Head Coach Pete Carroll has compiled an impressive roster of young talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. However, It remains to be seen if this squad can fully take advantage of what is widely considered one of worst divisions in the NFL year-in and year-out. That said, Seahawk fans have plenty of reasons to be confident.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the Seahawks going into this season.
Five Reasons to be Confident
In an increasingly pass-oriented era of football, most successful teams need at least a serviceable pass defense. Under Carroll, the Seahawks arguably have more than that with one of the league’s rising CB tandems – Richard Sherman, our Secret Superstar for Seattle last season, and former UFL player Brandon Browner. Despite being first-year starters, Sherman and Browner both played well above average, earning +10.5 and +6.5 coverage grades on the season. The fact that these two are only half of the Seahawks’ solid backfield should only make Seattle fans more confident.
Along with their promising young CBs, the Seahawks also boast a Pro Bowl back end with second year players Kam Chancellor (SS) and Earl Thomas (FS). Chancellor played only 169 snaps in his rookie year, and, despite building a reputation as a head hunter (and the costly flags that come with it), managed to rank fifth overall in our safety rankings, with green grades across the board. He is also tied for our second highest coverage grade for safeties with Jairus Byrd (+9.2). Thomas, a high first-round pick who improved mightily since his rookie campaign, was also one of our highest ranked safeties. Receivers going against these two will know they need to keep their heads on a swivel.
3) Chris Clemons
The Seahawks have our ninth overall rated 4-3 defensive end, Chris Clemons. Since joining the league in 2010, Clemons has 25 sacks, a ridiculous 107 hurries, and 20 QB knockdowns. His lowest pass-rushing 4-3 DE ranking in the past two years was still sixth best overall, and he’s also been consistently above-average against the run. Barring injury, there is no reason to think Clemons won’t be terrorizing tackles in the league again this year.
4) Marshawn Lynch
Like Mr. Clemons, Marshawn Lynch has also been with the Seahawks for two years. Lynch immortalized himself in Seattle (and NFL) lore with his performance against the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in their Wild Card victory a few years back. He would go on to have a nice following year, forcing the second most missed tackles (52) among running backs. Lynch may not be one of the best RBs in the league (though you could argue it), but he is one of the most entertaining to watch and gives his team a better chance to win with his strength.
5) Pete Carroll
Pete Carroll has won 15 games in his first two seasons, including the memorable home playoff win, mentioned above. He has compiled a defensive backfield with three Pro Bowlers (all of which he drafted), has gotten solid production from one of the most powerful running backs in the league, and has a legitimate shot at winning the NFC West this year. Yes, Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers revealed themselves to be a possible perennial contender with their 13-3 record last year, but their two battles last year were breathtakingly close: the Week 1, 33-17 loss could mistakenly be considered a blowout, but came down to two late fourth-quarter Ted Ginn return TDs, and their Week 16 rematch was only won on a late fourth-quarter field goal. They also had impressive wins over the Super Bowl champion New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens, who came very close to a Super Bowl appearance themselves. Many questioned if Carroll, primarily a college coach who failed in his first stint as the New England Patriots head coach long ago, could build a winning franchise, but in his first two seasons he’s proven those critics wrong. Seahawks fans should be thrilled he replaced Jim Mora.
Five Reasons to be Concerned
1) Who is the QB?
With Tavaris Jackson, who was okay but injured through most of last season, most likely on his way out, it leaves free agent former Green Bay backup Matt Flynn and 2012 third-round pick Russell Wilson to battle for the top spot at QB. Flynn has only started two games, accumulating nine TDs in those games with two picks, two fumbles and a safety. Those turnovers didn’t cost him the game in Week 17 versus the Detroit Lions last year, but they did doom his squad in the Week 15 game in New England in 2010; his pick was returned for a TD and his fumble ended the game, a 31-27 loss. The division rival Arizona Cardinals know all too well about overpaying for a signal-caller with a very limited resume… will Flynn’s ball security problems continue? Meanwhile, Wilson has impressed with some of his play in the preseason, but even if he does win the Week 1 starting gig, which could prove useful to his development, he is a rookie, making it highly unlikely that this team will go all the way this year.
2) Who are the wide receivers?
When the starting QB is finally revealed, who will he be throwing to? They jettisoned veteran Mike Williams after an underwhelming year, leaving Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice, and Golden Tate as the returning starters. That’s far from a horrible group, but the clear No.1 Rice has proven to be consistently injury-prone, so it’s hard to count on him to contribute all year. This led Seattle to bring in journeymen Braylon Edwards (-2.6 receiving with the 49ers last year) and Terrell Owens, who wasn’t in the league last year. Edwards has impressed so far, catching a long TD pass from Flynn in the preseason, while Owens struggled, dropping a clear-cut TD pass. Whichever of these veterans ends up on the roster, there’s no guarantee either will be able to come close to their glory days in terms of production. There is also a good chance one of them will cause the locker room more harm than good.
3) Marshawn Lynch
While Lynch’s talent is unmistakable, he is also a bit of a liability at the moment. He was arrested for a DUI this summer, which was only one of several times in his career he’s found himself on the wrong side of the league’s personal conduct policy. If he is found guilty, he would likely be labeled as a repeat offender and miss numerous games. While it’s been reported that there is a chance this recent incident will not survive a court battle, it’s a troubling sign for a player the Seahawks have invested a lot of money in. They can’t afford to lose “Beast Mode”.
4) Missing David Hawthorne
It is not as big of a concern as an absent Lynch, but losing MLB David Hawthorne in free agency, the Seahawks’ leading tackler for the past three years, might be felt. Since taking over the starting role in 2009, Hawthorne has been consistently well above-average as the QB of the defense. His excellent play did drop off last year, with a lingering injury likely playing a role, but he still managed a +8.9 grade overall, lacking only in pass-rushing (-1.1). This year’s second-round pick Bobby Wagner seems to have a lead on this vacant spot, but a rookie calling the defensive signals could lead to some growing pains.
5) Russell Okung
Whoever the QB is, they will need solid protection in a division with some terrific young pass rushers attacking the blindside (including Robert Quinn and Aldon Smith). High 2010 first-round pick Russell Okung will be charged with blocking these terrors, and there hasn’t been any evidence that he can be elite at this task (-7.5 pass blocking grade through two years, including playoffs). Admittedly, Okung was injured on a cheap shot from Trent Cole in Week 13, ending his season, but the grades speak for themselves. If the Seahawks don’t want to rely primarily on their defense to churn out victories, Okung will need to step up his game and justify his high price tag.
What To Expect
The Seattle Seahawks still have a question mark at the most important position – quarterback – but there is too much young talent to expect this team to roll over. With their potential to be one of the better defenses in the league and “Beast Mode” (though he has questions to answer as well), there is no reason to expect them not to challenge the defending division champion 49ers for the NFC West title.