Since opening in 2002, CenturyLink Field has provided one of the NFL’s greatest homefield advantages for the Seattle Seahawks.
Famous for invoking false starts in bunches and creating seismic activity due to crowd noise, opposing teams have always feared traveling to face the Seahawks due to their boisterous fans. Between 2012 and 2016, Seattle won 34 out of 40 regular season games and went undefeated in five playoff games at CenturyLink during that span.
It used to be a near-lock Seattle would win at least seven home games in the regular season, as they won seven or more games in four of those five consecutive playoff-bound seasons.
But over the past two seasons, the Seahawks once-vaunted homefield has been far friendlier to visiting teams, as the team has lost six of its past eight contests at CenturyLink.
What changed that has suddenly made the Seahawks so vulnerable in their own nest?
1. Stating the obvious, the Seahawks have lost a lot of talent, particularly on the defensive side of the football, and haven’t had the same margin for error on the field as their predecessors did.
Looking back at the 2017 season, Seattle opened the season with three consecutive wins at CenturyLink, including a thrilling 41-38 victory over Deshaun Watson and the Texans.
But after a disappointing 17-14 loss to the Redskins, injuries hit the Seahawks defense hard. Starting cornerback Richard Sherman ruptured his Achilles tendon and safety Kam Chancellor suffered a career-ending neck injury in the team’s 22-16 win over the Cardinals on Thursday Night Football, leaving Earl Thomas as the only healthy member of the “Legion of Boom” remaining. Already without defensive end Cliff Avril, the team also lost K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner for brief spells in the second half of the season.
Trying to survive without multiple All-Pro talents, Seattle lost three of its final four home games, including a 42-7 beatdown at the hands of the Rams. With a stunning 24-10 win over the Eagles serving as an exception to the rule, the Seahawks defense gave up 34 points per game in the other three games that ended in defeat.
With Avril and Chancellor forced to walk away from the game, Sherman released, Michael Bennett traded, and Earl Thomas suffering his own season-ending injury in Week 4 at Arizona, the Seahawks have a ton of new faces on the defensive side of the football this year. Though the unit has played great football most of the season, they struggled against the Rams in Week 5 and gave up several explosive plays to the Chargers last weekend, with Seattle eventually dropping both contests.
In the past, quarterback Russell Wilson and the offense could struggle to put points on the board and the defense would find a way to salvage the game. With all the departures, however, that’s no longer the case and inconsistent offense coupled with a drop-off in defensive performance has cost the team several close games at home over the past calendar year.
2. In a concerning development, Seattle’s run defense has functioned as a sieve, allowing opponents to chew up big chunks of yardage on the ground.
Revisiting Week 15 last season, the Seahawks surrendered 244 rushing yards in the lopsided home loss to the Rams. In that contest, Todd Gurley rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns on his own, helping Los Angeles build an insurmountable 34-0 lead.
Since then, the Seahawks have given up 100 or more rushing yards in each of their past four home games, including allowing Melvin Gordon to rush for 113 yards on only 16 carries in last Sunday’s 25-17 loss to the Chargers. Earlier in the season, Ezekiel Elliott ran wild with 127 yards on 16 carries for the Cowboys. Two weeks later, receiver Robert Woods broke loose for a 56-yard run and Gurley again scored three rushing touchdowns as the Rams won in Seattle for a second straight time.
At least this season, the Seahawks have been much better stuffing the run on the road, holding the Lions to 34 rushing yards in Week 8, shutting down Marshawn Lynch and the Raiders in London, and limiting the Bears and Cardinals under 100 yards earlier in the year.
But this success hasn’t translated to CenturyLink for whatever reason, and Carroll has to be troubled by his team’s inability to stop opposing rushing attacks despite the advantages they have playing in front of a raucous crowd.
3. Russell Wilson has struggled with inconsistency due to a myriad of factors and the passing game has been hit and miss with explosive plays during the past eight games at home.
Wilson hasn’t necessarily played poorly, but for a number of reasons, the aerial attack hasn’t been able to consistently produce big plays during home games as it once did.
Late last season, an offensive line coached by Tom Cable allowed Wilson to be sacked 10 times during Seattle’s final two home games against the Rams and Cardinals. Under frequent duress, Wilson was especially ineffective in the Rams game, completely a dreadful 46.7 percent of his passes and averaging less than three yards per pass attempt.
As a result of the poor protection, the Seahawks often found themselves way off schedule and struggled to move the chains. Wilson and company converted only five out of 26 third down attempts during those final two home games, and while the line has shored up protection this season, they’ve still struggled to pick up first downs in two of the team’s three home games this season. Aside from picking up seven out of 12 third downs against Dallas in Week 3, Seattle has only picked up a first down on 11 of their 31 conversion opportunities in the other two home games.
While by design with increased emphasis on establishing the ground game, Wilson has thrown less passes per game this season and been uber-efficient over Seattle’s last three road games, tossing six touchdowns, completing over 75 percent of his passes, and averaging over nine yards per attempt.
He continued his strong stretch of play with three touchdowns on only 13 completions against the Rams in Week 5, but he’s averaged under 5.2 yards per attempt in four of Seattle’s past seven home games, indicating he’s relying a lot on check down throws and not hitting on explosive pass plays near as often as on the road. To put things in perspective, Wilson only had one home game under 7.1 yards per attempt during the 2016 and 2015 seasons.
It’s not all on the quarterback, as receivers haven’t been gaining separation consistently, pass protection has been a persistent problem during most of his career, and both Wilson and Brian Schottenheimer are still working to get in sync. But it’s a bit perplexing that the issues have been worked out in road games recently and been far less consistent in the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field.