JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2021 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Seahawks digital media reporter John Boyle on the Seahawks as they enter Sunday's game against the Jaguars at Lumen Field in Seattle, Wash.
Question: The Seahawks are 2-5, which is not what they expected entering the season. They have lost three consecutive games, including the last two to the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints without quarterback Russell Wilson – who is out with a finger injury. Still, this doesn't look like a team that has quit. What's the Seahawks' mindset entering Sunday?
Answer: They're looking at it as they've lost a ton of close games – two of them went to overtime and they lost [to the Saints] on Monday by a field goal. Their loss against the [Los Angeles] Rams … they had the ball late in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead and unfortunately turned it over. They're definitely not quitting. You keep hearing players say, "It's still a long season and there are a lot of games to be played." Obviously, they know they need to turn things around quickly. You can't let the hole get too big. But there's also a sense that even if the NFC West might be getting away from them a little bit, the NFC is so top-heavy that those last couple of wild-card spots are still wide open. You have to start winning, but they feel like there's still a lot to play for.
Q: The Seahawks have been competitive for a long time. Is this team – and this locker room— still veteran enough to fight through this with Wilson out?
A: There is definitely some really good veteran leadership. It's a different group maybe from what people remember from the middle of the last decade – the Richard Shermans, the Earl Thomases, the Kam Chancellors … a lot of those guys have been gone. You still have some strong veteran leadership. Russell Wilson isn't playing now, but he's around the team a lot. [Linebacker] Bobby Wagner has been here forever. Some guys they have brought in more recently, like [offensive tackle] Duane Brown, have been really strong leaders – and some veteran guys on defense as well. The way roster construction works, with paying guys like Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner and [safety] Jamal Adams, they've had to get younger at some spots. There's a mix of youth and veterans, but they have enough veterans who have been through a lot of stuff that feel like they know how to get this team going. And they feel like there's time to right the ship. We've seen the defense start to get better. They struggled early on, and they feel like they've gotten the corner turned there, which has been a big part of them staying in these games when you're playing with a backup quarterback. They're in every game and they feel like they're close to getting this right.
Q: It's a silly question, but how much has Wilson's absence hurt?
A: They've literally had the ball at the end of the regulation or in overtime three straight weeks and Russell Wilson's one of the best in the league at those game-winning drives. You're talking about a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, and he has been what makes this offense run for so long. It's not just that he's a great player, but they never have had to play without him. He never had missed a game or any meaningful snaps at all until injuring his finger against the Rams. [Backup quarterback] Geno Smith has done a solid job. He mostly has played pretty well. But those late-game scenarios are where Wilson has thrived. He might not make every one of those drives the last three weeks, but I'd be shocked if he wouldn't have gotten you one or two of them. They obviously miss him. Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll pointed it out after the loss to New Orleans: "I've been coaching here are long time and if not for Russell Wilson, I probably wouldn't have been here this long.'' That's probably true of any head coach. I don't think you can find a head coach who has had a decade-long run anywhere in the NFL without having a great quarterback.
Q: What do the Seahawks want to be offensively without Wilson?
A: They want to be a balanced team that can run effectively and still make some big plays in the passing game. We saw one [explosive play] against New Orleans, but not enough of that. The best version of what they wanted was what you saw in the second half against the Steelers. They were shut out in the first half, and they came out in the second half and ran it well. That got the offense going. They believe Geno Smith can get a lot of good stuff done, but they also don't want him to have to carry the whole offense, so they want to get the ball going on the ground. Unfortunately, the problem has been compounded with Chris Carson – their best running back – also being out. It has been a tough go for the offense, but they want to run and be explosive in the passing game – especially with [wide receiver] Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf out there.
Q: You mentioned they are improving defensively. Why?
A: It's a few things. Some of it was just improving some issues in coverage. They were getting pretty picked apart with some zone concepts. It's a copycat league; one team does something that works and another team does it. They've also gotten a lot better play out of the cornerback position in recent weeks. They did make a change in the starting lineup and we may see another; it's kind of an ongoing competition at one cornerback spot right now. It's avoiding communication issues. They were pretty bad on third down early in the year and they've been really good on third downs the last four games. They're getting off the field more and forcing more punts. It wasn't any one big dramatic thing. There was a big shift last season when the pass rush got going. They haven't gotten that going yet. They're hoping to. It's mostly just been that the coverage has been better overall – and they have played the run pretty well the last few weeks. They have gotten that going.
Q: Considering Wilson's absence and the record, what does success look like for this team this season?
A: They definitely still feel like they're a playoff team. The NFC West is always going to be the goal, so they're going to pursue that, but I don't know how realistic that is when you have two teams (the 7-0 Arizona Cardinals and 6-1 Los Angeles Rams) out that far [ahead]. The playoffs are absolutely still a realistic goal for this team. Coming into the year, if you would have said nine or ten wins and the wild card … people would have said that's not good enough. If you say, you played three and half or four and a half games without Russell Wilson – depending on what that ends up being – and you finish strong and get into the playoffs as a wild card … to me, that's success at that point.