After a second consecutive season-ending thrashing to an NFC South foe, questions abound. Most noteworthy, is the Seattle Seahawks window closing?
Maybe the hand-wringing is understandable, but the Seahawks have 21 of their 22 regular starters under contract for at least 2017 (only outside linebacker Mike Morgan is an unrestricted free agent). Hence, it is not the time for the organization to panic. Due to questions about the coaching staff, schemes, and player effectiveness, more adjustments will be made. As a result, the organization has some homework to do.
Is the Seattle Seahawks Window Closing?
So the now Super Bowl bound Atlanta Falcons 36-20 win over the Seahawks in the Divisional Round was a mirror of the struggles the team had all season. Most of all, the offense – after an impressive, clock eating opening touchdown drive – reverted to form and could not run the ball or pass protect. Since tight end Jimmy Graham was once again an afterthought (other than the opening drive touchdown), the Seahawks need to figure out how to utilize one of the NFL’s most dangerous weapons. Another concern is quarterback Russell Wilson looked like the shell-shocked version of his former Pro Bowl caliber self.
Yet the Seahawks put themselves in the spot of having to play in Atlanta with an ugly loss at home against Arizona in Week 16. As a result, that loss removed the Seahawks from the number two seed in the NFC and a first-round bye, and it was a microcosm of the issues that plagued this talented team all season.
On defense, the tired and exposed Cover 3 zone, without its anchor (free safety Earl Thomas), again looked vulnerable. As a result, Atlanta moved the ball at will. While the high-octane Falcons offense makes even the best defenses look inferior, this is more of the same with the Seahawks defense since losing Thomas to a broken leg in early December. Much as injuries are never an excuse, they are a factor.
Head coach Pete Carroll and his staff need to do some soul searching (and researching) during the off-season. Most notably, a matador like offensive line is contributing greatly to Wilson’s regression, and it is squandering his primary playing years. The offensive playbook is stale and uninspiring, and the defense needs to find some wrinkles and get back to being aggressive and creating turnovers, something they have not done enough of the last two seasons. Savvy offensive coordinators (like the Falcons Kyle Shanahan) have evolved and identified how to abuse the soft zones the Seahawks seem to rely on way too much. While Carroll stubbornly ascribes to the “we play our style” philosophy, both the offense and defense are begging for adjustments.
The Misery Index: Seattle Seahawks 2016 Offense
The offense needs to take the game films from this season out to pasture, dig a deep hole, and bury them. And then attend support groups, séances, or whatever is necessary to never speak of the ugliness they exhibited between the lines. Either changes are made, or expect more of the same.
Most of all, the problem was scoring points. The Seahawks scored only 12 points at home against Miami, although they won it with a late touchdown. Rather paltry outputs included three points at Los Angeles in a loss and six points in a tie at Arizona. Against one of the NFL’s worst defenses, they managed 13 points at New Orleans (the defense scored the other touchdown) and scored all of three points at Tampa Bay in a loss. At Green Bay, they registered ten points in another loss. Hence, in those six games, the offense averaged 8.1 points. Furthermore, the offense could not sustain drives, largely because (except for a small stretch in December) there was no consistent running game. Consequently, time of possession was inverted significantly.
While offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has taken a lot of heat from fans for seeming to forget about Graham for large segments of games, it’s not all on him. First of all, Wilson is developing a case of David Carr Syndrome, getting panicked feet and not stepping up into the pocket and working his reads because of the constant battery on him from opposing pass rushers. He missed a lot of open receivers this season and just looks skittish in the pocket. His injuries (high ankle sprain, MCL strain and a pectoral injury) clearly affected him as well.
It seems like the biggest issue for the line is the tackles. Project left tackle George Fant had more experience playing left tackle in Madden 2016 than he did for real on the field, while tackles Garry Gilliam and Bradley Sowell took turns setting offensive line play back a few decades at the right tackle spot. While Carroll has already said he doesn’t expect a lot of change on the line for the 2017 season, it probably is an area of emphasis.
Reinforcements in Place
Like all NFL teams, the Seahawks were affected by injuries. Thomas was the most devastating, followed closely by dynamic play making wide receiver Tyler Lockett. Promising rookie running back C.J. Prosise is a definite game changer…when he is on the field. He only saw action in five regular season games, therefore Carroll recently expressed concern about his durability.
There are other players that have a lot of potential coming back, including defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson, running back Troymaine Pope, defensive tackle Garrison Smith, cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, cornerback Mohammed Seisay. Due to cornerback DeShawn Shead‘s catastrophic knee injury in the Falcons game, the secondary is thin. Shead is facing a long recovery, and will likely miss at least half of the 2017 season. He is a restricted free agent. Therefore, it is bad timing for his injury, as he now will not be tendered at a high-level.
The Seahawks have sufficient cap space (estimated to be about $35 million once the off-season cap inflation is factored in) to make a few moves. Due to internal decisions swinging the pendulum, don’t expect a huge splash in free agency or via trade. Especially relevant, decisions on mainly four pending 2018 free agents, including Graham, strong safety Kam Chancellor, Graham, center Justin Britt, and wide receiver Paul Richardson. Due to Richardson’s emergence as a reliable playmaker in the playoffs, the team will likely want to keep him from hitting the open market. Each is entering the last year of their deals and account for nearly $20.7 million in cap space next season.
Of the Seahawks 14 unrestricted free agents, expect the front office to consider offers for tight end Luke Willson, defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, fullback Marcel Reece, kicker Steven Hauschka, strong safety Kelcie McCray, and cornerback Neiko Thorpe. While kick returner Devin Hester has stated his intention to retire, since Lockett is coming back there isn’t a place for Hester on the roster.
By and large, the Seahawks have a talented roster, and are still one of the younger groups in the league. A solid draft, calculated decisions in free agency, extending their own players, and a little bit of reinventing themselves schematically will probably go a long way towards improving their fortunes in 2017.