Missing three key starters, including All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner, the Seattle Seahawks defense had every reason to lay down against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.
However, a patchwork unit featuring newly-signed linebacker Mychal Kendricks, backup middle linebacker Austin Calitro, and promoted practice squad corner Akeem King didn't listen to critics and put together a heroic effort. Limiting the Bears to only 17 points and 271 yards, Seattle held Chicago's dynamic duo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen to 43 rushing yards and cornerback Shaquill Griffin intercepted quarterback Mitch Trubisky twice.
How did Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense repay the defense for their surprise efforts? By wasting away a winnable game with putrid play-calling, head-scratching timeout usage, and abysmal execution, that’s how.
Don’t let the fact Seattle finished with more yardage than Chicago in a 24-17 loss fool you- the unit didn’t even bother showing up until the fourth quarter. It looked like 2017 all over again, only on steroids. And there’s not one player or coach on the offensive side of the football who deserves to shoulder all of the blame, as these continuing struggles have been a stunningly disastrous group effort.
To start, the honeymoon phase for new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has officially ended, as tonight brought forth a reminder of his impressive mediocrity at previous coaching stops. His failure to prepare a quality game plan proved evident from the start, as he devised plays calling for deep routes that didn’t have time to develop, bizarrely left star linebacker Khalil Mack unblocked on play action rollouts, and didn’t make a concerted effort to mitigate Chicago’s pass rush by running the ball or mixing in screens.
As a consequence, Wilson once again found himself playing the role of tackling dummy with minimal support, as the Bears teed off on him for a total of five sacks in the first half.
After taking the sword this week for Seattle not running the football enough in a loss to the Broncos, Schottenheimer inexplicably “adjusted” his game plan after halftime by avoiding the run game entirely in a pivotal third quarter, calling six pass plays on two drives that ended as quick three and outs. Running back Chris Carson ran the ball on Seattle’s first three plays of the game and, apparently worn down from playing on special teams, only carried the ball three more times the remainder of the night.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Schottenheimer's squad had 80 total yards of offense. EIGHTY. That's inexcusable, but even if questionable play-calling played a pivotal role in this ineptitude, so did poor execution by players.
For a second straight game, Wilson’s performance deserves plenty of criticism as well, as he looked like anything but an elite quarterback. The offensive line remains a lingering issue for the Seahawks and often times left him vulnerable against Mack and a vaunted pass rush, but there were plenty of times tonight where the franchise signal caller had a pocket to work with and simply held onto the football too long.
Once Seattle finally did find a rhythm early in the fourth quarter and trimmed the Bears lead to 17-10, an uncharacteristically horrid decision by Wilson brought momentum to a screeching halt, as cornerback Prince Amukamara jumped a pass intended for running back Rashaad Penny and took it back for six points. On the ensuing drive, with the game already likely out of reach, he held on to the ball a split-second too long and the Bears made him pay by forcing a fumble and recovering.
These signs of regression can be chalked up as rookie mistakes that Wilson shouldn’t be making in his seventh NFL season, even if it feels like everything else around him is crumbling.
Schottenheimer has been far too quick to abandon the ground game and how he's split up reps in the backfield has been debatable, but the Seahawks haven't been effective on the ground for the most part. Carson rushed for 24 yards on his six carries, while Penny finally showed a little life but still finished with only 30 rushing yards. For the game, Seattle averaged a mediocre 3.4 yards per carry, though it seemed they could've done far more if they'd stuck with it.
Whether its due to lack of talent with Doug Baldwin sidelined, poor route design on Schottenheimer's part, or poor reads by Wilson under center, the Seahawks have also had a difficult time finding ways to get receivers open and consistently contributing in the passing game. Wilson has been forced to rely heavily on his tight ends, most notably rookie Will Dissly, as well as mostly misfired check downs to his running backs in the first two games.
When coach Pete Carroll decided to cut ties with Darrell Bevell and replace him with Schottenheimer, Seattle intended to rebuild its identity as a strong running team while also eliminating slow starts that plagued the team throughout the 2017 season. Neither has happened, and an argument can be made albeit in a small sample size that both areas have actually somehow gotten worse.
Like clockwork, Wilson, Carroll, and Schottenheimer will continue to preach that better days lie ahead for Seattle. And maybe they'll prove to be right, especially if the rocky marriage between Wilson and Schottenheimer's scheme becomes viable in upcoming weeks.
As Carroll alluded to, the Seahawks "aren't used to this" and will be looking to turn the corner. And the group will get healthier with Wagner, Wright, and eventually Baldwin returning to the lineup.
But following a night where the Seahawks threw away a great defensive effort when it wasn't expected and lost a game they had no business losing, it's hard to have much optimism that the franchise will be able to turn things around enough to avoid being a bottom feeder in the loaded NFC.