Am I the only one waiting for the Seattle Seahawks to play better?
Yes, they have incredible talent, coaching and management. They will beat the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday and the Minnesota Vikings next week, meaning they'll head into their Week 12 bye at 10-1. However, they don't have the look or the feel of Super Bowl champions -- yet.
Please, before I get slaughtered all over message boards in the beautiful Northwest, understand that I think any list of top five teams in the NFL includes the Seahawks, who have a lockdown defense and a quarterback with a knack for winning big. And I never want to diminish the importance of victories in the NFL; 8-1 is, after all, 8-1. This team is so clutch and just might give the fans in Seattle the championship they deserve.
But am I crazy for wanting to see the Seahawks play better?
Riddle me this, Seahawks Nation: How do you feel about the way your team has played the past two weeks? Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's call to have Kellen Clemens try a fade to Brian Quick on fourth-and-the-game let Seattle off the hook in Week 8 (and ruined Halloween in St. Louis two years after Schotty did the same for Christmas in New York with the Jets). Then, in Week 9, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers jumped to a 21-0 lead before the Seahawks came back to win. If they had been facing any other opponent, they would have lost.
Here's a look, Schein Nine style, at why Seattle isn't the team to beat in the NFC -- yet:
1) The passing attack lacks sizzle
I love Russell Wilson. I was on the Russell Wilson bandwagon before there even was a Russell Wilson bandwagon. I was sure he could play in the NFL back when the media elite was questioning his height. Wilson has an amazing knack for the moment. He's an incredible worker and leader who spends countless hours studying to find an edge.
But the Seahawks' aerial game -- Seattle ranks 27th with just 200.8 passing yards per contest -- has not been explosive this season. Appearing on our SiriusXM "Schein on Sports" radio show last month, Wilson agreed with the notion that, while the team has been clutch, it can even out its play, specifically on third downs (Seattle's 37 percent conversion rate ranks 20th in the league).
Our next factor has contributed to those woes ...
2) The offensive line has issues
Tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini have been out, Okung since Week 2 and Giacomini since Week 3. Paul McQuistan (who usually plays guard) and Michael Bowie have been shaky in their place, getting abused against the Rams (Wilson was sacked seven times).
It counts as great news for Seattle that Okung and Giacomini returned to practice this week, but neither will play against the Falcons. And even when Okung does come back, can you really trust him to stay healthy and perform? The play of the offensive line is a big problem.
3) Percy Harvin's late start
The hip injury that has kept Seattle's prized offseason acquisition out since July was a killer. Yes, Harvin is working out again, though he's not yet fully practicing. And here's the rub: Harvin doesn't have experience catching passes from Wilson. So even when Harvin does return, he'll face a learning curve, and the second half of a season is not the ideal time for that.
4) The players can play better -- and they know this
Safety Earl Thomas -- who is in the mix to be the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year after blossoming into a star and a leader -- was on "Schein on Sports" on Tuesday, and I can't stress enough how much I enjoyed talking to him. When I told him I thought Seattle can play better, he explained: "I think that statement is accurate. But what we have is the 'never say die' attitude. Credit to how relentless we are. We learn from our mistakes and adverse situations. But this team has a chance to be great. We are getting a lot of injured players back. We got to get better in run gaps. In the secondary, we have to tackle better."
5) San Francisco is getting healthy ...
While the Seahawks wait for Harvin, their main competition in the NFC West -- the 49ers -- welcomed injured star receiver Michael Crabtree back to practice this week. This is gigantic.
Colin Kaepernick and Crabtree clicked last year when the young quarterback became the starter; they have an amazing rapport. Crabtree is a physical beast and a real red-zone presence, and having him on the field will pay major dividends come playoff time. And don't forget about Mario Manningham, who was just activated from the physically unable to perform list.
6) ... and playing great ball
The Niners slipped under the radar after losing to the Seahawks in Seattle and the Colts in San Francisco. Since then, however, they've won five straight -- topping the 30-point mark in each victory -- to improve to 6-2. And while Kaepernick is getting two key pieces back in Crabtree and Manningham, remember that Frank Gore has been there helping him all along, running with authority for the NFL's top-ranked rushing team. Ultimately, I see the Niners winning the Super Bowl this season, which means as good as the Seahawks can be, they still might be second best in their own division.
7) A tough stretch of the schedule looms
The next time the Niners and Seahawks meet this season, in Week 14, it will be in the Bay Area -- and not in front of the famous 12th Man. The 49ers have what are, in theory, two tough games between now and then -- against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday and the New Orleans Saints in Week 11 -- but I would be stunned, given their balance, health and physicality, if they lost either one. After that, San Francisco travels to Washington and hosts St. Louis, meaning there's a good chance the Niners could be 10-2 heading into the big NFC West showdown.
As for the Seahawks, yes, they have the Falcons, Vikings and a bye week coming up, but their Week 13 matchup -- hosting New Orleans on "Monday Night Football" -- figures to be a challenge. I predict Drew Brees and the Saints will hand Wilson the first home loss of his career -- and it'll happen just six days before the Seahawks have to take on the Niners. That'll make for a tough stretch.
8) Speaking of the Saints ...
If I'm picking New Orleans to beat Seattle, does that make the Seahawks the third-best team in the NFC?
I love how the "Legion of Boom" matches up with any opponent, but Seattle's offensive warts scare me when it comes to their chances to succeed against a high-powered attack. The Saints' pass rush, meanwhile, could expose Seattle's O-line.
9) The key word, of course, is 'yet'
Any list of the top five teams in the league should, as I mentioned, include Seattle, as well as the Niners, Saints, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos. (And keep your eye on the New England Patriots.)
I think the world of the talent and leadership that John Schneider, the Seahawks' outstanding general manager, has assembled. Coach Pete Carroll pushes the right buttons. Marshawn Lynch is a beast. The defense is elite.
All that said, it's go time. The Seahawks have won games, but that doesn't mean they've exactly looked sharp. And everyone -- starting with two of the best players on the team -- knows they're capable of playing better.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.