No team can truly be prepared for the loss of its star quarterback. That is, if it's fortunate enough to even have one. Only a handful of NFL teams have the privilege of falling into that category—the Seahawks being one of them.
But as they learned on Thursday night, things can take a dark turn in the blink of an eye. Halfway through the third quarter of their eventual 26-17 loss to the Rams, quarterback Russell Wilson hit his throwing hand on the hand of Los Angeles defensive tackle Aaron Donald, rupturing the tendon in his middle finger. Wilson underwent surgery for the injury earlier this week and will miss games for the first time in his professional playing career—perhaps a month or more's worth.
Now steps in Geno Smith, who fought admirably in place of Wilson to keep Seattle's chances of beating L.A. alive for most of the night. As Smith went on to complete 10 of 17 pass attempts for 131 yards, one touchdown and one interception, the first instance of meaningful Seahawks football without their superstar passer in a decade went better than anyone could have anticipated, especially given the circumstances.
One quarter of strong football aside, there's no arguing that the Seahawks are still significantly downgrading at the quarterback position. However, the reality is: Smith is the guy, for now, and will be tasked to keep his team afloat until Wilson can return in mid-November or shortly thereafter.
Adding to the pressure of it all, the Seahawks currently find themselves at the bottom of the NFC West with an unfavorable record of 2-3. So a rough stretch of games from Smith would not only eliminate them from defending their divisional crown—which may be the case already—but it would essentially put them out of postseason contention as a whole, or at least at a severe disadvantage by the time Wilson is back in action.
On the flip side: Smith and company could manage their way to a 5-3 or 4-4 turnaround before Seattle's bye week. With matchups against an average Steelers team, an inconsistent Saints team and a dysfunctional Jaguars team over the next three weeks, achieving such a feat is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
But whether Smith can be efficient or not, he's going to need help—more than he got on Thursday night, and more than Wilson has received for much of the year.
While it's easy to say the fate of the Seahawks' season rests on Smith's shoulders, that's not entirely accurate or fair. No matter what he does, really, this ultimately boils down to an uber-talented defense finally playing up to its potential and doing so now. There's no more time for waiting.
Despite having legitimate star power in all three levels of their defense, the Seahawks rank at the bottom of the barrel in nearly every defensive category through the first five weeks of the season. And as a result, for the second year in a row, they're on pace to allow the most yardage in a single season in NFL history.
At the peak of their struggles in 2020, their biggest Achilles heel was defending the pass, which was partly made possible by several key injuries in their secondary. But even then, they were solid against the run and wound up finishing fifth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (99.6).
The difference this year? They're bad against it all. And the worst part is: they've been more or less at full health during these struggles, unlike in 2020.
As of this writing, the Seahawks have allowed the third-most rushing yards per game (145.2) and the fourth-most passing yards per game (305.6). They've had no answers whatsoever for either plan of attack, no matter who they've faced. There's no way around it; their effort thus far has been pitiful and, frankly, embarrassing for a Pete Carroll-led team.
With the talent they have, these issues are completely inexplicable and downright inexcusable. In a league with truly dreadful rosters such as the Falcons', Jaguars', Texans', Jets' and others, somehow a defense featuring Bobby Wagner, Jamal Adams, Carlos Dunlap, Poona Ford and Quandre Diggs is statistically worse.
Some players have pointed to schematic complications as the leading cause of this dysfunction. Others have offered comments that may or may not allude to something bigger going on behind the scenes.
But whatever the case may be, it doesn't really matter. They need to figure it out, plain and simple. This has to change—now. If not, Seattle's season is not going to die by the hand of its backup quarterback, but by the hand of a unit it's poured countless resources into.