Seahawks Death Week: Non-Russell Wilson Reasons The Seahawks Declined In 2021

The Seahawks had five fewer wins in 2021 than in 2020. Last year, we were 12-4 divisional champs; this year, we’re 7-10 divisional basement dwellers. Yesterday – and really, all season – we discussed the Russell Wilson of it all, how his injury and subsequent struggles probably cost us a minimum of three games this season. Flip from 7-10 to 10-7 and this is a wild card team. That doesn’t do much for me, of course, because a 10-7 Seahawks team would probably still lose in the first round (it would certainly lose in round two, otherwise, especially if we had to play in Green Bay), but you’re painting the whole situation with a different brush if that’s the case. If this is just another in a long line of disappointing playoff teams who fail to win a championship, that still looks better than a possibly-dysfunctional team with a losing record who traded away its 10th overall pick to the Jets.

Anyway, as much as I’d like to talk about how Wilson’s performance drove me crazy this year, I’m dedicated to writing about other reasons the Seahawks faltered as well. We’ll see how it goes (so far, it’s going very poorly).

I think a big reason for this season’s decline has to do with the pass rush, which I wrote about last week. That was, of course, written after only 16 of 17 games had been played (you know, like a normal NFL season, before greed forced this additional week on us); at that point, the Seahawks ranked 28th in the NFL with 29 sacks. So, what happened? Well, the Seahawks kicked some ass down in Arizona, racked up 5 additional sacks, and improved their ranking all the way to 22nd in the NFL. Which still isn’t great, but looks a lot better than 28th. Oh what a difference a week can make.

No one stands out more than Carlos Dunlap as far as how an outlook of a season can change in just a few weeks. He had 0.5 sacks heading into December. Then, he had 8 in the final six games to end with 8.5. The way it was looking, Dunlap was the bust of the century; now he looks like the same beast we had on the team last year!

In my post last week, I talked about how Dunlap and Rasheem Green were leading the way with 6.5 sacks. Now, Dunlap is our 2021 team leader with 8.5, Green still has 6.5, but Darrell Taylor also added half a sack to get to 6.5. Everything looks remarkably better with one outstanding performance. Poona Ford added 1.5 sacks to get up to 2 on the season, and Kerry Hyder added a sack to salvage SOMETHING (ending the year with 1.5 sacks).

I would still say pass rush is the biggest concern heading into the 2022 season, as it was one of the biggest drop-offs from the 2020 season. Other than that, though, the defense was roughly the same. In 2020, we gave up 380.6 yards per game; in 2021 it was 379.1 (both figures among the worst in football). Our pass defense improved by roughly 20 yards per game (which passes the eye test, as the secondary appeared to be better than it was in 2020), while our rush defense declined by roughly the same amount (also seeming to pass the eye test, as it was a problem at times all year). We gave up almost 2 fewer points per game in 2021, which is impressive given our injuries and the extra game we played. All in all, the defense was probably better than it had any right to be in 2021, especially given how poor the pass rush played until very late in the season.

The offense, however was atrocious in 2021 compared to 2020. We generated 323.9 yards per game, compared to 369.5 yards last year. Passing yards per game declined (201.9 vs. 246.3), and our rushing yards per game was roughly the same (122.0 this year vs. 123.2 last year), but a lot of that had to do with Rashaad Penny’s bust out in the final few weeks of the season. That translated to a drastic reduction in points per game (23.2 vs. 28.7); just a miserable offensive year.

It’s particularly aggravating to try to analyze, because if you take the eye test out of it, Russell Wilson’s numbers largely align between 2020 and 2021.

  • Completion Percentage: 2020 – 68.8%, 2021 – 64.8%
  • Yards Per Attempt: 2020 – 7.5, 2021 – 7.8
  • Passer Rating: 2020 – 105.1, 2021 – 103.1

Even while his touchdown percentage declined, his interception percentage improved. There’s a lot about his 2021 season that, at least, compared favorably to his career norms. It’s not like Wilson suddenly fell off a cliff. You can always point to his declining rushing production – he had a career-low 3.1 rush attempts per game, after averaging over 2 more per game last year – but that was always to be expected as he got older.

I would say, in general, both years were failures from a running game perspective. Chris Carson led the Seahawks in 2020 with 681 yards; Penny led the Seahawks in 2021 with 749. But, neither player put up anywhere near a full season; if they had, we’d be talking about the Seahawks’ offense in much more glowing terms.

The Seahawks, in both years, struggled to find a third receiver who stood out. What was alarming about 2021 is how D.K. Metcalf’s production declined: 83 catches for 1,303 yards in 2020; 75 for 967 in 2021. There’s some combination of his foot injury and Wilson’s inaccuracy at play there.

What we can’t discount is the change in offensive coordinators. For as much as we all hoped – with the established stars on this roster – that there wouldn’t be a drop-off in production as a new scheme and play-caller were installed, I think that was probably inevitable. Time will tell – and probably very soon – whether or not Shane Waldron is the right guy for the job, especially in how he calls plays. But, I don’t think you can render final judgment after one season. It’s unfortunate, though, because we’ve seen guys step in and see immediate improvement in other situations.

There’s also the bad luck factor at play (or regression to the mean, depending on your sports beliefs). The 2020 Seahawks were 8-3 in one-score games; the 2021 Seahawks were 3-5 in those games. These are games where we held our fate in our hands, and failed to rise to the occasion. You pay a quarterback like Russell Wilson big money to pull these games out. I don’t know if he managed to succeed in any of these that we won, so much as maybe the defense perhaps held on in the end a few times.

If there’s one area the Seahawks will need to find a way to improve – if everything else ends up staying the same – it’s the offensive line. I think we’ve stumbled upon our right tackle of the future, but we need to find a better left tackle, as Duane Brown was really starting to show his age at times this season. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to find a stud center to finally lock that part down. Who knows if any of it will matter, though, as long as Russell Wilson keeps doing Russell Wilson things (which used to be amazing, but now has grown seriously infuriating).

So, what’s the TL;DR? I think Russell Wilson’s poor play – inaccurate, lack of clutchness, lack of ability to convert third downs, lack of willingness to take the plays opposing defenses gave him – deserves a healthy chunk of the blame. I think the O-Line not improving one iota is partly to blame. I think gross incompetence in the running game until the final few weeks of the season has a lot to do with it (and the front office re-signing an injury-prone Carson goes to the top of that particular list). The pass rush shares in the burden, as do the defensive coaches in general, who for the second year in a row failed to have this team prepared in the first half of the season, as we stumbled to a historically-inept start yet again.

Some of these we should have seen coming and corrected ahead of time. Others – like Wilson and the pass rush – totally blindsided us. But, no, Russell Wilson wasn’t the only reason why the 2021 Seahawks failed to live up to what the 2020 version achieved. But, he was the highest-profile and most disgruntled reason why they did.

I’ll be honest, his media antics following the 2020 season soured Wilson on me maybe forever. I’ll always appreciate what he did for this organization, but now I think he’s a joke and that it’s time to move on. More on this tomorrow, as we start to look toward the future.