'This is really special': Surprising Seahawks continuing to exceed expectations

RENTON, Wash. – The Seattle Seahawks didn’t take part in the NFL’s trade frenzy before Tuesday’s deadline, but it wasn’t for a lack of interest. In typical fashion, general manager John Schneider – with extra 2023 draft capital but not a lot of 2022 cap space -- was in conversations on several potential deals.

“It’s just the way we do it,” coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday. “John was really active and burning the phones up and stuff just to know what was available, who was out there and all that kind of stuff. But nothing fit.”

Depth remains an issue at inside linebacker behind starters Jordyn Brooks and Cody Barton, who have both been playing better. But this wasn’t like the 2019 and 2020 trade deadlines when the Seahawks made much-needed moves for safety Quandre Diggs and defensive end Carlos Dunlap, respectively.

This is a team without any obvious front-line holes.

It is the same team that started 1-2 -- with another miserable start on defense. Yes, the same team that was supposed to take a step back with Russell Wilson no longer at quarterback and a bunch of young players around his former backup-turned-replacement, Geno Smith.

Yet here they are, sitting at 5-3 with a one-game lead in the NFC West heading into Sunday’s rematch with the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium (FOX, 4:05 pm E.T). The Seahawks are two-point underdogs against the Cardinals, whom they beat 19-9 in Week 6 to kick off their defensive turnaround and their three-game win streak.

“It's happening,” Carroll said after the Seahawks’ 27-13 win over the previously 6-1 New York Giants on Sunday, “and I'm really excited about it. We're just really getting warmed up. We're right in the middle of it all, and we've a long way to go.”

ESPN’s Football Power Index isn’t quite as sold on the Seahawks, giving them only a 32.1% chance to make the playoffs. That’s ninth in the NFC, right behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers, both 3-5. FPI has Seattle at only a 12.7% to win the division, well behind the 4-4 San Francisco 49ers at 76.4%.

But nothing about the Seahawks’ success feels like a mirage -- not even Smith’s brilliance, as unexpected as it has been. He threw two more touchdown passes against the Giants to give him 13 this season compared to only three interceptions, good for the NFL’s third-best ratio. He’s fourth in Total QBR, first in completion rate and also first in adjusted completion rate, which factors in air yards, and thus underscores how he’s doing much more than merely feasting on dinks and dunks.

Smith is also making plays at the age of 32 and continually putting the Seahawks in advantageous situations by changing calls at the line of scrimmage, displaying the command of Shane Waldron’s offense that helped him beat out Drew Lock for the starting job.

“He's the real deal,” Carroll said of Smith, who was just named the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Month for October. “… He knows exactly what he's doing and he shows you week in and week out, throw after throw after throw.”

Outside of a costly injury, the only concern about the sustainability of the Seahawks’ success may be that their rookies have hit the proverbial late-season wall. But right now, the six who are already major contributors only look like they’re getting better. Running back Kenneth Walker III sealed the win over the Giants with his fifth touchdown in the last four games to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month. Cornerback Tariq Woolen, with three interceptions in October and four this season, took home the defensive version of the award.

“I think the biggest thing is that it’s amazing what we can accomplish when nobody cares who gets the credit,” said veteran receiver Tyler Lockett, who caught the go-ahead touchdown against the Giants to redeem a pair of uncharacteristic blunders earlier in the game. "My high school basketball coach used to always talk about that … We have a bunch of guys that are willing to buy in. When you look at the rookie class, they probably haven’t said 500 words since they’ve been here. They just put their head down and work, like literally. And they listen, they do whatever you want them to be able to do, and they go out there and they shine each and every week.”

Carroll downplayed his relief after being written off as a rebuilding team heading into the season, though he said they’ve drawn at least some satisfaction from exceeding their low outside expectations. However, later in his postgame press conference, he indulged when asked how much fun he’s having.

“This is really special,” Carroll said. “… I hate that we were crappy early in the year and we weren't doing stuff right, but we held on to it and we felt like we knew where we could go, and we're getting going. You know, all the people that doubt, like you're losing, ‘we run the ball too much,’ ‘you don't understand football’ and ‘he can't stay up with the new game’ and all that kind of stuff -- that's a bunch of crap, I'm telling you. Look, we're doing fine. We're all right. We're improving day in and day out.”