Despite being five games under .500 with six games left on the schedule, the Seahawks have yet to be eliminated from playoff contention. But the 2021 season looks to be a lost cause after three consecutive losses to the Packers, Cardinals, and Washington Football Team.
Even with Russell Wilson returning from finger surgery in roughly half the expected time, Seattle hasn't scored more than 15 points in any of those three games. The team was shut out for the first time in a decade in Green Bay and followed up with underwhelming outings the past two weeks. During that span, they have averaged under 10 points per game and close to a third of their drives have ended in three-and-outs with a punt by Michael Dickson.
Simply put, nothing suggests Wilson and the Seahawks' beleaguered offense will get untracked enough for a last-gasp postseason push, which would require rattling off six consecutive victories to close out the season coupled with help from other teams. What makes that reality all the more disappointing? The defense has been fantastic for well over a month, positioning them to win in spite of the offensive ineptitude.
Just how well has Seattle's defense played in the past six games? Since Week 6, the first game Wilson missed on injured reserve recovering from surgery, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.'s unit has allowed just 16.7 points per game, the third-best mark behind only Kansas City and New England.
Thanks to Wilson and company consistently struggling to sustain drives, the Seahawks' defense has lived on the field, seeing an NFL-high 36:26 of game action each week, nearly three minutes more than the next team on the list. Opponents have averaged 73.5 plays per game against them, almost five plays more than the next team. The odds have been stacked against Norton's unit given these numbers.
But despite receiving minimal support from the offense and constantly being thrown back onto the field after short rest, linebacker Bobby Wagner, safety Jamal Adams, and the rest of Seattle's defense have remained stout under difficult circumstances. Per TruMedia, the unit has allowed just 1.83 touchdowns per game, the fourth-lowest average in the league, and has even more impressively surrendered just 1.52 points per drive, which also ranks fourth among 32 teams.
Digging a bit deeper, the Seahawks have allowed a touchdown on just 16.7 percent of their defensive drives. Playing exemplary red zone defense has been a critical part of that success, as they've surrendered touchdowns just 50 percent of the time opponents drive inside their 20-yard line. In goal-to-go situations, they rank third in the NFL yielding touchdowns at a 57.1 percent rate.
What's been the secret behind these stark improvements from the first month of the season? Seattle has really shored up its run defense, as they've allowed just 3.45 yards per carry since Week 6, the second-lowest rate in the league. Largely due to better play at cornerback with D.J. Reed, Tre Brown, and Sidney Jones stepping up, they've also been more respectable defending the pass and limiting explosives.
Of course, Seattle hasn't been perfect on defense, ranking 13th overall in TruMedia's Expected Points Added metric. Opponents have been able to consistently orchestrate long, methodical drives against Norton's crew. In Week 11, with backup quarterback Colt McCoy at the helm, Arizona scored on three possessions with 10-plus plays, which helped them control the clock for 40 minutes and change at Lumen Field.
In the past six games, opposing teams have converted on 37.8 percent of third downs against the Seahawks, which ranks 13th. They have yielded 23.5 first downs per game, the second-most behind only the Vikings. They have allowed 32 yards per drive on average, which ranks 20th in the NFL. To an extent, as illustrated by those statistics, the time of possession woes have been self-inflicted.
For those believing Seattle has simply been fortunate with "bend but don't break" defense, however, the team has been surprisingly effective engineering quick stops. They boast a respectable 33 percent three-and-out rate and 24.2 percent of their defensive drives have ended with a three-and-out followed by a punt, the fourth-highest rate in the entire league. They also have forced punts at the third-highest rate in the NFL at 43.9 percent.
Taking a step back and reflecting on all of the data presented, the Seahawks have been a formidable, borderline elite defense since a rough start, ranking in the top five in points allowed per game, yards allowed per play, and punts forced percentage. They've remarkably managed to do this without the presence of a quality pass rush (3.3 percent sack rate, 29th overall) and creating many turnovers (0.83 per game, 27th overall) while spending a ridiculous amount of time on the field each week. With less snaps and more backing from the offense, they likely would be even better.
Unfortunately, those efforts have been wasted week in and week out with the offense continuing to flounder in miraculous fashion. Seattle has lost three of its past five games while giving up 17 or fewer points on defense, a frustrating fact that sums up why the team is heading towards its first double-digit loss season since 2008 and a potentially franchise-altering offseason.
When the Seahawks look back on this season, regardless of how the last six weeks play out, they will likely be kicking themselves and wondering what could have been. If Wilson and the offense could have held up their end of the bargain and even been average this year, given the defense's legitimate turnaround into a top-5 caliber unit, this team could have been battling for a division title once again and finally made some noise in the playoffs.