This one could get interesting. Seattle and Washington had been on the same course for most the season, but look more like two ships passing in the night heading into Monday’s meeting. The Seahawks have been thoroughly beaten the past two weeks despite the return of their superstar quarterback. Washington, meanwhile, took out the reigning-champion Buccaneers and frisky Panthers in consecutive weeks behind the stellar play of its backup QB. That left the Football Team just two losses back of first place in the NFC East. And while the Seahawks have sunk to the bottom of the NFC West, everyone but the Lions are in playoff contention in this wacky NFC. So, ignore the records between these two. There’s still a lot on the line.
Here are four things to watch for Monday night when Washington hosts Seattle:
1. What is Russell Wilson cooking? The rationale in hiring Shane Waldron as offensive coordinator from the Rams was to modernize the Seahawks’ offense with concepts that have been so effective throughout the league. Seattle’s offense, however, looks much more like it did in the back half of 2020 than those in L.A., San Francisco, Green Bay, et al. That is, it’s very conservative. Wilson’s spray chart features few of the downfield shots that Waldron was brought in to manifest. Lingering effects from Wilson’s finger injury are surely causing some of this. He’s looked little like his Pro Bowl self the past two weeks. But the Seahawks were trending away from the aggressive shots and toward a more balanced attack before Wilson went down in Week 5. It hasn’t been working. Seattle ranks 30th in total offense, 24th in scoring, 23rd in rushing and 28th in passing. Washington, with a defense that’s been stingy against the run (No. 6 in the NFL) but generous against the pass (No. 28), could be a get-right game for the Seahawks and their QB.
2. Who is Taylor Heinecke? He’s played like a starter the past two weeks, resembling the player who shined in a competitive wild-card loss to the Bucs last season. But that isn’t how Heinicke has played for most of the season, especially in the weeks preceding Washington’s two-game win streak. No player is a bigger X factor for the Football Team. In wins, he’s completed 74.4% on 8.2 yards per attempt with a 9:1 TD-INT ratio and 117.6 passer rating. All those marks take a dive in losses (60.7%, 6.7, 6:8, 73.5). The sample size remains relatively small, but so far it suggests Heinicke is equal amounts good and bad. How he closes out the second half of the season could determine his future role in 2022, and Washington’s fate in 2021.
3. Will Washington’s defense stay hot? A week before Heinicke led an offensive turnaround, WFT’s defense finally began to play to its potential. This was conservatively a top-five unit in 2020. It was closer to the bottom five for the first half of the season. Embodying its struggles was the unexpected drop-off from 2020 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young. The dynamic pass rusher recorded just 1.5 sacks before tearing his ACL in Week 10. In his absence, fellow defensive linemen Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill have provided the type of push up front that Washington rode to an NFC East title last year. The D-line remains the biggest strength of this defense and gives Washington a puncher’s chance to win most weeks.
4. Is this the beginning of the end for the Carroll-Wilson Seahawks? At 3-7, Seattle is in serious danger of not making the playoffs. That’s happened just once since Wilson arrived in 2012 (and only twice since Pete Carroll arrived in 2010). There could be a major domino effect if it happens again -- and it will, barring a dramatic late-season turnaround from the conference’s 15th seed. Wilson was already contemplating life outside of Seattle this past spring after the Seahawks won the NFC West but experienced another early postseason exit. What patience will the 10th-year veteran have for missing the playoffs altogether? If he does move on, what interest will the 70-year-old Carroll have in coaching a rebuilding squad? Whether this franchise's greatest era continues will likely be decided by how the final weeks of 2021 play out.