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Analysis: Seahawks needing help to reach playoffs shows what’s gone wrong this season

Seattle must win (or tie) Sunday and have Green Bay lose its finale for postseason berth

By TIM BOOTH, AP Sports Writer
Published: January 2, 2024, 5:39pm

RENTON — Going into the final week of the regular season, the Seattle Seahawks find themselves in the exact same position as a year ago when they needed a win and a Green Bay loss to make the postseason.

The fact Seattle is in this spot yet again is an indictment on what’s gone wrong with this season.

Back in the summer, the tone was that this would be the season where Seattle closed the gap in the NFC West and made the jump from surprise playoff participant to possibly challenging San Francisco as the best in the division.

Instead, Seattle (8-8) is already locked into finishing in third place in the NFC West and lost control of its path to the playoffs with Sunday’s 30-23 loss to Pittsburgh.

Rather than just needing a win over Arizona in the regular-season finale, the Seahawks must beat the Cardinals and have Green Bay lose at home to Chicago in order for Seattle to reach the postseason for a second straight year.

“It just felt like a really crappy outing as we all saw that at a time we needed it the most,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said during his weekly radio show on Tuesday.

The Seahawks are without question a heavily flawed team. The regression of their defense throughout the season and the inconsistencies on offense have provided enough evidence of their shortcomings.

What the loss to Pittsburgh brought into question is the competitive desire of this group. Seattle had won two straight to gain control of its playoff path and then gave it all away over 60 minutes.

Even if Seattle beats Arizona and gets the help it needs from Chicago, there is little reason to believe a playoff trip this season will be any different than it was a year ago when the Seahawks squeaked in with help from other teams and then were blown out by San Francisco in the wild-card round.

“We’ve got to go out there in their place and make it happen,” quarterback Geno Smith said. “We’re the type of team that’s going to always bounce back. We’ve got the right leadership. We’ve got the right coaches, right players, and we’re going to make it happen.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Smith had an excellent performance that got overshadowed by the defensive issues. Smith threw for 290 yards and one touchdown, and added another 33 yards rushing, including Seattle’s longest run play of 25 yards.

After missing two games because of a groin injury, Smith has completed 69% of his passes with three TDs and no interceptions the past two weeks.

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WHAT NEEDS HELP

It can’t get worse for Seattle’s run defense, can it? While the 208 yards Seattle allowed weren’t a season high, the manner in which Pittsburgh gained all those yards might be the most demoralizing of the season. The Steelers duo of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren broke countless tackles and turned a number of short runs into longer gains, such as Harris’ 9-yard touchdown run. Seattle gave up three runs of 18 yards or longer and is allowing 159.1 yards per game rushing over the past 11 games.

STOCK UP

It’s going to get lost in the issues with the defense, but DK Metcalf had another big game and has posted another 1,000-yard season. Metcalf had five catches for 106 yards. It was his third 100-yard game of the season and gave him 1,104 yards receiving going into the season finale. It’s the third time in five seasons Metcalf has topped the 1,000-yard mark and the first time doing it in consecutive seasons after having 1,048 yards last season.

STOCK DOWN

There are plenty of options of those who didn’t play well on the defensive side. And while the run defense was the crux of the issues, Seattle didn’t do a good job defending the Pittsburgh passing game. The Seahawks had just one sack and two QB hits on Mason Rudolph — all from Leonard Williams — and the secondary got hit for five pass plays of 20 or more yards.

INJURIES

Seattle lost a pair of offensive linemen in the defeat to Pittsburgh. Center Evan Brown left with a concussion and right tackle Abe Lucas continued to have issues with a balky knee. Carroll said Tuesday that Brown is in concussion protocol but progressing. He sounded pessimistic that Lucas would be able to make it back for Sunday’s game.

KEY NUMBER

17 — Seattle’s defense has gone 17 consecutive drives without forcing a three-and-out from the opponent. The Seahawks forced a three-and-out on the opening drive against Tennessee two weeks ago and have not since. In those 17 drives, the Seahawks have allowed scores on nine of those possessions.

NEXT STEPS

Seattle’s only path to the playoffs requires winning in a place where it been challenging in the past. The Seahawks have won four of their past five trips to Arizona, but two of those were one-score games and last season the Seahawks got a late touchdown for a 31-21 win.

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