Could the Seahawks be even better this year? That's the quesion facing the defending Super Bowl champs.
They lost ten players off that championship squad, including Walter Thurmond, Brandon Browner (who lost his starting job via suspension) Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Clinton McDaniel. Those losses theoretically reduce the depth across the defensive front which was so dominating last year (right Peyton?). Don’t overestimate those losses – Seattle made up for most of them and added some exciting new pieces.
Defensively, Clemons and Bryant were salary cap casualties, and were getting a bit long in the tooth to give contract extensions. It was a tough choice, but it makes sense; Seattle went younger, faster, and cheaper. McDaniel will be missed the most. They re-signed sack leader Michael Bennett and added six-time Pro Bowler Jason Williams. Greg Scruggs, Jordan Hill and rookie Cassius Marsh, who is turning heads in camp, will be expected to fill the void, and so far have stepped up to the challenge.
In the secondary, Browner and Thurmond lost their starting jobs, making them expendable. Thurmond went to the Giants and Browner to the Patriots, both as free agents. Seattle kept the real Legion of Boom together, resigning Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas to smart, mutually beneficial deals and the heavy-hitting Kam Chancellor returns. The best secondary in the league will be a force again this year.
Undrafted free agent from Montana State, Brody Coyle, is having a monster camp at middle linebacker. Coyle joins Bobby Wagner (who led the team in tackles), K.J. Wright, and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith to form one of the best linebacking groups in the league. Coyle adds depth to a very strong unit. Carroll and Schneider find another gem in the draft.
Having lost a bit of quality depth up front may hurt, but Seattle has added pieces that should balance it out and give it a very athletic and formidable eight-man rotation across the line. The linebacking core is better and the best secondary in the league remains intact. No reason to expect a major drop-off, in fact, this group could be better and remain among the leagues’ best.
Offense is where this team could be much improved.
Golden Tate was lost to free agency to Detroit, who overpaid for him. At that price he was expendable. His productivity can be made up between the core group of Baldwin, Kearse and Lockette, and with a rejuvenated Percy Harvin who is finally 100% healthy. Adding Colorado speedster Paul Richardson, who set all kinds of records in college, and Alabama’s Kevin Norwood, who is having a monster camp with his sure handedness and over-the-middle abilities, this unit should be much improved. They will be ridiculously fast, that’s for sure.
What Seattle needs to account for is Tate’s productivity returning kicks. Harvin and Baldwin should cover that, and if you saw the Super Bowl, they should be fine. Harvin is a threat to take it to the house very time he touches the ball. Harvin himself makes this offense better. harvin has had his share of injuries, but every player on every snap is at risk to injury - Harvin is no more or less susceptible.
Offensively, the o-line continues to be their most troubling area, yet they still won a Super Bowl behind it. Losing Breno Giacomini to free agency is a mixed bag; he was a brute up front, but was also prone to penalties at the worst times, stalling drives. The Jets overpaid for him, he’s replaceable.
Former first round pick and oft-injured James Carpenter arrived in camp in the best shape of his career, which may not mean much, but it’s a start. If he and Okung stay healthy, Sweezy can continue to show progress, and with the addition of heralded rookie Justin Britt who is battling for a starting gig, this could be a talented crew up front. With Tom Cable working his magic, they should form a good unit. That line had four starters out for half the season and still managed to win 13 games in the most brutal division in the league. This line needs to step it up this season for Seattle to continue to improve. Only time will tell.
Russell Wilson is another year older and wiser and he finally has some legit weapons at his disposal, starting with Percy Harvin. There’s arguably not a more explosive player in the NFL. His presence immediately elevates this offense. Add Richardson, Norwood and the emergence of tight end Luke Willson and Wilson can’t wait to get on the field. Offensively, this team is FAST.
Look for Wilson to have a breakout passing season. Seattle is well-positioned to open up the playbook and expand the field, and not just be a ground and pound offense. Luckily, they will still have that luxury as well. However, just having Harvin out there changes the dynamic as defenses have to account for him. Being able to spread the field with speed on the outside will create options for Wilson.
Known as a game manager, don’t be surprised to see that label dropped this year. Having the offensive line woes they did, especially in the pass-blocking game, made this a one-dimensional running team at times. That minimizes Wilson’s stats, but doesn’t tell the whole story at all.
As a rookie, Wilson went into Atlanta and threw for 385 yards and brought Seattle back from a 27-7 deficit, to take a 28-27 lead in the 4th quarter in the playoffs (only to have the defense blow the game in the end). He brought Seattle back from a 21-0 deficit to Tampa Bay. He beat New England with a late bomb to Sidney Rice. In the NFC Championship game against San Francisco, he threw a 40 yard touchdown strike to Kearse on 4th and seven for the go-ahead score.
When he’s been asked to carry the team, he has responded. He doesn’t need to throw for 400 a game to Seattle to win, but he can. He’s set and tied several records in his first two seasons. Game manager? Maybe. But he’s managed to win a Super Bowl. Wilson will be even better this year and so will the offense.
Marshawn Lynch. Despite all the off-season contract noise (settled amicably) and alleged assault (police dismissed) and the consensus that a 28 year-old running back is supposed to on the downside of his career, look for Lynch to have great season.
What? How can that be?
Lynch has been the workhorse in Seattle’s run-heavy offense. It had to be running oriented – it was the sole strength while pass-blocking was poor. Last year Seattle gave up 44 sacks (most in the league) and, in spite of that, they won a Super Bowl. Knowing those struggles, defenses routinely stacked the box to contain Lynch, a strategy that was somewhat effective. Now, with Seattle’s new slate of weapons and speed, defenses cannot use that strategy – there is too much speed outside to be accounted for. This will open up interior running lanes for Seattle, creating more opportunities for Lynch with his unique blend of power and balance.
All of this bodes well for Seattle, and they seem to be improved. Of course the real test will be on the field. However, do not assume that improvement will translate to a better record or another Super Bowl. Yes, Seattle is loaded and is a favorite to return to the big game, and they should be. But it’s a tough task to get there once, let alone consecutively. Seattle had a lot of breaks and bounces their way. They remained relatively healthy, sans the o-line and Percy Harvin.
Their losses in free agency are not as bad as some want to predict. The Super Bowl hangover? Nonsense. This team is young and hungry and Carrol has them focused. During training camp the competition was a fierce as it’s ever been and there’s been to mentions of the Super Bowl. That was last season, seems to be the prevailing attitude.
While Seattle has made improvements, so did San Francisco, Arizona and St. Louis, their division rivals in the brutal NFC West, easily the toughest division in the NFL. While many are jumping on the Arizona and St Louis bandwagon’s this season, the division titles should still run through Seattle or SF – they are just too loaded to not be the favorites. Will Seattle win 13 games again? That’s a tall order. 11 or 12 may be more realistic, and that’s not a knock on Seattle, that’s a tribute to the competition they are playing.
Seattle is likely better, but let’s not predict a Super Bowl just yet. Many things have to fall just right and the variables, like injuries, are not a factor just yet. As always, it’ll be won or lost on the field, not in the media.