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Gregg Bell: Seahawks get better playoff positioning. More vital: they get rest and Chris Carson back

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 11/24/2020 Gregg Bell, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

The Seahawks moved from the bottom to near the top of the NFC playoff positioning—without doing anything more than get another COVID-19 test.

The players and coaches have been driving into an out of team headquarters since their pivotal win over the Arizona Cardinals, for their daily COVID test in the parking-lot trailers. Otherwise they’ve been enjoying their mini-bye. It’s the backside spoils of a rushed turnaround of that Thursday night game: four days off from the practice field.

Tuesday, they begin preparing for their game at the Philadelphia Eagles next Monday night.

While they’ve been off, the Green Bay Packers (7-3) blew a 14-point lead and lost in overtime at Indianapolis. That pushed the Seahawks into second place in the NFC, on the strength-of-victory tiebreaker over the Packers. For Sunday night into Monday, anyway.

Seattle moved from seventh, one game from being out of playoff positioning, the morning of the Arizona game to second by Sunday night.

The Los Angeles Rams (6-3) were playing at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) Monday night. A Buccaneers win would give the Seahawks sole possession of first place in the NFC West entering week 11. A Rams victory would put L.A. back in first place in the division, by virtue of its win over the Seahawks two games ago. It would push Seattle down to the fifth playoff seed, the first of three wild-card spots.

This jockeying between second and seventh places in the conference is going to continue for the next six weeks The conference entered Monday with four teams having three losses, one game behind top seed New Orleans (8-2). The Saints will be without Drew Brees for at least two more games and maybe more because of his broken ribs.

This year for the first time the league expanded the postseason from 12 to 14 teams. Only the top team in each conference gets a first-round bye this postseason in the NFL’s new playoff format. So the number-one seed is the only true reward at stake inside the playoff positioning.

The coronavirus pandemic strictly limiting the number of fans who can come to games—or in the cases of the Seahawks and Rams prohibiting them. So home field for the playoffs means less than ever. The bigger meaning for playoff teams beyond the top seed this unprecedented postseason will be which foes they will get in round one.

Entering Monday, the Seahawks would have been hosting seventh seed Arizona in the first round.

But, again, all that is going to change by the week. Seattle has just one game remaining against a team with a winning record: the Rams, at home in week 16.

The battered Seahawks got something more important than improved playoff standing this past weekend.

They got rest.

“We’re going to get healthier,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “We’re going to get better, and we’re going to keep growing.”

Coach Pete Carroll has already said lead running back Chris Carson, barring a setback in practice this week, plus Pro Bowl cornerback Shaquill Griffin and starting center Ethan Pocic will be returning from injuries to play at Philadelphia. The Eagles lost at Cleveland Sunday, yet remarkably still lead the meager NFC East with a record of 3-6-1.

“So we’re getting stronger,” Carroll said. “If this works out right and we could be really healthy going down the stretch here.

“Is that the epitome of optimism? We’re leading the league in injuries and I’m telling you how strong we’re going to be down the stretch.

“But, I don’t know, that’s what it feels like.”

It’s true.

Carson hasn’t played in a month, since he sprained his foot early in the team’s loss at the Cardinals Oct. 25. Same with Griffin, who stained his hamstring and got a concussion in that game. Seattle has started its third and fourth cornerbacks the last two games, Tre Flowers and D.J. Reed. They’ve been the first two starts at cornerback in Reed’s three-year career.

Pocic missed the loss at the Rams Nov. 15 and last week’s win over Arizona while still in the NFL concussion protocol. Rookie right guard Damien Lewis started for Pocic at center against the Cardinals. It was the first game he’s ever played there, including while in college at LSU.

Lewis got beaten on the game’s first play for a sack of Wilson and had a couple penalties, but the fact he got through the game and the Seahawks won it with him anchoring the line was a feat.

“That was our best choice,” Carroll said. “He’s such a good athlete.

“And of course right off the bat he gets in trouble on the one play and had a couple penalties. I mean, his head was full of all kinds of thoughts. It was a marvelous job by him to pull that off. ...

“What an effort...and he’ll only get better. That just makes him that much more versatile.”

There’s no sign Lewis can play right tackle, too.

Starting right tackle Brandon Shell sprained his ankle in the win over the Cardinals. He’s the injured Seahawk who is gaining most by these 10 days between games.

Shell has been an upgrade in frontside pass protection for Wilson over Germain Ifedi, the man Shell replaced when he signed a two-year, $11 million contract as a free agent from the New York Jets this spring. If he can’t play against the Eagles, Seattle could start swing backup tackles Jamarco Jones or Cedric Ogbuehi for Shell.

The downside to the 10 days off? Potentially dampening any carryover effect from the reviving win over the Cardinals. Seahawks players ran off the sideline, threw coats and capes and danced among a wild celebration on the field after defensive end Carlos Dunlap sacked Kyler Murray on fourth down with 35 seconds left to seal the victory, after three losses in the previous four games.

Can that joy and momentum last through this extended break?

Bobby Wagner thinks it will.

“Yes, definitely,” All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner said, specifically of his last-ranked defense finally rising up. “I definitely feel like it’s a confidence boost for everybody, but especially the new guys that just got here, the younger guys that haven’t been a part of some of the games that we’ve had in the past, and haven’t had their own moments.

“I think it’s a really good confidence builder for us to be in that position, game on the line, we have to get a stop, we get the stop. I definitely feel like that builds confidence with your defense.”

Now the offense gets back Carson.

Those three losses in four games when defenses ignored Seattle’s impotent running game and pressured Wilson into committing 10 turnovers showed how vital Carson and powerful number-two back Carlos Hyde, who returned from injury against Arizona, are to the Seahawks’ season. The Cardinals last week, the Eagles this week and foes beyond have to honor and defend Seattle’s rushing attack again.

That should make Wilson less pressured and thus more dangerous throwing the ball to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett than the NFL’s leader with 30 touchdown passes through 10 games already is.

“So we’re really excited about getting Carson back and Carlos, and what those guys can help us do and give us so much versatility,” Wilson said. “We want to able to obviously throw it and do our things in the passing game, but obviously, too, we want to be able to run it. We love running it and we love that attack of being able to run the football so efficiently, making huge first downs.

“Hopefully we can keep that winning going.”

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©2020 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

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