The Seahawks Can Be Legitimate Super Bowl Contenders

Last week, I prattled on and on about why the Monday Night game would be so important for the Seahawks’ chances. Ultimately, I believed that the Seahawks SHOULD be making a push for an NFL championship, but their defense would be their downfall.

What this blog post presupposes is … maybe the defense is okay?

It’s a lot more fun living in a world where the Seahawks are 8-2. It’s not ideal, but when have we ever had an ideal Seahawks season? Even in 2013, our biggest obstacle was right in our own (relative) back yard with the 49ers; here we go again.

The best part is, everything I wrote about the 49ers last week is still true; they’re still heading into – BY FAR – the toughest stretch of their schedule. And, now they’re heading into it with a loss under their belts. It’s not remarkably easier for the Seahawks, so I’m not clapping my hands together in a job well done – there’s still a lot of work to do in our own garden – but it’s far easier to foresee a scenario where the Seahawks and 49ers are playing for both a division title and a Top 2 seed in the NFC in Week 17. In a game that Seattle will host, that will almost certainly be flexed to the 5pm time slot.

There’s still so much to unpack from that Monday Night game that I didn’t really touch on. For starters, either team would’ve been lucky to come out of there with a win; really, if a game ever deserved to end in a tie, it was probably that one. I tend to focus on all the things the Seahawks did to try to throw that game away – Wilson’s interception, D.K.’s fumble, Penny’s fumble, Wilson’s fumble-turned-Ifedi’s-fumble-turned-49ers’-touchdown, the interceptions Wright and Wagner and Flowers (off the top of my head) dropped that could’ve sealed the victory – but there were tons of things the 49ers did wrong that should’ve sealed the deal (and eventually DID seal the deal) for the Seahawks (again, those near-picks, Clowney’s fumble return for a TD, the other Jimmy G fumble, the countless drops from his receivers who were afraid of getting punished by our hard-hitting safeties, and of course the missed field goal in overtime). One thing that’s tough to shake is what that game would’ve looked like if Kittle was healthy, or if Sanders had played the entire game (take nothing away from the Seahawks on that one, because our guys were hitting HARD on defense).

And that gets me back to the point of this BYE-week post. The Defense. My personal whipping boy pretty much all year. From the beginning, I’ve held the opinion that this side of the ball would get better as the season progressed, and that when we get into this very stretch we’re in right now, we’d be looking at something downright respectable! Well, if I’d only listened to September-Me, I wouldn’t have to backtrack so much abuse I’ve heaped upon these guys in the last few weeks.

Now, of course, some of them deserve it. Ezekiel Ansah looks beyond washed up. I think Pete Carroll said he’s undersized from the weight he was at in his prime, but he looks overweight and slow to me, so something doesn’t check out. Clearly, he wasn’t able to work out the way he would’ve liked this past offseason, with the injury he was recovering from, and it shows on the field. He’s a ZERO, bringing absolutely nothing to the table. At this point, he’s blocking someone like Shaquem Griffin, who HAS to have a higher immediate upside in the pass rushing department.

I loved that move, by the way. I thought it was the most inspired thing the Seahawks have done on defense all year. Jadeveon Clowney was a man possessed against the 49ers, and an obvious choice for Defensive Player of the Week; that might be the best single defensive performance we see in the NFL all year! But, he’s been rock solid all season; he’s also been the benefactor of near-constant double teaming by opposing offenses, and rightly so. He’s obviously the only guy on the Seahawks’ D-line that anyone has to worry about, so shifting protection his way SHOULD be priority number 1 for most teams. With Ansah doing nothing, combined with Rasheem Green, Quinton Jefferson (who’s also been battling injuries most of the year), and anyone else you’ve put opposite Clowney (L.J. Collier, where you at?), I mean, the Seahawks had to do SOMETHING. Shaquem Griffin has been languishing on Special Teams his entire career, he was a primary pass rusher in college, why not at least give him a shot?

And, I get it, he’s probably a liability against the run. So, don’t put him in those situations. I hate to say it, but maybe be a little more predictable! Just use Griffin on 3rd downs and in otherwise obvious pass rushing situations. Let him use his speed off the edge to try to – if not get to the quarterback – at least redirect him in the pocket. Make him move around, get off his spot, delay his throw, and hopefully miss his intended target. Sacks aren’t the be-all, end-all in pass rushing.

Anything is better than what we’ve been seeing out of this defense, which has been a lot of quarterbacks with enough time to make giant party subs in their respective pockets!

I don’t know if Griffin is the solution, but he’s a step in the right direction. With Clowney playing at a D-POY level, I don’t think you NEED the other guys to be superstars; you just need them to be competent and improve week-by-week. Jarran Reed coming back and getting into the swing of things certainly helped against the 49ers. That, in turn, helped the play of Poona Ford and Al Woods; the more teams have to worry about Reed, the more that’s going to open things up for the other tackle next to him. Hopefully, this will all lead to the younger guys opposite Clowney to incrementally improve, to the point where they’re making an actual noticeable impact by season’s end.

Another one of my whipping boys has been Bobby Wagner, and the linebackers in general. Mostly, I’m lamenting the lack of huge impact plays by these guys. They’re doing everything else they’re supposed to do, but we haven’t really seen them flash all too often. There’s been a play here and there from Kendricks. Wagner finally started to assert himself more against the 49ers. Wright still looks like someone who’s probably on his final legs, and I’d like to see Cody Barton mixed in there a bit more to at least see what we have in him. But, for the most part, Wright is one of this team’s primary leaders, and he’s not going anywhere, at least not this year.

And, for the first time all year, there’s actual reason for hope when it comes to the secondary. Shaquill Griffin is still playing at an elite level, so no worries there. Quandre Diggs made his debut and looked fantastic! I guess he got the start at free safety, but he was hitting dudes out there like a strong safety. Combined with a healthy Bradley McDougald, I think that could really settle things down in the defensive backfield; here’s hoping they can just stay out there. Tre Flowers still has room to improve, and I keep feeling like it’s going to break out for him any game now. The nickel is still a huge area of concern, so the team is going to have to coach guys up and scheme this problem into irrelevance.

All year, everyone’s been saying that we don’t expect this defense to return to its L.O.B. roots. With how great the offense is, just Middle of the Road would be fine! Teams constructed like this – with a smart coaching staff behind them – can ABSOLUTELY win championships! We’ve seen worse defenses than this one go all the way. But, a little improvement never hurt anyone.

The 49ers game was the best this defense has played all year; if we can stay right around that level, the sky is the limit.

There were calls from the more optimistic sect of Seahawks fans prior to the 49ers game calling for fans to lighten up. I believe Hawkblogger himself said it’s okay to believe. I wasn’t there with him; the 49ers looked too daunting. Turns out they’re human, like all the teams in the NFL. In that respect, the Seahawks are as good as any of the contenders out there. I’m ready to finally start believing. I won’t make us frontrunners; but we’re as good or better than the 49ers, Saints, Packers, Cowboys, and any other NFC team you throw our way.

The Seahawks are IN this thing! It’s gonna be a fun final six weeks.