Double Coverage: Cards host Seahawks team that might’ve found traction

Sep 28, 2018, 9:18 AM | Updated: 10:26 am

Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas reacts after the team defeated the Dallas Cowboys in an NF...

Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas reacts after the team defeated the Dallas Cowboys in an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Like the Arizona Cardinals, the Seattle Seahawks got off to a bumpy start in 2018.

Losses to the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears came as quarterback Russell Wilson took hit after hit, but things began to turn last week. Seattle beat the Dallas Cowboys, 24-13, using 39 rushes to find balance, helping Wilson do his thing. Meanwhile, the Seahawks defense forced three turnovers.

Health along the offensive line, the return of linebacker Bobby Wagner and a few notable adjustments played a part in the turnaround.

Can Seattle take that momentum into State Farm Stadium on Sunday?

To gain more insight into the ongoing on the Seahawks that include a weird contract situation with safety Earl Thomas and an even more weird insider trading case involving linebacker Mychal Kendricks, we asked Seahawks reporter Stacy Rost from 710 ESPN Seattle.

(I also answered her questions about the Cardinals).

Kevin Zimmerman: So, the NFC West picture looks pretty bleak after the Los Angeles Rams. But the Seahawks sure looked like the Seahawks of old in a win over the Cowboys in Week 3. They ran the ball 39 times, got pressure on the quarterback and forced three turnovers. Are things getting back to normal over in Seattle, or was that just a one-game anomaly?

Stacy Rost: I would say it’s somewhere in between – which sounds like taking the easy way out of this question but is also a more accurate description of this version of the Seahawks.

Just five players remain from the Super Bowl XLVIII-winning roster (six, if you count the return of J.R. Sweezy), so this certainly isn’t the Seahawks team of old. A step forward would be to make it to the postseason (not the Super Bowl).

But I wouldn’t say it was a lucky win. There were some very intentional changes with play-calling, and this group can continue to improve assuming they stay healthy and stay out of their own way with penalties.

The defense has been quietly solid all season (significantly better, I think, than national expectations) and have managed to overcome a few big injuries. Earl Thomas and Bradley McDougald are arguably the best safety tandem in the league, with five interceptions between them in three weeks and the two highest coverage grades from Pro Football Focus. The pass rush struggled in the first two outings but showed drastic improvement against the Cowboys. Defensive end Frank Clark has a sack in each game. Linebacker K.J. Wright remains out, but Mychal Kendricks has paired well with middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and the two combined for 10 tackles and a sack last week.

The offense struggled to find consistency in Weeks 1 and 2. When this team was at its best, it was a run-first offense headed by Marshawn Lynch. Carroll tapped into that in Week 3 and the group finally found its rhythm. While I wouldn’t expect 32 carries for Chris Carson again, I would certainly think they’ll try to be far more balanced in Glendale than they were against Denver and Chicago.

KZ: Speaking of Carson’s big night, it seems like a few holes were patched along the offensive line, and that showed in both the rushing totals and the sack totals (or lack thereof). That line hasn’t been so stable of late, but what’s the level of concern there heading into Sunday?

SR: But going back to your first question, this is the one position group where I truly don’t know what to expect this Sunday. The offensive line had a great game against the Cowboys, for sure. But there’s also several seasons’ worth of play that has left them ranked near the bottom of the league. So there’s definitely still concern.

Despite allowing just two sacks (compared to six in each of the first two games), 113 rushing yards, and their best third down conversion rate (44%) of the season, Pro Football Focus ranked Seattle’s O-line 31st overall – putting them right there with the Arizona Cardinals (at No. 32).

The line has some first-round picks and a four-time Pro Bowl left tackle. There’s talent there. But they just haven’t had the time together to put together consistent tape. I wouldn’t put all sacks of Russell Wilson on the offensive line, also — both Wilson and Carroll have said the quarterback needs to quicken his release and throw the ball away when a read isn’t there on third down.

But I also expect more growing pains for this unit as they get additional reps together under a new coordinator. The good news is they should get starting center Justin Britt (shoulder) back this week. Starting left guard Ethan Pocic missed practice Wednesday with the same ankle injury that kept him inactive Sunday, so we could see Sweezy there again against the Cardinals.

KZ: Sounds similar to the defensive side of the ball, except their personnel availability issues aren’t so much about injuries. What’s the latest deals with the Earl Thomas and Mychal Kendrick situations, how have they’ve impacted the team and what’s that defense looking like as a whole?

SR: This is a tricky explanation, so the short answer is: I expect both Kendricks and Thomas to play Sunday.

To dive a bit deeper: The Earl Thomas situation remains mostly a mystery, primarily because Carroll has opted to not discuss his approach or conversations with Thomas publicly. Whether it’s talks about an extension or discipline for missing practice, Carroll has remained mum.

Thomas missed three of four practices last week, and was pretty candid with reporters when asked why after Sunday’s win. Here’s the full transcript of that conversation, but it boils down to: If the Seahawks aren’t fully invested in him, then he’s not going to put his body on the line in practice if he’s not feeling 100 percent.

I don’t see Seattle extending Thomas this season. But if he continues to perform on the field, I also don’t see them trading him.

Right now, he is playing well – very well. He has three interceptions through three games and looks every bit as speedy at 29. I have no idea whether or not he’ll be at practice this week but would be shocked if he were to ever miss a game. Which means fans should expect to see him on the field against the Cardinals. It’s a situation that would be (understandably) chaotic in most clubs, but Carroll might be the coach best-suited for this balancing act.

As far as affecting the team, I don’t get the impression this has a big impact on Thomas’ teammates. The vets his age have known him, who he is a person, and played with him for years. The younger guys respect him as a three-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler. Right now – and I can’t stress enough how early this is – but right now, the loudest opposition to Thomas missing practice or wanting an extension is coming from outside of the locker room, not from the players themselves.

Kendricks appears to be a week-to-week situation while he and the team await word on his appeal. As we all know by now, Kendricks was suspended after pleading guilty to insider trading charges but can continue to play for Seattle while his appeal is being reviewed. Carroll wasn’t sure whether he’d be available as recently as Monday but was able to confirm he’d be playing this week when speaking with us on Wednesday. So it sounds like next week will be a repeat of that: We’ll know whether Kendricks will be available when the team hears back from the league early in the week.

Kendricks is a go for this Sunday and has played well for Seattle in two starts (9 tackles, two sacks). The bad news for Seattle is that it appears neither reporters nor the team know whether Kendricks will be available next week – and starter K.J. Wright is still going through rehabilitation following knee surgery.

Overall, the defense as a whole has performed well and exceeded expectations. But unlike the 2013-16 versions of this team that benefited from depth, this Seahawks’ defense could see a big drop in performance if key players like McDougald, Thomas, Clark and Wagner are ever unable to suit up.

KZ: Seems like a lot of drama for both teams heading into this week, which I guess is good from a fan perspective. Care to take a stab at predicting how this Week 4 matchup in the National Football League will go?

SR: I’m leaning toward a low-scoring game, if only because I think both defenses are better than fans expect and both offenses have struggled early. But I take Wilson over Rosen, and think Seattle’s offense can keep at least a field goal lead. Prediction: 17-13, Seahawks.

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Double Coverage: Cards host Seahawks team that might’ve found traction