By Chris Cluff
With the Seahawks 2-2 and just two touchdowns short of 4-0, plenty of people are blaming rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
But the offense’s failures in the passing game — ranked last in the NFL — are not all his fault. His receivers were to blame for two of his three interceptions Sunday in St. Louis, and his coaches have not always put him in the right position to succeed.
Head coach Pete Carroll told reporters Wednesday that they are still figuring out which plays work best for Wilson and his receivers. And Carroll said he wants to get receiver Golden Tate more involved.
Many Seattle supporters, including Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, think the Hawks need to play to Wilson’s strengths more, letting him move around by design rather than out of desperation.
As Moon pointed out to 710 AM ESPN radio, the offense looked good on the first drive against the Rams as Wilson and the running game mixed it up, and Wilson moved to throw. The Hawks ran for 40 yards and threw for 40 as Wilson hit Sidney Rice for gains of 17 and 16 yards.
“If you want to get the most out of Russell Wilson, get him more involved in what you’re doing offensively,” Moon said. “Let him throw the football, let him play action, let him get outside, let him do some of those things that he does best, that he was doing in the preseason. They’re not doing that right now.”
Carroll and his coaches know they need to get Wilson and the passing game to improve on third downs and in the red zone. They converted just 2-of 9-third downs vs. the Rams and have succeeded just 28 percent of the time (14-of-50) this season. Those failures have often short-circuited drives in the red zone, where the Hawks are last in the league with just a 27.3 percent touchdown rate (3-for-11). Conversely, their opponent this week, Carolina, leads the NFL at 72.7 percent (8-for-11).
“This is a very hard part of the game for all young quarterbacks, this red zone and third down,” Carroll told reporters, via Seahawks.com. “It always has been. That’s where it gets most difficult, and we need to get better in both those areas.”
Carroll said Wilson already has shown improvement in game management. After having at least one delay-of-game penalty in each of the first three games, he did not have one in St. Louis. Carroll also said Wilson is becoming more familiar and confident with his receivers: “I think that’s going to help us take a jump forward in the next couple of weeks.”
Carroll said the three fourth-quarter rally attempts in the first four games have been good learning experiences for Wilson.
“To have gotten through those and learned from them is really powerful for him, and it’s going to help,” Carroll said in his Wednesday media session, via Seahawks.com. “We should be improving in the end of those drives as we move forward.”
Wilson said the team just needs to stop making mistakes.
“When you lose and you turn the ball over three times and you have a couple of penalties when we’re moving the ball, that always hurts you,” Wilson told reporters Sunday, per Seahawks.com. “We still had an opportunity, though. It shows that if we just fine-tune those little things that we’re doing wrong we’ve got a shot to really be good.”
THIRD AND LONG OVERDUE TO BE FIXED
The offense is not the only Seattle unit struggling on third downs. The defense, which otherwise is one of the elite squads in the NFL, has surrendered first downs 43.1 percent of the time (22-of-51).
The Rams converted just 5-of-13, but they were almost all long-yardage plays, and the Rams scored 13 points on the drives that were sustained by those conversions.
Seattle’s third-and-long defense is fundamentally flawed, and Carroll knows they have to fix it. The best way would be to get out of the zone defense they tend to play; it leaves holes for receivers to get open underneath, and quarterbacks who get the ball out quickly can take advantage of it.
The Seahawks are in the middle of a stretch in which they play four road games in five weeks, but the game in Charlotte, N.C., on Sunday is not so bad because it is a rare 4 p.m. ET game. The Hawks played one 4 p.m. game last season, winning in St. Louis.
The Hawks are 1-3 in the Eastern time zone since Carroll took over in 2010 and are 0-2 on the road this season.
“We’ve got to get our game right on the road,” Carroll said. “We’ve got a good approach to it. We feel good about the way we’re playing. We’re playing hard and all, but we haven’t been as successful in a number of areas on the road as we have been at home. That’s a big challenge for us.”
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.