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Missing their closer, Seahawks' failure to finish shouldn't be a surprise

Seattle is 2-5 for the first time since 2011, which is also the last time the Seahawks played regular-season games without Russell Wilson being available. This not a coincidence.

Don’t read this unless you’re willing to consider the fact that Seattle’s current situation isn’t as bad as it feels. Seriously. If you want to read about Russell Wilson’s absence has exposed all the warts he’s helped cover up over the past six years, there are plenty of places that you can find words to that effect. They’re just not going to be in this particular newsletter.

Still reading? OK. Don’t get mad at me if you wind up frustrated because of my argument that the way Seattle is losing isn’t particularly surprising nor as big of a long-term concern as many people think. You’ve been warned.

The Seahawks are 2-5 for the first time since 2011, which makes sense. The Seahawks are playing meaningful football games without Russell Wilson at quarterback for the first time since 2011.

Now, there are plenty of differences between that 2011 season and the one Seattle is currently experiencing starting with the fact the Seahawks were young team back then in the midst of a historically rich three-year run of drafting superstars. Richard Sherman, Doug Baldwin and K.J. Wright were rookies while Earl Thomas, Golden Tate and Kam Chancellor were all in their second year. But the Seahawks went 7-9 that season, a year that could have been significantly better had Seattle only been a little bit better at the end of games. Of Seattle’s nine losses, seven were one-possession games at some point in the fourth quarter. Tarvaris Jackson just couldn’t make the plays to get Seattle over the hump.

Sound familiar? It should because in each of the past three games, the Seahawks have had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead in the final 3 minutes of the game. They haven’t made it past midfield behind backup quarterback Geno Smith.

The 2021 Seahawks are nowhere near as young as those 2011 Seahawks. Their past three drafts have produced exactly one bona fide star so far in D.K. Metcalf. They should not – in any way – be considered a rebuilding team, but this is a team that is missing its starting quarterback. Should anyone really be surprised it’s finding itself unable to pull out close games? A Tweet from @JohnDavidFraley phrased this even more succinctly:

He’s right. If Seattle was getting blown out without Wilson it would be easier to argue that he was the only thing keeping Seattle afloat. But Seattle has been in all of these games, it’s just missing its closer. Like 2011, this is a team that needs a better quarterback. Unlike 2011, they have that quarterback. He’s just hurt.

That’s not to say that everything is fine or to argue that Seattle would be in great shape had Wilson’s finger not been made to look like a mallet. Even if Seattle had won at Pittsburgh and beaten New Orleans at home, there would be some serious questions about whether Seattle was any more legitimate a Super Bowl contender than it was last year. Throw in the possibility that Wilson might be more adamant about a change in scenery this offseason, and there are absolutely some deeper issues in Seattle.

I just don’t buy that Wilson’s absence has exposed all of Seattle’s shortcomings because I think those have been evident for quite some time now. Over the past three drafts, Seattle has picked one player who turned out to be a bona fide star: receiver D.K. Metcalf. There are three other players who have shown themselves to be — at the very least — solid starters who still have long-term upside: linebackers Jordyn Brooks and Darrell Taylor and cornerback Tre Brown. Beyond that I see role players, rank-and-file members of the roster and guys who’ve already washed out.

The issues with Seattle’s playing style aren’t new, either. Carroll has spent years coaching Seattle like it was the team he had from 2012 to 2015 and not the team it is currently. Punting when you’ve got the ball in the opponent’s half of the field. Seeking balance on offense despite having one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Targeting Metcalf and Tyler Lockett a combined total of eight times in a game where Alex Collins gets 16 carries is just the latest example of Carroll’s willingness to grind it out and keep games close until the fourth quarter.

But you know what? That style has worked with Wilson out. At least it’s worked well enough to keep Seattle in the game and put them in position to win it down the stretch and while coming close shouldn’t be any consolation, it should temper the velocity of some of the criticism. This isn’t a team without hope. It’s a team without its quarterback.

They haven’t gotten blown out. They haven’t gone belly-up. They’ve kept it close just like their coach likes it. They just don’t have the quarterback currently capable of getting over that particular hump, and pointing out this fact isn’t as damning an indictment of Carroll as people seem to think. In fact, it’s pretty darn predictable that Seattle’s first three-game losing streak since Wilson was drafted occurred only after Wilson got hurt.

But if the Seahawks lose to Jacksonville on Sunday? We’ll revisit this conversation next week.

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