Consider this the start of a two-part season preview for the 2016 Seahawks. Anything less would be uncivilized.
Speaking of Right Guard, let’s start there. One of the primary failings of the 2015 Seahawks – particularly on offense – was the offensive line. Sure, there were early-season defensive breakdowns that were our regular season undoing, but if you want to look at why the Seahawks lost in the playoffs, look no further than the interior offensive line. Guard-Center-Guard.
Now, at least in the early going, it appears the Seahawks have vastly improved this combo compared to last year. Once Alvin Bailey proved he wasn’t up to the task of left guard, the team panicked and put Justin Britt there. He was a disaster. Eventually, the team settled on Patrick Lewis at center, and things seemed to improve along the line as a whole. But, Lewis was far from ideal. And, we were in J.R. Sweezy’s fourth year with the team; four years that saw him plateau pretty early on, then continue to make the same mistakes in pass protection over and over and over again.
Mark Glowinski – after a year on the bench to learn the position at an NFL level – is ready to be a starting left guard in this league. Justin Britt – in his third position in three years – seems to have finally found a spot that works for him. And rookie first rounder Germain Ifedi is being broken into the league at right guard, where he’ll hopefully thrive and eventually shift outside to tackle in the coming seasons. These three guys should be a marked improvement over the three we had there last year.
And yet … HOO BOY, are we thin! News came down yesterday that Ifedi left practice with an alleged ankle injury. The severity is unknown at this time – he could be out for the year, or he could play this weekend – but the fright it’s caused this fanbase is all too real: who replaces Ifedi if he can’t play this week? The only other guard on this roster is Rees Odhiambo, who was taken at the end of the third round of this year’s draft. J’Marcus Webb is another possibility – as he’s played both guard and tackle – but as you can see, we’re already greatly reducing this unit’s effectiveness with these diminishing returns.
WE CANNOT HAVE INJURIES ALONG THE OFFENSIVE LINE!!!
Particularly up the middle, which is where we failed against the Panthers in last season’s playoffs. Russell Wilson improved on his pocket passing last year, and getting the ball out quicker, but you still need to give him SOME time. Thinning out the interior of this O-Line – when the tackles are already pretty shaky – is going to be a disaster this team won’t be able to recover from.
But, you know, anyone could write a preview about why a team won’t make the Super Bowl and put “Injuries” as the leading cause. Let’s face it, if your quarterback goes down, you’re not winning the championship. If too many key offensive or defensive playmakers get injured, you’re not winning the championship. And so on and so forth. So, let’s move on.
Another big concern for me has to do with the defensive line. I still don’t see us having the type of pass rush we had in 2013, and I don’t think we ever will. Avril and Bennett are great, but Frank Clark is still young and unproven. And I just don’t see anyone behind those three guys who will have much of an impact. Does that mean we’ll have to blitz more? If so, that takes away from a weak spot that is the middle of our defense. Teams dink and dunk on us with regularity as it is; sending an extra blitzer just opens up that part of the field even more for converted third downs.
AND, I’m not so sure our run defense is up to snuff. This is the first year in forever that we won’t have Brandon Mebane anchoring the middle. Will Rubin, Reed, and McDaniel be able to pick up that slack? There were a lot of times this pre-season where I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the first defense’s ability to stop the run. Let’s hope that mess is left where it belongs: in the meaningless pre-season.
All in all, I wonder if this is the year where the Seahawks finally fall from the top in points allowed. It’s been a record-breaking four year run of dominance, and it’s bound to end at some point. Part of me wonders if teams have figured us out, and part of me wonders if Kris Richard will be a new whipping boy, a la Darrell Bevell. Kris Richard can pay lip service all he wants about not changing the scheme from years past, but he’s still the one calling the plays, and this is only his second year doing that job. Are we sure his situational play-calling abilities are good enough for the NFL?
I mean, come on, if the players are mostly the same, and the scheme is the same, then it has to be the play-calling, right?
Of course, to really derail the Seahawks, they’ll have to lose a few games they shouldn’t. More defensive lapses like last year. More oddball defeats to the likes of the Rams, Eagles, or Dolphins. Arizona will have to be as good as I think they’ll be, and run away with the division again. The Packers and/or the Panthers will have to be another dominant NFC team. If we let too many regular season games slip away, and prove we can’t beat the elite teams like last year, we’ll once again be 10-6 and looking at a Wild Card path to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to believe it, I just don’t think the Seahawks are able to cruise through the regular season and then flip a switch come playoff time. Hell, last year they SHOULD have lost to the Vikings in the first round!
Finally, I’d say there’s one big concern no one really wants to talk about. Russell Wilson had one of the better second halves to a season that I’ve ever seen last year. Rightly, everyone is on his bandwagon for him to continue that trend – possibly with an MVP finish. Did Wilson figure it out, and take that next step in his development? Or, is this a matter of momentum? Because, we all know there’s no such thing as momentum, and it could just as easily go the other way starting Sunday.
In the pre-season, I saw good Russell Wilson and I saw bad Russell Wilson. I saw the guy who makes quick decisions and rips off chunk passing plays, and I saw the guy who holds the ball too long and takes unnecessary sacks. It’s the pre-season, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But, I don’t think anyone goes from Good to Elite without some bumps in the road.
If he does regress, though, with the way this team is counting on him to carry us all the way, it could be a total disaster.
It takes a lot going right for a team to win a Super Bowl. Luck, obviously, plays a huge factor. This team has what it takes to go all the way, but there are a good number of other teams who can say the same thing. Arizona, Green Bay, Carolina, New England, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Houston, Jacksonville, Washington, Oakland, Cincinnati. We’re damn near through half the league!
So, yeah, I’d say the odds are stacked against us in a number of ways. Tomorrow, I’ll write about how none of that matters.