RENTON, Wash. -- With the Seattle Seahawks sitting at 4-5 going into their final seven games, it seems that everyone has a theory about what has gone wrong so far this season.
Below are five that have been discussed around Seattle and nationally, along with thoughts on what is valid.
1. Super Bowl hangover/guys got paid
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was asked to address this one.
"We just went to the Super Bowl, and we all got paid that year [before], so you can say anything to make anything," Sherman said. "I think at the end of the day, critics are people with no talent, judging other people with talent. You really take note. You don’t get anything out of that. If you let people like that dictate your emotions, you’re really going to have a tough life. Guys don’t buy into that at all."
Coach Pete Carroll has admitted that he has thought about the challenges in motivating and managing players who have had success. But overall, effort has not been an issue, and guys have played hard. As Sherman points out, players got paid before last season, and the team went to the Super Bowl.
Of course, it's also fair to acknowledge players who didn't get paid. Safety Kam Chancellor held out the first two games of the season, and his absence played a role in the team's 0-2 start.
2. Offensive line struggles
Carroll was asked Wednesday whether he expected the offensive line to come together sooner.
"I was holding out hope that we’d be able to turn it in the first three or four games, and maybe by Game 5, we’d really feel like we were making progress," he said. "I think we were a few weeks behind that before we felt like we started really talking about the running game looking better, and here comes the pass protection by I think Game 8. I’m always going to want it sooner than later, and we certainly had our sights set on that we could pull it off. So we had to wait a little bit, had to be patient."
Suggesting that real progress is being made now requires a leap of faith. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Marshawn Lynch is averaging 1.60 yards before contact, which ranks 47th out of 50 players. Russell Wilson has been sacked on 9.8 percent of his dropbacks and pressured on 40.9 percent -- both league highs.
Teams have to operate under the confines of the salary cap, and the Seahawks have invested in other areas. According to Over The Cap, only two teams are currently spending less than them on their offensive lines. Through nine games, the results have not been good.
3. Russell Wilson is not progressing
Wilson's current passer rating (91.7) and QBR (56.6) would be career lows if the season ended today. The coaches have admitted that Wilson is leaving plays on the field. But how much of that is on him? And how much of it is the long-term effect of constantly being under pressure?
"It affects the quarterback when you get sacked that much," Carroll said. "Hopefully this is going to start slowing down, and we’re going to see us turn the corner on that. But that’s how you disrupt the quarterback, you rush him. He’s dealt with it really well. And he’s escaped a lot of stuff and done a lot of good things with it. But it certainly is a factor in terms of being the quarterback."
This isn't an either/or argument. The protection needs to get better, and Wilson needs to play better. But expecting Wilson to progress under the current set of circumstances might not be reasonable.
4. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is at fault
Wide receiver Doug Baldwin vehemently shot down this one.
"Obviously people who are saying that aren’t looking at the games," Baldwin said. "They’re not watching the film. I don’t know what film they’re watching if they’re saying Darrell Bevell’s the problem because there’s plays out there. We just have to get to them. And we consistently have been inconsistent at getting to them. ... There’s not much more that Darrell Bevell can do. He’s calling good plays. We just have to execute."
Execution has been an issue, but the offense does seem to lack an identity. They want to be a physical running team that hits on big plays through play-action. Yet the offensive line restricts their ability to do those things.
Jimmy Graham ranks 10th among tight ends in receiving yards per game, Wilson has been inconsistent and the offense ranks 26th in scoring (18.33 points per game). It's fair to critique Bevell on those matters, while also acknowledging that the players aren't executing crisply when there are opportunities.
5. The ball's just not bouncing their way
It's the least nuanced argument, but the numbers suggest that there's some validity to the bad luck theory.
Mike Sando sent along a list of the 15 teams (other than this year's Seahawks) since 2001 that have held fourth-quarter leads in each of their first nine games. Ten of them posted a 9-0 record; two were 8-1; two were 6-3; and one was 5-4.
The 2015 Seahawks are the only team in the past 15 years that has a record under .500 after carrying fourth-quarter leads in their first nine games.
There certainly are football reasons for that. But there's some flukiness as well. Advanced stats, such as Football Outsiders' DVOA and ESPN's Football Power Index, have the Seahawks as the fifth-best team even though they're only 4-5. In other words, maybe they aren't what their record says they are.
The defense has given up too many big plays and contributed to the fourth-quarter meltdowns, but it has allowed 16.86 points per game since Chancellor returned, second fewest in the NFL. It's tough to assign too much blame to that side of the ball.
The season is not over, and they Seahawks are relatively healthy entering the final seven games. But they know time is running out to turn things around.
"Three great teams we’ve played, three great opportunities to win all those games, and those getting away, that’s frustrating," Carroll said. "Because we were good enough to win those games. I don’t want that to be the story of this season. I want to get this thing rolling so that isn’t the story and we have a chance to do some really good things at the end of the year. We’ve got a long ways to go to get that done."