Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are seeing red.
It’s not because they are staring at a mammoth meeting with the Cardinals.
The Seahawks’ quarterback, for all his team has not done inside the opponent’s 20-yard line this season, spent the bye last week studying what’s been wrong in the red zone.
Seattle (4-4) is 32nd — dead last — in the NFL with five touchdowns, and a TD rate of 29 percent, in the red zone entering Sunday’s division showdown against NFC West-leading Arizona (6-2). The Seahawks’ red-zone rate is almost 10 full percentage points below the next-worst team , the malfunctioning 49ers.
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It was 51.5 percent last season, 20th in the league, and the team traded in March for Jimmy Graham to improve that.
“It first starts with me. I have to do a better job,” Wilson said Thursday. “I have to find ways to get the ball to the right guy … and find ways to communicate better down there.
“Communication. And execution.”
“We haven’t done very well, just as a group. We just have to get better in all ways,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Everybody contributes to that, but the quarterback always gets the focus there.”
Some of the the red-zone woes are tied to Wilson’s accuracy, especially when he’s on the move..
His 11 completions in the red zone are third-fewest in the league among quarterbacks that have started every game (St. Louis’ Nick Foles has eight and Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater has 10). Wilson’s 42.3 completion percentage inside the 20 is the fourth-lowest among regulars, ahead of only Bridgewater (38.5), Philadelphia’s Sam Bradford (38.2) and Tampa Bay rookie Jameis Winston (37.8).
“My goal is to get the ball to the right guy at the right time and let them find a way to get in the end zone. And sometimes the ball doesn’t have to always get into the end zone. Sometimes it’s underneath, and a guy has to make a play,” Wilson said. “We have tons of playmakers.”
It’s time for them to make plays.
The Scramble Struggle
Wilson made the point that on some of his throws on scrambles away from pressure — behind a shuffled, porous and miscommunicating offensive line — “we’ve kind of missed a few of those that we haven’t missed in the past.”
No NFL quarterback has been sacked or pressured more than him this season. According to Real Football Analytics, Wilson has scrambled 57 times. He’s thrown 33 passes on those scrambles, with 17 completions for 284 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. That’s a 51.5-percent completion rate while scrambling, below his overall completion percentage of 68.8 (five percent above his career average). His passer rating while scrambling is 68.2, far below his overall rating of 95.
Pass protection and lack of completions while he’s scrambling have contributed to what Carroll sees as the root issue: Third downs.
The Seahawks have converted 37.6 percent of third downs this season — 29th in the league. Carson Palmer and the deep-throwing Cardinals are sixth-best in the NFL on third down, converting 46.2 percent.
Because they’ve struggled to sustain drives, the Seahawks haven’t driven into the red zone much. Their 17 trips there were tied for fewest in the league.
“We’ve struggled to keep the ball moving, and really haven’t made the critical third downs where you get into the scoring zone,” Carroll said. “It’s pretty clear that’s what it is.”
Seattle signed Fred Jackson to be the third-down back. He had success catching screen passes for the Bills, but not so far for the Seahawks. Jackson has just seven catches on third down, tied for 39th in the NFC. His average per catch is a meager 4.4 yards.
Of course, the Seahawks made a much bigger move — 6-foot-7, 270-pounds big — to fix third-down and red-zone problems.
To get Graham from New Orleans, the Seahawks traded two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger. That opened a hole they have yet to fill; Patrick Lewis’ return to the lineup Sunday will be the third starting center this season. Seattle’s allowed a ghastly 31 sacks.
Graham’s best day for Seattle came last month against Carolina. He caught eight balls for 140 yards and showed for the first time a consistent awareness and initiative to come back to Wilson during his scrambles. It’s a unique-to-Wilson skill that Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse mastered to become Seattle’s top two wide receivers.
Graham never had to break off routes with the Saints, because Drew Brees didn’t scramble. His were timing throws and Graham’s routes were shorter and to a defined end point.
Not so with Wilson. Coming back to the QB on spontaneous adjustments remains a skill Graham has yet to show consistently. Wilson got sacked five times in the Seahawks’ rout of San Francisco the week after the Panthers game, and Graham had just two catches. His eight catches in the loss to Carolina were more than Graham had in the two games before it, combined. Wilson was scrambling for his life in those games, too; he got sacked 10 times by the Lions and Bengals. There have been scramble plays by Wilson on which Graham has stood in the middle of the field, his called route apparently finished, while his QB ran around looking for help.
Most tellingly, Graham has just three catches and one TD in the red zone through eight games. Last season with New Orleans he had 12, with nine touchdowns.
Ground game still works
Carroll said the Seahawks are running the ball as effectively inside the 20 as they did last season. They just aren’t scoring rushing touchdowns.
Marshawn Lynch’s 17 carries inside the red zone represent 68 percent of Seattle’s rushes there, up from the 52 percent of the team’s red-zone carries he had last year. But Lynch has just one red-zone rushing touchdown this season, a 1-yard dive at San Francisco. Last season Lynch led the NFL with 12 red-zone rushing TDs.
“Our effectiveness running the ball isn’t changing in the red zone. We need to compliment in the throwing game,” Carroll said. “We’re always going to run the ball down there a lot. Marshawn’s going to get a lot of chances down there, but the San Francisco game was a pretty good indicator.
“We still need to hit our passes when we get our chances. And more importantly I really think we’ve got to convert on third down.”
EXTRA POINTS: Ricardo Lockette, who’s been wearing a neck brace after surgery last week in Dallas, entered the team’s meeting room at the end of a film session Wednesday. Wilson said the wide receiver and special-teams ace who is out for the season was “so upbeat” and “cheering us on… Just to see him and the fact that he’s waking the way he’s walking and he’s moving the way he’s moving, it’s a good sign. His presence is an exciting thing for all of us.” … DE Michael Bennett rested. He was the only player that did not practice.
Red-zone TD pct
Wilson’s red-zone comp