The question was put to guard J.R. Sweezy after the Seahawks’ 39-32 win against the Steelers on Sunday: So, is the offense getting tired of having to carry around this defense?
He could tell there was an implied wink in the question because the Seattle defense has been one of the best in NFL history over recent seasons while the offense tended to be mostly effective, but certainly not at any historic level.
Sweezy chuckled and shook his head, but tackle Garry Gilliam, one cubicle over, jumped in: “Is that a set-up question? Are you kidding?”
Yes, it was kidding. But the best humor is based in truth, and it appears that this is a new reality for the Seahawks: It’s up to the offense to produce more points.
And with the win over Pittsburgh, the 2015 Seahawks finally proved they can win a shootout against a good opponent.
In their past four home games, the Seahawks have given up 109 points — 27.25 points a game — including 39 and 27 in losses to Arizona and Carolina, respectively.
With an average of 20.2 points scored against them in 11 games this season, the Seahawks are seeing opponents ring up roughly a touchdown more per game than in 2013 (14.4) and more than a field goal than last season (15.9).
When three of their five losses have been by a total of 10 points, the significance of the current averages seem obvious: The burden is on the offense.
Coach Pete Carroll wasn’t buying the premise at his Monday press conference.
“I don’t think it feels that much different,” he said. “That was a big game we went through yesterday, (with) a monstrous output by Ben (Roetlisberger).”
Roethlisberger attempted 55 passes and generated 456 yards. And both teams combined for 974 yards, but that doesn’t feel different? It should.
Carroll thought the Pittsburgh game just evolved into a “throwing game,” and the high point totals against the Seahawks this season are not a factor in how they approach their offense.
Fine. Here’s a point that’s indisputable about the offense: Quarterback Russell Wilson, newly protected from chronic defensive harassment, has gotten hot when he has needed to.
A couple weeks ago a thread of commentary was that Wilson needed to revert to the freewheeling form of his 2012 rookie season, when he threw 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions in the final eight regular season games.
Had he become too focused on getting the ball to Jimmy Graham or Marshawn Lynch? Had he been listening to the external voices calling for him to stay in the pocket, to color his game inside the lines of the game plan?
Certainly, with the big contract, everyone was expecting him to put the offense on his back when they needed it.
The past two games, he has done exactly that, throwing eight touchdowns and no interceptions against San Francisco and Pittsburgh.
Three of those touchdown passes on Sunday were in the fourth quarter after the Steelers had taken a 21-20 lead.
It was the kind of rock-solid, clutch performance the big-money quarterbacks are expected to make.
“I think he’s the best he’s been in the pocket, and you can see him solid in his reads and his decision-making. That was an illustration of it yesterday,” Carroll said of Wilson. “He’s come a long way and is really comfortable and can whip the football and use all his guys and use the whole field when we give him a chance to. That’s a real positive sign.”
The “when we give him a chance” was a nod to Sweezy and Gilliam and their offensive-line compatriots, who have coalesced into a fairly functional unit.
Just a couple weeks ago, Wilson’s passer rating was at an all-time low, in the 91 range. Now, it’s up to what would be a career high if he sustained it — 102.9.
As a result, in part, the Seahawks (6-5) are back in wild-card territory. They will have to finish strong without two key injured players — Lynch and Graham.
But with Wilson pushing the offense at this rate, having to simply outscore productive opponents is not such an unrealistic proposition.