By Danny O'Neil
The Seahawks had a long weekend, which left plenty of time to think about everything that Thursday's victory in Arizona did – and in some cases did not – teach us.
Three things we learned:
1. Russell Wilson's ability to scramble is a necessity.
Every week, Wilson is asked in a press conference about whether he's looking to run, and every week, he explains that his preference is to hand it off to Marshawn Lynch or throw it downfield, and running is more a last resort.
Well, that's very polite and all, but the reality is that Wilson's mobility is the single most critical component of Seattle's offense right now, whether he's buying time behind spotty pass protection or running downfield.
"It's instrumental to everything we're doing," coach Pete Carroll said.
2. The Seahawks' pass rush is, in fact, improved.
The Seahawks didn't have a single sack in their playoff loss at Atlanta last January, and in Carroll's season-ending press conference, he said the team needed to add pass rushers, plural, in the offseason. Seattle did just that, and on Thursday, the Seahawks had their full array of pass rushers. The result: Seattle had seven different players contribute to the team's total of seven sacks, the Seahawks' second-most in any game going back to the beginning of the 2009 season.
The fact that Seattle is still finding its most effective pass-rushing combinations means it's possible that Seattle might get even better.
"We're going to get better there," Carroll said. "We're going to improve at mixing our guys properly and using them to the best things that they can do."
3. It's not just Seattle's finishes that are fantastic.
The Seahawks couldn't have started Thursday's game any better. They drove 83 yards in five plays on the opening possession, earning four first downs and scoring on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Sidney Rice. It was the first time all season the Seahawks scored a touchdown on their opening possession, and they followed it up by scoring on their second possession, too.
That forced the Cardinals to play from behind, meaning that Seattle could rev up its pass rush knowing Arizona would have to throw the ball to keep up. In that way, this game was a template for Seattle's success because if the Seahawks jump on top, their defense can really clamp down.
Three things we're still trying to figure out:
1. How many different bad choices went into the debacle of a fourth-and-1?
Start with the fact Seattle took Lynch out of the game on fourth-and-1 in the second quarter. Continue to the formation as the Seahawks lined up with an empty backfield, spreading four receivers out on the line of scrimmage. Then let's go to the execution, which asked for rookie tight end Luke Willson to seal off Arizona's Calais Campbell. Campbell was too quick off the line, which meant Seattle's quarterback sneak never had a chance.
"We got knocked off the ball," Carroll said. "We had a couple of misses up front there, and he got pounded on it."
Sure would have been nice if Seattle had a physical running back who excelled running through contact to use on that play. Oh, wait. The Seahawks do have one, they just didn't have him on the field.
2. Can the Seahawks limit the risk that seems inherent in their emphasis on scrambling?
The Seahawks have set a goal of being the best scrambling team in the league. That means they're not only willing to let Wilson hold the ball longer than other quarterbacks, they're embracing that. The downside is the defense has more time to get to Wilson. He lost two fumbles inside of his own 20 in Arizona, the first coming when he held the ball a long time.
Can Seattle temper those turnovers while still scrambling or is that the tradeoff that is inevitable if you let the quarterback hold onto the ball longer?
3. Why are the Seahawks so frantically disorganized at the end of the second quarter?
You could call the Seahawks' final drive of the second quarter a fire drill, but that would be misleading because it wasn't anywhere near that organized. The Seahawks had to burn a timeout to prevent a 10-second runoff after a false-start penalty against tackle Michael Bowie and they were actually helped by a holding penalty against center Max Unger, which prevented time from running out before a final field-goal attempt.
It was just the latest example of Seattle handling a 2-minute situation like Edward Scissorhands. Remember that debacle against San Diego in 2010, Carroll's third game as coach when the Seahawks tried to score on a quarterback keeper only to be tackled and have time run out before a field goal could be attempted? The clock ran out in the first half at Atlanta in the playoffs last year, too.
At this point, the disorganization can be characterized as chronic.