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Seahawks’ NFC title hopes fade behind bad defense, Russell Wilson’s mistakes

The Seahawks are no longer the presumed NFC title favorites, and Russell Wilson soon might lose his tight hold on his first MVP award. After a 5-0 start, they have gone 1-2 in their past three games after a bye, with their issues on defense and Wilson’s turnover woes catching up to them.

The perfect storm hit Seattle in its 44-34 loss at Buffalo on Sunday. The Seahawks got their pass rush going with seven sacks against Josh Allen, but they also were ripped apart for 415 yards passing and three touchdowns as the Bills executed a ridiculously pass-happy game plan. Wilson answered with 390 passing yards, but he also had four giveaways to Allen’s none, which made the difference on the scoreboard.

PLAYOFF PICTURE: AFC, NFC standings after Week 9 games

In most of their games this season, the Seahawks have been able to overcome horrendous pass defense because of Wilson’s pinpoint downfield passing and hyper-efficiency. Looking back now, Seattle’s wins are against the Falcons, Panthers, Cowboys, Dolphins, Vikings and 49ers. Only Miami went into Week 9 with a winning record. The Seahawks’ two toughest tests were against the Cardinals and Bills, and they failed both of them in familiar fashion.

Buffalo’s output marked the most points Pete Carroll’s team has given up since he arrived in Seattle in 2010. That’s fresh off Arizona dropping 37 on it and short-handed San Francisco dropping 27. 

The Seahawks’ scoring defense was No. 24 in the league going into Week 9, at 28.4 points allowed per game. Among playoff contenders, the Titans and Saints were a little better in that category while the Raiders and Browns were a little worse. The average is now 30.4 points, a bottom-five figure that’s near the Jets, Vikings, Texans, Jaguars and Cowboys.

That’s not company with the 6-2 Buccaneers, 6-2 Packers and 5-2 Cardinals, is it? The Seahawks have struggled because of an unreliable front-four pass rush and a shaky secondary that’s especially weak at cornerback and has battled injuries. Carroll and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. had to resort to blitzing to try to contain Allen, but it didn’t work as he burned them with his arm and legs between sacks.

Desperation is starting to set in on the defensive side. The Seahawks are still very good against the run, but the Bills were smart to aggressively attack them through the air. Carroll doesn’t like blitzing with his zone scheme because it exposes his cover men one-on-one. The front end and back end not getting the job done is mutually destructive.

As for Wilson, he’s on pace for a career-high 5,082 yards and 56 passing TDs but also a career-high 16 interceptions. Patrick Mahomes is on pace for 4,777 yards and 44 TDs, but he has thrown only one interception. The Chiefs also are starting to lean more on their one-time NFL MVP and reigning Super Bowl MVP.

There’s pressure on Wilson to be near-perfect because of the defense, and for the most part he has been. But he also has thrown pick-sixes, made bad decisions and held onto the ball too long trying to make things happen. The Seahawks also aren’t making their usual high impact in the running game with Chris Carson hurt and the blocking not being as stout.

The Seahawks simply cannot win games when Wilson is turning over the ball, because opposing offenses already have plenty of help in moving the ball and can light it up without having short fields and defensive scores. #LetRussCook has been very successful in terms of the astronomical passing numbers, but it has taken the Seahawks away from their needed winning formula of strong power running and ball control to better protect the defense.

Wilson has been amazing, but so have Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Kyler Murray is a one-man video game. Drew Brees is finding ways to get it done. Carson Wentz is playing better and should continue to improve after the Eagles’ Week 9 bye. Everyone near the top of the NFC can score.

The conference will be won by the team that plays the best complementary defense, makes the fewest mistakes and limits yielding big plays. The Seahawks are not looking like that team in the second half of the season — and they might never have been.

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