SEATTLE - If the Seattle Seahawks miss the playoffs, they can point to home losses against the Las Vegas Raiders and Carolina Panthers as the reason. That and a run defense that has turned abysmal.
Seattle allowed 223 rushing yards to the Panthers on Sunday as a part of a 30-24 loss that dropped them to 7-6 on the season. The Seahawks are allowing 209.5 rushing yards per game over the past four weeks as their complete lack of rushing defense has undercut their competitiveness.
Such play from the defense has forced the offense to need to perform almost flawlessly to carry them to victories. With their top three running backs sidelined and Geno Smith not as sharp as he'd been through the first 12 games of the season, the Seahawks faltered again at home to put their chances of making the playoffs in legitimate doubt.
The Seahawks are also 0-4 against the NFC South this season, a division in which all five teams are below. 500 for the year.
With a quick turnaround to a Thursday night game against the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs remaining on the schedule on Christmas Eve, games to the Raiders and Panthers were not contests Seattle could afford to kick away. Instead, they allowed over 200 rushing yards to each in crippling losses.
Here are the takeaways from the Seahawks' loss to the Panthers:
– Seahawks defense… WTF?
How the Seahawks defense managed to be the best defense in the NFL for a four-week stretch at mid-season is practically unexplainable at this point.
Per Football Outsiders' DVOA metrics, the Seahawks defense was statistically the best in the league during their surge to the top of the NFC West that saw two wins over Arizona and victories over the New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers. But since that second win against the Cardinals, the Seahawks' defense has cratered.
They get blown off the line of scrimmage, they get out of gaps, they miss tackles. On a weekly basis, opponents are putting together banner rushing performances against the Seattle defense. The Tampa Buccaneers rushed for 161 yards, the Raiders posted a Seattle opponent record 283 yards, the flailing Los Angeles Rams had 171 yards last week, and the Panthers carved the Seahawks up for 223 yards on Sunday.
"It's tough man," linebacker Bruce Irvin said. "When people run the ball on you, that's disrespectful as a man. And guys is really running the ball on us. So until we get that figured out, we're going to continue to see the same thing.
"I think it's guys got to make tackles. I think we fit it up right, when guys are in their right fits and we hit it, we hit it at two yards and it's still going for an extra three, four or five yards. It's putting us in third and two's, second and three's and it's not working out for us. So I think guys just got to tackle better. We've got to tackle better. And when we don't fit it right, they hit us and we do fit it right, we're not tackling it. So we just got to get this under control, man."
Head coach Pete Carroll said the Panthers didn't surprise them with anything on the ground. They ran the stuff they usually run. The Seahawks just couldn't stop it.
"I've got to help our defense better and I'm really disappointed," Carroll said. "You know, I've been looking at the running game for a long time, you know, and there was no new plays. This was the same stuff and we just have to do it better.
"The running game on offense, running game on defense were both really focus points for us. And we've got to get this thing turned and we're still on it. Those are our issues going in to the fourth quarter of the season right now coming up. And that's going to turn around really fast against a really good club and we got to get our act together."
Defensive end Shelby Harris was "sick as a dog" this morning, per Carroll, and wasn't able to play. Meanwhile, nose tackle Al Woods was forced from the game in the second quarter due to a heel injury that kept him from returning. Woods is a key cog of Seattle's run defense and Bryan Mone, Myles Adams and Poona Ford struggled to hold the line of scrimmage.
"Those are two heavy dudes up front that really we're relying on," Carroll said. "We had moved Al to get some extra play out of him at the end spot. And it was it overall, in general, I think they had 60 yards at halftime or something like that. Things were somewhat in control. But Al couldn't come back for the second half and not having [Harris] made a difference."
But Woods and Harris have both been there in previous weeks when the running game has struggled all the same.
"We;ve got to fix this s---," safety Ryan Neal said. "Because, I mean, you've seen what happened. And it's been the same thing the past two weeks, and teams see it and they're going to attack it and they're probably going to give us the same thing.
"It's frustrating as hell, across the board, top down, you know, I mean, it's just frustrating. I mean, you can see it on my face, I'm frustrated. And I mean, you know, we've got to look at the film and see what's going on. That's the only answer I can give you right now."
With Seattle trailing 20-17 early in the fourth quarter, it was still a game. The defense had held four straight times inside their own 5-yard line to force a turnover on downs to keep it a one-score game. But after the Seahawks' offense sputtered out, the Panthers marched on a 10-play, 74-yard drive for a touchdown that made it a 10-point game with 6:57 left to play.
The Panthers ran it eight times on the drive with carries of 11, 6, 2, 12, 16, 6, 7 and 8 on the drive as Raheem Blacksheer's 8-yard touchdown run put the game out of reach.
"Super frustrating. I mean, just f---ing unbelievable," Neal said of the drive. "You know, I mean, it just makes you sick in the stomach. I'm not going to sleep on it tonight because that just irritates my soul. And when you come into game knowing that that's how they're gonna play, you just got to strap up and just ready to go four quarters, man."
Maybe 900 words is too much to spend on just one aspect of the loss to the Panthers. However, it truly seems that this is THE issue of the season for the Seahawks. If they fix it, they can be a playoff team. If they don't, they won't be.
– Running game didn't get much chance, but wasn't very effective either.
Without Rashaad Penny, Ken Walker III and DeeJay Dallas, it wasn't exactly surprising that the Seahawks had trouble rushing the football on Sunday.
The Seahawks rushed for just 46 yards on 14 total carries in the game. Running backs accounted for 28 yards on 10 carries as Travis Homer and Tony Jones Jr. were ineffective in limited touches.
Seattle had struggled in recent weeks on the ground even with Walker and Dallas in the lineup. But with Homer, Jones Jr. and Godwin Igwebuike as the only available backs on the roster on Sunday, a big day wasn't likely. However, it wasn't helped by having the team immediately fall into a 17-0 deficit that forced the Seahawks to play from behind.
"He never really got going," Carroll said of Homer. He had one great run (a 16-yard carry) and just couldn't get going. We've continued to find trouble with line of scrimmage and we haven't been clean for a bit. And he couldn't get rolling."
Even when the game eventually tightened up, there was nothing found on the ground for Seattle.
The line of scrimmage is an issue for the Seahawks on both sides of the ball.
– Marquise Goodwin helped spark an offense that was off to a slow start.
No. 3 wide receiver Marquise Goodwin had two early conversions on third downs and a great leaping catch along the sideline as part of his best performance in a Seattle uniform.
Goodwin had five catches for 95 yards and a touchdown on the day for Seattle.
"Marquise has been great all year and he was phenomenal today, Smith said of Goodwin.
With Seattle down 17-0, Goodwin came up with a 38-yard reception on third-and-5 to spark a scoring drive to get the Seahawks offense moving. Tyler Lockett's 4-yard touchdown made it a 17-7 game.
A 15-yard completion to Goodwin on third-and-8 on Seattle's next possession again fueled a touchdown drive as DK Metcalf would cap the drive with a 12-yard score to make it a 20-14 game.
Goodwin then added a 24-yard touchdown of his own with 16 seconds left as he bounced off tacklers into the end zone to give Seattle a chance at an onside recovery.
"He is so tough, man," Smith said. "He makes all the plays that you wouldn't expect a guy with his size to make. He plays big. So really fortunate to be able to play with Marquise and look forward to just having more opportunities."
– Geno Smith wasn't his sharpest, couldn't carry defense and overcome his own miscues.
It's been a tremendous season for Geno Smith with the Seahawks. Smith has given Seattle everything they could have hoped for at quarterback and more this year in carrying the team into playoff contention.
Sunday's loss to the Panthers was perhaps his weakest effort of the season.
Smith completed 21-of-36 passes for 264 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. His first pass of the day was intercepted by Jaycee Horn, a second ball was picked off by C.J. Henderson, and a few more throws were off-target.
Smith also delivered some brilliant strikes as well. His 12-yard pass to Metcalf for a touchdown, a shot up the right sideline to Lockett, a tight-window third down completion to Metcalf were all on point. However, he just wasn't quite as pinpoint as previous games this year.
"I had some good plays, had some not so good plays. It's the NFL. Nobody is perfect," Smith said. "I don't expect to come out here and be perfect, but I do have a standard, and I don't think I played to that standard quite today."
Smith's opening throw to a crossing Lockett while rolling left was a touch late and undercut from Horn as he peeled away from covering Metcalf.
"Jaycee made a great play," Smith said. "He is a really good player. He made a great play. It happens in the NFL. It was the first play of the game. Obviously you don't want to start that way, but I feel like we responded well, and we had more opportunities late in the game to really win it. We just couldn't get it done. That's unfortunate."
His second interception was far more explainable. Brian Burns, Myles Hartsfield and Marquis Haynes Sr. all flinched at the line of scrimmage as the Seahawks snapped the ball. Smith and the offense believed an offsides call was coming and that he had a free play. Smith forced a throw toward Metcalf as Frankie Luvu was closing on him in the pocket. C.J. Henderson jumped in front to pick off the pass with no flag being thrown on the play.
"I saw three of the guys jump offsides. I don't know what they saw, but I'm pretty sure that's what happened," Smith said of the play.
Added Carroll: "That's how we've always trained him. We train him to try to see that flag out of the corner of your eye. You can't just go on the flinch. He thought he saw it. That's what felt it was free and all that. I know the officials came to me after halftime and they said they thought he wasn't in the neutral zone after looking at it."
Horn nearly got a second interception of Smith in the fourth quarter. A first quarter shot to Metcalf was over his head and in danger as well. A few other throws weren't perfectly on target either.
Smith appeared on the injury report as limited with a right shoulder issue on Thursday. Smith acknowledged the issue without saying it was a factor.
"It's late in the year. Everyone has a little something here and there, but I don't think it affected me in any way," Smith said. "Just normal soreness. Just have to continue to rehab and make sure I'm ready for the next one."
For the year, Smith is still completing 71.5 percent of his passes for 3,433 yards with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He's been stellar for the Seahawks all season. Sunday wasn't his best effort and it wasn't enough to overcome the lack of a running game and the inability of the defense to stop one.