PFF Preview 2011 – Seattle Seahawks

| September 1, 2011

Nobody saw the Seahawks coming last season. In the regular season, even in the ultra-non-competitive NFC West, very few people picked them. Then the playoffs rolled around and less than no one picked them to overturn the Saints, which they duly did. How do they top that this year?
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Well, in spite of a division title and possibly the biggest upset in the NFL playoff history, the Seahawks still have plenty of room to improve on last season. A sub .500 record, only two road wins, and a 3-7 record outside of the hapless NFC West is the hallmark of a team with plenty of room to grow.
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So with a shortened offseason to fix things, let’s take a look at what Seattle fans to be optimistic about, and a few things to be less so.
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Five Reasons to be Confident
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1.) Big Presence at Wideout

It was a flier and a shot in the dark but bringing Mike Williams in was a real positive for the Seahawks last year. He was a spectacular bust in Detroit but some guys just respond to certain coaches and he responded to his former USC coach, Pete Carroll. So what do you do when one big-bodied receiver pays dividends for you? Go get another one, to bolster your team and as insurance for Williams being a one year wonder. Sidney Rice may have had his 2010 season hampered by injury but simply put, when healthy, he is a nightmare to cover. Pair these two up out wide and there won’t be many defensive coordinators relishing the chance to face off against them.
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2.) Deep at Tight End

John Carlson’s shoulder surgery is a loss for the Seahawks; he under performed last season both as a blocker and a receiver, but it was a down season for him. His absence steals from Seattle an outstanding two tight end look in combination with the newly signed Zach Miller but it shows the depth that the Seahawks that losing Carlson isn’t devastating. In Anthony McCoy and Dominique Byrd, Seattle has two of Carroll’s former Trojans and McCoy in particular has looked impressive at times in the preseason. McCoy may not come with Carlson’s fanfare, but his combination with Miller could still be a fruitful one for both Seahawk running backs and quarterbacks.
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3.) Three-Down Linebackers

In 2009 the Seahawks discovered that they had an outstanding middle linebacker as Lofa Tatupu missed most of the season and in stepped David Hawthorne. Tatupu returned in 2010 and, because of the investment the Seahawks had in him, he had to take that MLB spot, but he couldn’t match the form of the former TCU Horned Frog. With Tatupu now gone, the Seahawks find themselves in a situation of finally being able to play their two best linebackers, Hawthorne & Leroy Hill (now free from legal troubles), as their three-down linebackers. Hawthorne was levered in to the strongside role in 2010 and did a fine job, but now back at his natural position – and allowing Hill to return to his – the Seahawks should see the benefits.
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4.) Bringing the Heat

What he showed in fits and starts while in Philadelphia and Oakland, Chris Clemons was able to translate into full time dominance last season for the Seahawks. The absolute demolition job he did on Brandyn Dombrowski in Week 3 was the high water mark of his season, but it typified his performances all year long. In only four games did Clemons fail to record a sack or quarterback hit and he recorded some form of pressure in every single game. You can’t underestimate what a pass rush threat like Clemons means to a defense and if he can maintain that fine form in 2011, the quarterbacks in the NFC West are sure to be getting happy feet.
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5.) Horses in the Stable

At times you wonder where the run blocking is going to come from but the quality in the Seattle backfield cannot be denied. The Cal Berkeley duo of Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch is your standard thunder-and-lightning duo, and a pretty good one at that. Both have fared well in our Elusive Rating studies; Forsett topping the 2009 list and Lynch among the Top 5 back over the past three years. Forsett is devastating in space both in both the running and passing games and is a potential feature back on his own, but when you combine him with Lynch who, when he wants to, is capable of phenomenal runs as well (just ask the New Orleans’ defense), you have an absolutely terrifying prospect for opposing defenses. Sprinkle in a little of Leon Washington as a return threat and useful scat back and all you’ll need is the Seahawks’ offensive line to get themselves in order. If they can, the Seahawks will have the strong running foundation their quarterbacks so desperately need.
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Five Reasons to be Concerned
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1.) Charlie Whitehurst & Tarvaris Jackson

You don’t need to be particularly au fait with goings on in the NFL to pick out the glaring weak point of the Seahawks’ roster. It’s so obvious that it could go without saying but we’ll expand on it a little here for completeness’ sake. In the shape of Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson, the Seahawks have no proven commodity at QB with which to replace Matt Hasselbeck and defend their division crown. Whitehurst, now entering his fifth NFL season would you believe, is still resting on his work in college to give pointers as to his true ability (playoff cameo excepted). Jackson showed glimpses in Minnesota but could never put together (or was never trusted to depending upon your view point) what he showed himself capable of for an extended period. The Seahawks were guilty of inconsistencies in performances all season in 2010 and neither of these two screams “calming, consistent influence” which Seattle is in such dire need of. 2011 will be a voyage into the unknown with these two under center.
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2.) Losing the Line

It’s going to be interesting to see how this all fits together. A combination of draft picks and free agent additions has fueled a comprehensive overhaul in the last two seasons. The Seahawks will hope that Max Unger can provide a solid anchor point at center having had his 2010 season cut short, but how does the rest fit around him? Can Russell Okung and Robert Gallery stay healthy on the left side? Can first-round pick James Carpenter come in and make an immediate positive impact at right tackle (early signs aren’t great with rumors already suggesting he’ll first be headed to the bench)? Tom Cable is well thought of in league circles as a line coach, now is his chance to prove that theory and mold this unit into a solid functioning group and give the Seahawks’ backfield a stable base for this season.
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3.) Looking Thin at Defensive Tackle

With Colin Cole looking unlikely to be ready for the start of the regular season after offseason ankle surgery, the Seahawks, at a least on paper, look a touch thin at defensive tackle. Brandon Mebane had a good season last year – if perhaps not as outstanding as may have been hoped for – but without Cole as a foil he starts to look isolated on the interior of the Seahawks’ defense. Alan Branch was entirely unconvincing during his time in Arizona and Junior Siavii, while much improved on his own prior performances, was no better than solid. Cole provides a strong presence in the heart of the defense and, until he returns, teams should looked to wear down Seattle’s DTs and take advantage of the lack of depth.
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4.) Backing up Clemons

For all the outstanding pressure that Clemons and Raheem Brock provided last season, the Seahawks were lacking in any other pass rush threats. Should either of these two go down or fail to re-find their 2010 form, Seattle still looks a little short of help in this department. Clemons and Brock combined for 55% of the Seahawks’ sacks, 46% of their hits, and 48% of their pressures. That adds up to the duo accounting for 49% of the team’s total pressures last season. Clearly this works for other teams, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis come to mind, but the pass rushers for these teams have proven track records. If one of these two players in Seattle proves to be a one season wonder, who’s going to pick up the slack?
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5.) Coverage Questions

Earl Thomas showed moments of big play ability last season but he came to epitomise the Seahawks’ defensive backfield, not consistently able to cover. Marcus Trufant was nowhere near his best and the Seahawks depth corners didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory either. Walter Thurmond has recently returned to training for the Seahawks and he was a relative bright spot last season – it will be interesting to see if he can stake a claim for solid playing time this fall. Brandon Browner, formerly of CFL fame, started in the last preseason game (against his former team Denver) and could be the unknown factor. The coverage was at times dire last season; fans and coaching staff will be desperate for someone like Thurmond or Browner to up their game to improve the Seahawks’ coverage on the back end.
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Clearly the question mark over the signal caller is a big one, it’s enough to sink their hopes even if they clear up the rest of their problems. But let’s not forget the Seahawks are still in the NFC West, a division that still lacks that one team that the rest fear. The Seahawks were not a good team last year and still won it. If they can take even a small step forward this season, consecutive crowns are not a crazy idea.
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