2016’s top playoff contenders.
Julian, it’s time to lay out some end-of-season predictions. Your challenge, should you choose to except it, is to pick the league’s eight division winners. Go.
Rogers: Here is what my crystal ball says, 25 percent of the way through the season.
West Seattle Seahawks
North Green Bay Packers
South Atlanta Falcons
East Dallas Cowboys
West Denver Broncos
North Pittsburgh Steelers
South Houston Texans
East New England Patriots
Yes, I’m taking the chalk in the AFC, but I’m predicting late-season surges for three of the four NFC teams. Poke away at it. You didn’t ask, but I’ll give you my Wild Card picks too: Eagles & Vikings in the NFC; Raiders & Ravens in the AFC.
Here’s a challenge for you, since we don’t have a Seahawks game to predict. Pick this weekend’s winners for all of the 2016 surprise teams. That includes the already mentioned Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, Vikings, Panthers and Cardinals. It also includes honorable mention surprise teams like the Patriots (no Brady, no problem … now with Brady), Atlanta Falcons (NFL’s No. 1 offense), Cowboys (rookie RB leads league, rookie QB has no turnovers) and let’s also include the Broncos. Even though they are defending Super Bowl champions, they are weathering quarterback turnover during an undefeated start. Which of them will you predict to keep the magic or nightmare going?
Ridpath: I can’t poke any holes in your AFC predictions. And I think you’ve named the NFC’s post-season teams correctly — but you’ve got them sorted wrong. The Vikings will win the North, and the Eagles will be the surprise victors in the East. Green Bay and Dallas will get the Wild Cards.
On to my challenge: I’ve ranked these matchups in order from “clear advantage” to “who the hell knows”?
Patriots at Browns: He’s ba-aaack.
Jets at Steelers: Ryan Fitzpatrick has a bad case of interception-itis, while Pittsburgh bounced back big time after their surprising loss to the Eagles.
Buccaneers at Panthers: Ain’t no way Cam Newton is going to allow a loss at home against Tampa Bay. If he plays, of course. That’s looking pretty iffy right now.
Eagles at Lions: Wentz’s magic will continue and Philly’s third-ranked defense will smother Detroit.
Bills at Rams: Buffalo’s gotta be feelin’ it after shutting out the Pats. Their stout defense will dominate once again.
Texans at Vikings: Houston is off to a good start, but the loss of J.J. Watt is a big deal. Minnesota (#2 in this week’s power rankings) will have their number.
Bengals at Cowboys: A.J. Green killed it last week, and Andy Dalton had his best game of the season. Dez Bryant might be back. If he’s not, advantage Cincinnati.
Cardinals at 49ers: This should be an easy game to predict, but Arizona’s loss to the Rams last week makes it a head scratcher. This will be a desperation win for the Cards.
Falcons at Broncos: My gut says the league’s #1 offense will best the #4 defense, even though they’re playing in Denver.
Rogers: I agree with you on Patriots over Browns (c’mon!), Steelers over Jets, Panthers over Buccaneers (Even if Derek Anderson has to start) and Eagles over Lions. Even though I do think the Rams are playing over their heads, I believe they will take down the Bills at home, who have only scored 23 points combined in their two road games.
I’ll side with you on the Vikings keeping it going against the Texans at home. But we diverge on the rest: I will take the Cowboys at home over the Bengals who are only averaging 19.5 points per game this season. My gut tells me the 49ers will rise up tonight to take down the wounded Cardinals. I also think the Denver defense can hold down the Falcons’ surprising offense enough to win in Denver.
Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.
What he got right: I did make good on my season-opening prediction of the Seahawks starting at least 3–1 (although I lost faith in that prediction when Wilson got banged up). I stated Graham was hitting his stride now. Imagine how good the blue birds will be if he keeps this up.
What he got wrong: The game winner. I’m 2–2 on the season. I thought Wilson should give way to Boykin. Wasn’t necessary.
What she got right: The game winner, lifting me to 3–1 … one game up on my worthy opponent. I praised both Graham and Baldwin, and they continued to prove they deserve every word. I also expected Seattle’s defense would be too much for the off-kilter Jets. Four sacks and three interceptions later, they proved me right.
What she got wrong: I was ready to go all in for Boykin because I assumed Russell Wilson was human and would need time to heal. Wrong. Evidently, I need to buy stock in Nanobubbles.
* I don’t wear a cap. It’s sunny and moderate where I live. Plus, It’s not 1943.