ST. LOUIS - OCTOBER 3: Earl Thomas #29 and Colin Cole #90 both of the Seattle Seahawks celebrate Thomas' interception against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on October 3 2010 in St. Louis Missouri. The Rams beat the Seahawks 20-3. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
There's a temptation to consider the Seattle Seahawks' 4-2 start a little bit of a fluke. Resist that temptation. The Hawks have have stumbled on a winning formula that should carry them all the way to the playoffs.
It's not an easy endeavor. Yet the more I look at just how it is the Seahawks have raced out to this start and attempt to apply it to future games, the more convinced I become that this team is going to be able to keep winning games.
We as fans sometimes get trapped in this thought process of, "Well, the Seahawks aren't really a 4-2 team," because it's hard to imagine them winning two of every three games the rest of the way. That would put them at either 10 or 11 wins at the end of the season, and we can all think of recent Seattle teams we'd anecdotally consider "better" than this one that either couldn't reach that mark (2006) or barely got there (2007). In our brains, we "know" this isn't a 10-win team.
But in the small-sample-size world of the NFL, where just 16 outcomes determine whether a team may advance to play for the sport's championship, the line between winning and losing is so minute that there are instances where aggregate talent doesn't necessarily translate into wins and losses.
Just ask the 1-5 Dallas Cowboys. Or the 2-4 Minnesota Vikings. If you rewound back to the beginning of the season and asked me which roster I would choose for my team out of those two plus the Seahawks, the Hawks finish third every time. In fact, if you asked me right now which roster I would take, I'm pretty sure the Seahawks are still third. But if you asked me which team's position I'd most like to be in right now, the answer is obvious -- and not just because the Seahawks are the team with the superior record.
Because the more I try and find reasons why the Seahawks can't get to 10 wins, the more I believe 10 wins is absolutely attainable.
If you look for a common thread between Seattle's first four wins, you'll find two things: A dominant run defense and dominant special teams. Both should continue to have a large impact on the team's chances to earn six more wins going forward.
The Hawks' run defense measures up by just about any standard you want to use. They currently rank second in the NFL in both rushing yards allowed per game (77.5) and per attempt (3.3). They've allowed just two rushes for more than 20 yards this year, and none of over 40. And if you're tempted to say their lofty statistics have come from weak running competition, Football Outsiders' DVOA metric -- which measures the actual outcome of each play against the expected outcome of a play in a particular down and distance and is adjusted for opponent -- ranks the Seahawks as the sixth-best run defense so far.
It's not hard to see why the Seahawks have enjoyed such tremendous success -- not with more than 1,200 pounds of beef clogging up the line of scrimmage.
Tackle Colin Cole has been the linchpin, regularly commanding double teams while simultaneously holding his spot at the line of scrimmage. Brandon Mebane, holding down the other tackle spot, has been disruptive (although injured the last two games) with his quickness and penetration. Defensive end Red Bryant, a converted tackle, has done his job better than anyone could have expected, occupying blockers on the edge to allow linebackers to come up in support. And Chris Clemons hasn't been a one-trick-pass-rushing pony on the other edge, holding his own well enough.
Any coach will tell you that good defense starts with stopping the run, and the Seahawks are showing why it can be such a devastating tool. It puts tremendous pressure on the opposing quarterback, and therein lies the rub. The five quarterbacks Seattle has defeated? Alex Smith, Phillip Rivers, Jay Cutler and Max Hall/Derek Anderson. Four of those five have a QB rating under 85, and with the game placed squarely on their shoulders, they simply could not deliver. The lone exception, of course, was Rivers, who carved up the Seahawks for 455 yards. But even in that game, Rivers threw a pair of interceptions, including the one that sealed the outcome in the Seahawks' favor.
That San Diego game, of course, was also the biggest example of the impact special teams is having for Seattle, what with Leon Washington's pair of kickoff returns for touchdown. But the exceptional special teams go far deeper than that. Olindo Mare is in the midst of a string of -- this is not a typo -- 30 consecutive made field goals. And both Mare and punter Jon Ryan play a huge role in field position, Mare with his deep kickoffs and Ryan with his booming leg and sand wedge-like kicks inside the 10.
Here's why these two factors have me feeling so good going forward.
In order, here are the quarterbacks the Seahawks are likely to face the rest of the way: Jason Campbell, Eli Manning, Hall/Anderson, Drew Brees, Matt Cassell, Matt Moore/Jimmy Clausen, Alex Smith/Troy Smith, Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman and Sam Bradford. Who on that list -- if you put the ball in his hands with no running game -- scares you? Brees? Manning? Ryan and Freeman are solid, but they're not in that category. The rest are junk.
The point is that the NFL is littered with mediocre quarterbacks right now, including the one the Seahawks will be facing on Sunday. Yes, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush have proven they can run the ball, but it's only the 10th rated rushing offense by DVOA. If the Seahawks can bottle them up and make the Raiders one-dimensional this weekend, there stands a significant chance that Campbell can't beat them with his arm -- just like most of those other quarterbacks the Seahawks will face the rest of the way. Add in the fact that he'll likely constantly be starting deep in his own territory thanks to Mare and Ryan, and the job just gets that much more difficult.
Whether they meant to or not, Pete Carroll and John Schneider have stumbled onto a winning formula in the NFL in 2010. It's worked through six games, and there's no reason to believe it won't keep working the rest of the way.