SEATTLE — The Seahawks’ record is impeccable — but that hasn’t stopped people from pecking away at it.
You know the rap. They’ve been playing weak foes. Their porous defense will eventually be exposed. They’ve gotten lucky in several games.
There’s truth to all that, of course. The cumulative record of the five teams beaten by Seattle is 9-20. The Seahawks’ defense ranks last in the NFL in yards allowed per game (471.2) and is on pace to set a record in that category for the regular season. And can they realistically expect to keep pulling off miraculous defensive stops like the ones that stymied the Patriots and Vikings?
Don’t worry. The nagging questions about the legitimacy of the Seahawks are about to be answered. The rugged five-week stretch that starts on Sunday night in Glendale, Ariz., against the Cardinals will separate the men from the poseurs. It will show if the Seahawks are a legitimate Super Bowl threat, or a fatally flawed team that has feasted on weak teams but is on the verge of getting exposed.
After the Cardinals comes, in order, the 49ers at CenturyLink Field, the Bills and Rams on the road, and the Cardinals, once again, at home. That’s the entirety of the NFC West, widely regarded as the best conference in football, plus the team that sits atop the AFC East.
“I think this is as tough as it gets,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said this week. “I don’t know that anybody’s got to play a row of teams like this. A month from now, we’ll have a pretty good feel for how everything’s fitting.”
If the Seahawks can get through this Murderer’s Row with, say, a 3-2 record, it would set them up quite well for the ticklefest that follows: the Eagles, Giants, Jets and Washington Football Team in succession. The Eagles are the behemoths of this quartet with a mighty 2-4-1 record.
I’m sure the Seahawks are greedy and would want better than a 3-2 stretch in the upcoming five games. If accomplished, they would be well-positioned to grab the conference’s top seed. That would ensure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which is not as huge a deal as normal if fans continued to be banned from the stands at CenturyLink. It would also mean a first-round bye, the only one accorded to the NFC, which would be a major benefit.
Not that Carroll would admit to considering anything right now other than the challenge of facing Kyler Murray and the Cardinals on Sunday.
“We’re going to play every one like it’s the only game in the world and go for it,” Carroll said.
This one presents challenges on both sides of the ball that will give an immediate indication of their true strength. The Cardinals ran roughshod over Dallas on Monday in a 38-10 victory in which they gained 438 yards, 261 of it on the ground. With running back Kenyan Drake (164 yards and two touchdowns in that game) and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who leads the NFL with 601 receiving yards, it’s a “pick-your-poison” type offense, in which Murray might actually be the deadliest option.
“He does a good job of not getting hit,” Carroll said. “You can barely lay a glove on the guy.”
This will be a huge test for the Seahawks defense, which has had an unusual dichotomy this season. Though they can’t seem to stop any team in bulk, they have shown a knack both for producing turnovers (the Seahawks’ 10 takeaways are tied for fourth in the NFL, and their plus-six takeaway-turnover margin is tied for first), and for making stops when the game is on the line.
That seems like a shaky formula to sustain. The Seahawks need to figure out a way to shut teams down with more regularity, which will be a difficult task against an attack as varied and potentially explosive as the Cardinals’. Especially with their tepid pass rush and the continued absence, for the third straight game, of safety Jamal Adams.
The Seahawks still have an unassailable, no-longer secret, weapon in quarterback Russell Wilson, who can cure a lot of ills. But Wilson will be tested as well against an Arizona unit that ranks No. 2 in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 18.7 points a game. Pass-rusher extraordinaire Chandler Jones is out for the season, a major blow for the Cardinals, but cornerback Patrick Peterson, who shadowed DK Metcalf in a December game last year and held the rookie without a catch, is still around.
This game will be a referendum of sorts on Metcalf’s progress in Year 2, which so far has seen him ascend toward superstar status. And it will be the first in a series of referendums on the burning question surrounding the Seahawks: Just how good are they?
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