JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2017 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 EverBank Field.
Question: The Seahawks are 8-4 – one game behind the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC West. They beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-10, in Seattle Sunday. Where are the Seahawks now? How do they feel about themselves entering Sunday's game in Jacksonville?
Answer: They feel really good after the win over the Eagles. There have been some questions about the Seahawks this year with some inconsistent play, and that's fair; they haven't necessarily been at their best. But they're coming off their best performance of the year and really their most complete game in knocking off a 10-1 team. Within the locker room there's a sense that they are ready to go on a run. They have been a strong finishing team under [Head Coach Pete] Carroll, so they feel like even though they haven't played their best up to this point they have a good run in them.
Q: Is that something this team counts on? That they can do that at the end of the season?
A: You have to be careful with that because you can't just assume it's going to happen, but it is something they know they have in them. They have the experience of having been through it. They got off to a slow start in 2014 coming off their Super Bowl win. Their schedule looked really daunting in the second half of the season. They finished the season strong, and enough of these guys have been through those experiences where they feel like, 'OK, we may not be where we want to be starting December but we're still in a good spot.'
Q:Is this still the Seahawks of 2013 through, say, 2015? Or is this team changing?
A:There have been injures to [cornerback] Richard Sherman and [safety] Kam Chancellor and it's hard to replace those guys, but the defense still feels like a Seahawks defense. You have Pro Bowl players on every level – guys like Michael Bennett and Sheldon Richardson on the defensive line, Bobby Wagner at linebacker and Earl Thomas at safety. The biggest change is the lack of running game. That wasn't by design. Carroll always wants a balanced offense, but they've had injuries at running back, some changes on the offensive line. It was encouraging that they rushed for 100 yards against the best run defense in the NFL in the Eagles, but up to this point they really had just not been able to run the ball so all of a sudden they rely on [quarterback] Russell Wilson much more than they ever had before.
Q: Is this a different team with Sherman and Chancellor out? And how have the Seahawks been able to work through their absence?
A: They're carrying on pretty well. They really haven't changed what they do schematically except for a wrinkle here or there. There are two reasons they're carrying on. They still have five guys on the defense who have been to at least one Pro Bowl even with those two and [end] Cliff Avril out, so they still have a ton of talent on that side of the ball. And losing Earl Thomas last year made them realize how important depth was in the secondary. They signed [safety] Bradley McDougald, who was a starter the last two seasons in Tampa [Bay]; he's playing really well. They drafted [cornerback] Shaqill Griffin in the third round and he took over a starting job pretty quick. And [cornerback] Byron Maxwell, who had his best seasons with the Seahawks before [leaving via] free agency, was just sitting out there on the street; they brought him in [on November 13] and he took over a starting job, so they feel good about their depth there even with the guys they're missing.
Q: The perception is that Wilson makes up for everything else for this team offensively. Is there more to it than that?
A: There's a little more to it than that. He has been asked to do a lot this year, especially with hardly any running game to this point. He's by far their leading rusher this season, which isn't necessarily ideal but they're happy to let him do it if it works for them. He's getting really good play out of [wide receiver] Doug Baldwin and [tight end] Jimmy Graham has become a red-zone monster. He's getting help, but there's a reason he's in the MVP conversation. This is by far the most he ever has had on his plate and he's handling it really well. He's stepping into his prime. He's only going to get better. If you look at his splits in December, they're much better than the rest of the season. If anything, they're counting on him to ben an even better player these next four games.
Q: How does this team play when it's at its best? What's the Seahawks' best formula for winning?
A: It starts with defense. When they can get ahead and get the pass rush going, that's when this defense really gets going. It has been good all year, but when they can pressure quarterbacks and get turnovers – that's what we saw in the second half against the Eagles. Their run defense has been phenomenal. They had a lapse for two games, one of which was a [Week3] loss to Tennessee when they gave up big plays. But when you see them stopping the run and making quarterbacks beat them in bad situations, they can dominate just about anyone. They've played the No. 1 offense [at the time] in the league twice – the Rams [on October 8] and the Eagles Sunday – and they held both of those teams to 10 points. The defense is still what they can hang their hat on. When Russell Wilson is on his game is when the offense goes. The biggest thing for the [Seahawks'] offense is staying out of their own way. They've been a second-half team. The games where they struggle, they commit penalties and drop passes. When they stay out of their own way and they're not getting holding calls or false starts, they're a good offense.
Q: Do you feel like they're peaking at the right time?
Q: I do. This is a tough one, going across the country and playing a tough team in Jacksonville, but I think we're going to see them hit their stride here in December.