The Seahawks made a valiant run at the playoffs in 2011, getting eliminated week 16 in a close loss to San Francisco, finishing 7-9 for the 2nd year in a row. They still can take pride in the fact that they exceeded expectations and played better than the parts of the whole under Head Coach Pete Carroll. They actually finished with a positive point differential +6, 2nd in the division, on the strength of their 7th ranked scoring defense. Now in 2012, the Seahawks will have to improve their offense, while maintaining their strength on defense, if they expect to compete in a loaded NFC.
The Seahawks may be better by default offensively this year. They ranked 23rd in the league offensively last year with 20.1 points per game. There are several questions offensively for the Seahawks, namely who will start at quarterback and which injured players will be able to contribute. However, whoever their quarterback is, he probably won’t be as bad as Tarvaris Jackson was last year. Jackson wasn’t awful, leading a 20th ranked passing offense, in terms of YPA, but he was a big part of the reason why their offense was so stagnant last year. Jackson will compete with free agent acquisition Matt Flynn and 3rd round rookie Russell Wilson for the starting job.
The Seahawks are saying it is an open competition and it probably is, but Matt Flynn is fully expected to win the starting job, based off of his strong offseason performance thus far and the 10 million dollar guaranteed they give him in free agency. Flynn only has 2 career starts, but he impressed in both of them. If he does struggle, the Seahawks can always go back to Tarvaris Jackson or even Russell Wilson. Either way, I don’t think they’ll have worse quarterback play than last year.
The other main unknown for the Seahawks offensively is injuries. Last year, the unit hit hardest by injuries was the offensive line. Of their week 1 starting 5 upfront, only center Max Unger did not sustain a major injury. Left guard Robert Gallery missed most of the season with injuries and, at his advanced age, was cut this offseason. Meanwhile right tackle James Carpenter missed most of his rookie year last year with a knee injury. He’s still currently injured and will likely begin the season on the PUP and might not play at all this season. He struggled when he did play too, but he was just a rookie.
Replacing those two will be Paul McQuistan and Breno Giacomini at left guard and right tackle respectively. Neither played that great. Giacomini allowed just 3 sacks, 3 quarterback hits, and 14 quarterback pressures, but committed 9 penalties in 564 snaps. Meanwhile, McQuistan allowed 5 sacks, 4 quarterback hits, and 11 quarterback pressures, while committing 6 penalties in 689 snaps. Both graded out below average as run blockers on ProFootballFocus as well. Sadly, those two might have been the biggest bright spots on an offensive front that allowed 50 sacks last year.
That number will go way down if Russell Okung can play a full 16 game slate at 100%. The 6th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Okung has played very well when healthy and can be a legitimate franchise left tackle, but he’s dealt with multiple different injuries in his first 2 years in the league. Okung should be good to go for week 1 barring any further injuries.
The same is true about John Moffitt, their right guard. A 2011 3rd round pick, Moffitt also dealt with injuries as a rookie. He played very poorly as a rookie as well, when healthy, allowing 3 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, 16 quarterback pressures, and committing 2 penalties in 524 snaps. He also graded out very poorly as a run blocker and only 5 guards graded out lower than he did overall, -21.5, on ProFootballFocus, including ex-teammate Robert Gallery. However, he was just a rookie.
The only starter to make it through the season was Max Unger, an average center who ranked 17th on ProFootballFocus with a 3.3 rating. Like the quarterback position, the offensive line was a major part of why the Seahawks struggled offensively last year, but they should be better by default after allowing 50 sacks last year, thanks to lots of injuries at upfront. If Okung can stay healthy and Moffitt can improve off a poor rookie year and the newcomers can play well, this might actually be a decent offensive line.
Another place where injuries struck big time in 2011 was wide receiver. The Seahawks signed Sidney Rice to start opposite Mike Williams, who had a great 2010 season. Rice was coming off an injury plagued season, but his strong performance in 2009 still was enough to land him a big deal with the Seahawks. However, Rice remained injury plagued in 2011 and Mike Williams joined him. They are both penciled in as their 2 starting receivers right now, but neither are sure things to be out there week 1 and it would be pretty shocking if both made it through a 16 game slate.
If they get hurt, they’ll need two young receivers, Golden Tate, 2010 2nd round pick, and Ricardo Lockette, a 2011 undrafted round pick, to step up. They also have veteran Ben Obomanu in the mix, but he’s not very good. Meanwhile, Doug Baldwin led the team in receiving last year as an undrafted free agent, the first undrafted free agent to do so ever. If Rice and Williams can’t stay healthy, he could do so once again. He’s a solid slot receiver.
In his first season with Seattle, after spending the beginning of his career in Oakland, Zach Miller really struggled, catching just 25 passes for 233 yards and no touchdowns. The Seahawks brought in Kellen Winslow from Tampa Bay to compliment him. Winslow has a repuation for being injury prone and he is, but he’s also played in every game over the last 3 seasons. He’s always been willing to play hurt and he does a good job. Barring some sort of injury that actually keeps him off the field, he’ll be an addition to a wide receiving corps with questions everywhere.
With mediocrity at quarterback and injuries depleting their receiving corps and offensive line, it’s a wonder how the Seattle even managed to rank 23rd offensively last year. The answer is their running game. Marshawn Lynch delivered big time in a contract year and the Seahawks paid him handsomely this offseason to reward him. Lynch was inconsistent in his career before last year so he’ll need to prove he can do it when money isn’t on the line this year. An improved offensive line will really help.
He’ll be backed up by Leon Washington, but Robert Turbin, their 4th round pick, is an intriguing player. He’s a good enough blocker to spell Lynch on passing downs and he’s a good pass catcher as well. If Lynch goes down with any sort of injury, he’d likely be the lead back because Washington is too small to be anything more than a change of pace back effectively. Washington will also need to focus on special teams.
As bad as the Seahawks’ offense looks on paper, they most likely won’t be worse than they were last year unless Lynch has a major dropoff. Pete Carroll is a very good coach who gets the most out of his players. I believe in Matt Flynn, at least as an upgrade over Tarvaris Jackson, and that they won’t have as many injuries as they had last year. With a good defense, this team can definitely win some games this season.
As I said, defense was the reason this team won 7 games last year. Their offense had all sorts of problems, but their 7th ranked scoring defense allowed them to go 7-9, compete until the end of the season, and post a positive scoring differential. They’re not often mentioned among the best in the league, but they should be.
As with most good defenses, it starts up front for the Seahawks. Their defensive line doesn’t get a ton of pass rush, hence their mere 33 sacks from a year ago, but they stuff the run with the best of them. Their 3.8 yards per carry allowed were tied for 4th best in the league. Their run defense starts with 3 players, Brandon Mebane, Alan Branch, and Red Bryant, all three of whom scored well above average against the run on ProFootballFocus (5.9, 19.2, and 9.0 respectively). Branch’s 19.2 was actually 3rd at his position behind Sione Pouha and Brodrick Bunkley.
Unfortunately, since none of them do much as pass rushers, they don’t get to the quarterback very much in their base package, but they don’t spend a lot of time in their base package. They like to mix things up. Last year, Raheem Brock was their nickel rusher at defensive end, coming in for Red Bryant. Once a solid pass rusher, Brock was a shell of his former self last season at an advanced age. He had 3 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, and 29 quarterback pressures on 567 snaps last season.
The Seahawks used a 1st round pick on Bruce Irvin to take Brock’s place this season and whether or not you think that selection was a reach, you have to agree that he’s an upgrade over Brock, who remains unsigned as of this writing. On passing downs, Irvin will form an imposing duo with Chris Clemons on the outside so they should improve on the 33 sacks they had last year, assuming Chris Clemons can produce close to the amount he has over the last two years.
Clemons has combined for 24 sacks, 18 quarterback hits, and 97 quarterback pressures in the last 2 seasons, all of which are among the league leaders over that time period, but he’s now 31 and currently holding out, as of this writing. If he holds out well into Training Camp or the Preseason, he could be in less than tip top shape when he returns, a la Chris Johnson and Darrelle Revis, which would be dangerous for a player already on the wrong side of 30. However, if he can stay in good shape, I see no reason why he can’t have another strong year. He’s not that old yet and players can play well into their early 30s if they can stay in shape. It’s when they don’t that’s the problem.
Another reason they should improve their pass rush is the addition of Jason Jones. Jones will be a nickel rusher on the inside and he could be potentially dangerous. He was miscast as a defensive end in Tennessee last year. He graded out as one of ProFootballFocus’ worst defensive ends last year, with 3 sacks, 4 quarterback hits, and 14 quarterback pressures (recording a sack/hit/pressure on only 5.5% of pass rushing snaps). Only Jayme Mitchell had a worse pass rusher rating at his position than Jones’ -9.6.
However, he was awesome as a defensive tackle in 2010, with 4 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, and 34 quarterback pressures (a sack/hit/pressure on 9.1% of his snaps). His 17.3 pass rush rating was 1st among defensive tackles. He could have a big impact this season and, at the very least, he’ll be an upgrade over Clinton McDonald, who was their 3rd defensive tackle last year.
McDonald was solid against the run, but offered absolutely no pass rush with 0 sacks, 4 quarterback hits, and 10 quarterback pressures (a sack/hit/pressure on 6.0% of his snaps). He’ll still play a bit of a role this season, but it will be minimal, as it should be, with the addition of Jones. With the addition of Jones and Irvin, their pass rush should be able to be solid rushing the passer, in addition to strong against the run.
The Seahawks only major offseason loss this year was David Hawthorne. Hawthorne was an every down middle linebacker for them last season. He graded out with an 8.9 rating and got a well deserved significant contract from the New Orleans Saints this offseason. He’ll be replaced by a platoon of Barrett Rudd and 2nd round rookie Bobby Wagner. Ruud used to be a good player, but injuries have destroyed his career. He was benched midseason by the Titans last year and his -13.6 rating ranked 4th worst at his position. Their best hope at that position is that Wagner can breakout and become an every down player.
Outside, things are much better. KJ Wright (6.6) and LeRoy Hill (5.6) graded out well above average. Hill has a lot of troubles off the field, but he’s a solid football player on the field. Wright, meanwhile, impressed a lot as a rookie, despite being mere a 4th round pick. He took over midseason and only played 536 snaps. Now a full time starter, he has just as good of a chance of taking the next step as a football player as he does of having a sophomore slump.
The secondary is Seattle’s most talented bunch. They ranked tied 10th against the pass, allowing 6.9 YPA, despite their subpar pass rush. With a better pass rush in 2012, their pass defense should be even better. Their only concern is that some of the players that had breakout years last year regress. If they don’t, they have one of the most talented, young secondaries in the league.
Richard Sherman was a 5th round pick last year, but he played incredibly well as a rookie. He graded out 13th at his position with an 8.1, allowing 39 completions on 84 attempts (46.4%) for 493 yards (5.9 YPA), 3 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and 9 deflections. His only issue was 9 penalties, but for someone in only his 3rd season as a cornerback (he played cornerback for just 2 years at Stanford after being converted from a wide receiver), the sky is the limit for someone who got better as last season went on.
Two other talented defensive backs are their safeties, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. 1st and 5th round picks respectively in the 2010 NFL Draft, they are arguably the most talented safety duo in the NFL. Both graded out top 8 among safeties last year, Chancellor coming in 5th with an 11.5 rating and Thomas coming in 8th with a 7.6 rating. Thomas had a strong rookie year in 2010 as well so I don’t have any concerns with him, but Chancellor’s break out year was last year so he’s still a bit of a one year wonder. However, Sherman, Thomas, and Chancellor form arguably the most talented defensive back trio in the NFL and all 3 are still very young.
The 4th starter in the secondary is Brandon Browner. Browner had a lot of good and a lot of bad in his 1st season in the NFL after coming over from the CFL. He graded out exactly with a 0.0 rating, allowing 54 completions on 95 attempts (56.8%), but for 830 yards (8.7 YPA). He had 3 touchdowns allowed, 6 interceptions, and 15 deflections, good for 3rd in the league, but his 15 penalties were 2nd. He was often torched and often penalized, but he made a lot of plays on the ball and allowed a small amount of touchdowns and a 56.8% completion percentage. It’s tough to know what to expect from him in his 2nd season as a starter, but there’s definitely upside.
The Seahawks didn’t have nearly as many injuries on defense as they had on offense, but one major one was an injury to Marcus Trufant, who was supposed to start for them at cornerback and probably be their #1 guy opposite a then unproven Brandon Browner. Trufant has never been a great cornerback, but his absence did hurt last season as they struggled for depth behind Sherman and Browner. Walter Thurmond and Roy Lewis both saw far too many snaps for comfort last season in sub packages and both, expectedly, graded out below average. Trufant is heading into his age 32 season, but should be an upgrade in nickel packages as their 3rd cornerback.
Pete Carroll doesn’t get his name mentioned enough with the best coaches in the NFL, but he should, especially when you look at the talent he’s developed in Seattle over his first two years. Chris Clemons was a situational player who he turned into one of the better pass rushers in the league. Alan Branch was a former 2nd round pick bust in Arizona who is now one of the league’s best run stuffers.
KJ Wright and Richard Sherman were 4th and 5th round picks last year respectively, but now both are among the best at their positive. Brandon Browner was in the CFL. He got Marshawn Lynch for a 4th round pick. Kam Chancellor was a 5th round pick. He did a great job of holding together a team, which had below average talent on paper in the first place, through numerous injuries last year. He also did a fantastic job at the collegiate level at USC.
As I’ve said before, the Seahawks have a lot of questions offensively, but they can’t be worse than they were last year offensively. Kellen Winslow is an addition to their receiving corps and a healthy Russell Okung and John Moffitt will help a lot up front, especially Okung. Either Rice or Williams could stay healthy, unlikely last year, and if not, Golden Tate or Ricardo Lockette could step up in his absence. Paul McQuistan and Breno Giacomini could also end up being upgrades up front.
Matt Flynn won’t be worse than Tarvaris Jackson and could be a lot better. He’ll have to be for them to have even an average offense and they’ll need Marshawn Lynch to continue his strong play behind a better offensive line in 2012, but their strong defense is what will continue to win them games this season. They went 7-9 last year with a positive points differential. They could easily go 7-9 or 8-8 again this year.
They don’t have a tough divisional schedule and could easily go 3-3 in those games again or even 4-2. Outside the division, they host Dallas, Green Bay, New England, Minnesota, and the Jets. They probably won’t have much of a shot against Green Bay or New England, as good as they are at home, but that Minnesota game should be a fairly easy win. They could also beat both Dallas and the Jets. Let’s say 2 or 3 wins in this bunch, which puts them at about 6-5 over the 11 games mentioned so far. Their remaining games are @ Miami, @ Buffalo, @ Detroit, @ Chicago, and @ Carolina. They aren’t a great road team, but that Miami game should be pretty winnable and maybe another one so 7 or 8 wins is pretty reasonable for them.
Update: I don’t like the decision to start Russell Wilson. For more than that, click here.
Projection: 6-10 3rd in NFC West