RENTON, Wash. – Given the low expectations greeting the Seahawks this season, it can be argued that no game in 2022 is make or break.
But if you’re riding with the thought that the Seahawks aren’t in full rebuild mode and can make a postseason run – coach Pete Carroll certainly is – then Sunday’s 1:25 p.m. game against the Atlanta Falcons at Lumen Field looks as must-win as any on the schedule.
That’s in part because observers from the start have viewed this game as one of the most winnable on Seattle’s schedule.
When the schedule was released in May and betting odds were set on every game, the visit by Atlanta was one of four in which Seattle was favored. It had the largest spread in the Seahawks’ favor at three points (the other three in which Seattle was favored are home games against the Giants, Carolina and Jets).
That initial three-point line was down to one Friday on VegasInsider.com – and down to even at BetUS.com – with many bettors apparently more impressed by how Atlanta has played in its 0-2 start than Seattle has in going 1-1. With NFL observers already questioning the Seahawks, it’s fair to wonder how often they’d be favored again this season if they can’t beat the Falcons at home.
Also making this a pivotal game is the Seahawks’ schedule.
After the Atlanta game, the Seahawks will play in Seattle just twice until Nov. 27 – games Oct. 16 against Arizona and Oct. 30 against the Giants.
After Sunday, Seattle’s next two games, three of the next four and four of the next six are on the road – all games in which the Seahawks figure to be an underdog – with the seventh game in that stretch a neutral-site affair against Tampa Bay in Germany.
Also, the next two games – seemingly winnable when the schedule was released, at Detroit and New Orleans – don’t appear any easier, especially against a Lions team that has shown one of the NFL’s better rushing attacks.
Although it may be too early to think playoffs, that remains the whole point of doing any of this.
The expansion to a 17-game season and seven-team playoff field make historical precedents less meaningful, but the numbers show there is a huge difference in a team’s chances to make the playoffs being 2-1 or 1-2. According to NFL research from a year ago, a team starting 2-1 has a 55% chance to make the playoffs. A team starting 1-2 has a 32% chance.
So yes, the Seahawks must put up a better effort than they did a week ago at San Francisco, when they fell behind 20-0 during a mistake-filled first half and never got back in the game, eventually losing 27-7.
It’s that latter point – simply appearing more competitive and competent – that is Carroll’s main aim this week.
“Man, this is an important week for us getting back home and getting our act together,” Carroll said. “We didn’t do what we wanted to do last week.”
More specifically, they wanted run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense.
The Seahawks were held to 36 yards on just 12 carries by the 49ers, the sixth-lowest total in the Carroll era. They allowed 189 yards on 45 carries, the 17th most in the Carroll era.
Seattle will be challenged in both areas against the Falcons, whose statistics look better than their record – the Falcons are seventh in the NFL in rushing at 145.5 yards per game in two games (against the Saints and Rams) and 15th in run defense at 108 per game.
Seattle is last in the NFL in rushing at 56 yards per game and 25th in run defense at 146 yards allowed.
“We need a balanced attack,” Seattle running back Rashaad Penny said after the 49ers game, when he was held to 15 yards on six carries. “We’ve got one of the best duos at receiver (Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf), and I feel like we’ve got a really great running back room. We’ve just got to trust it more, make the running game marry up to the passing game.”
As for defending the run, players spoke all week of better discipline – making tackles, and reading plays correctly and being in the right spots.
“These first two games we’ve seen what we need to do, and that’s stop the run,” said veteran defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson, who is likely to start with Shelby Harris out. “We need to use this game as a statement game to get back on track.”
Carroll also said the Seahawks must not “hold back” quarterback Geno Smith. On Friday, he clarified that didn’t necessarily mean a big change in strategy but more that his statement meant his faith in Smith has only increased, even if the Seahawks have gone six quarters without an offensive score.
“What I’m really saying is that my confidence in him has just grown,” Carroll said. ” … Whenever the opportunities come (we can) count on him to do stuff. There’s no hesitation.”
On Friday Carroll spoke at length about his faith that the team’s young players are making progress and added that, “We’re gonna get there. We care too much, they are too smart, they care for one another, so that means they feel responsible. So we’re gonna get there. It’s just, don’t want to wait very long. We’ve got to go.”
And there may be no better week to get going than this one.
Walker hopes to provide needed boost to run game
To Carroll, Ken Walker is a reason to get excited.
Sure, the Seahawks’ rushing game has been poor, combining for 112 yards over the first two weeks of the season, including just 36 on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. But this week Carroll hopes for some big improvement.
The always-optimistic Seahawks coach enthusiastically spoke about Walker, a rookie running back who is finally fully recovered from hernia surgery and primed for a larger workload in the coming weeks.
Seahawks fans got their first look at Walker last week, as the speedy second-round draft pick made his NFL debut in their 27-7 loss in Santa Clara, California.
It wasn’t a big day statistically for Walker, who carried just four times for 10 yards, but Carroll said this week on Seattle Sports 710-AM that Walker will see more action in the weeks to come.
“Doggone it, we didn’t get to see him,” Carroll said. “We’ll see him, it’ll happen. We didn’t make enough space for him. He’s going to be an exciting football player for us.”
Walker is penciled in as starter Rashaad Penny’s backup. For some players, going from star running back in college to RB2 in the NFL might lead to some hard feelings, but not for Walker.
He’s been a backup before, and he did just fine.
Walker didn’t get the starting snaps in his first two college seasons at Wake Forest but managed to rush for 579 yards as the Demon Deacons’ secondary option, first behind Cade Carney and then behind Christian Beal-Smith.
When he finally got the chance to be the starter after transferring to Michigan State for his junior season, Walker had 1,636 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. He also won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back, and the 2021 Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.
Give him a chance, and Walker will take advantage.
“There’s nothing that Ken can’t do,” Carroll said. “… There are really no restrictions on his play at all other than just getting back into game shape, because he hasn’t played in a while. The fact that he made it through the game, and he felt all right and got hit a couple times and all that, that just helps us progress. He’ll be calling for a regular workload as we are going forward.”
Walker is eager to help improve a disappointing start to the season for the team’s running backs, a position group expected to be among the Seahawks’ stronger units.
Through the first two weeks, Seattle ranks last in the NFL in rushing yards.
“If we get our run game going, I believe we can make a big impact,” Walker said. “… I think that can make a big difference in the passing game as well. It could open it up, and I think we can do both. We’re a balanced offense.”
Walker has had to adjust on and off the field, from to the speed of the NFL to life in the Northwest.
Being a native of Arlington, Tennessee, near Memphis, Walker had never been on a boat before taking a Seattle’s water taxi this summer. He’s been too busy to explore other Seattle’s tourist attractions, but he has grown to appreciate the state’s natural beauty and potential for outdoor activities.
“I went jet skiing, too,” Walker said. “I love jet skiing.”
He also has quickly learned to appreciate the 12s.
Sunday will be his home debut, but Walker saw the spectacle from the sideline for the Sept. 12 opener against the Broncos. He is excited to finally show off his skills in front of a new fan base.
“I loved it at (Michigan) State,” Walker said. “The fans, they always showed me so much love. They showed our team so much love. … And when I got here, actually being on the field at the stadium, and seeing how loud the fans are and how loyal the fans are, it’s pretty cool to see. It’s exciting.”
While Seahawks fans haven’t gotten the chance to see the full scope of Walker’s talent yet, his teammates are impressed.
“That kid is explosive,” quarterback Geno Smith said. “I mean, super explosive, he runs hard, he’s quick, shifty, all the things you look for in a great back. I think he’s got the potential to be a really good back, and as he gets going along, and as Rashaad gets going along and [Travis] Homer and DeeJay [Dallas], it can be special. It really can be.”