Seahawks Death Week: Were The 2023 Seahawks Better Than They Were In 2022?

Both teams finished the regular season 9-8. The 2022 Seahawks actually made the playoffs, while the 2023 Seahawks did not. The 2023 Seahawks clearly had higher expectations coming into the year, whereas the 2022 Seahawks were expected to be among the worst five teams in the NFL. But, just because the current iteration underperformed, while the previous one overachieved, doesn’t necessarily mean the 2022 Seahawks were the better team. And, since we don’t live in a magical world where we can have these two squads duke it out on the football field, we have to look at the numbers and see where they compare.

I will readily admit that I’m coming into this exercise HOPING that the 2023 team is actually better, and thanks to a game or two not going our way at the end, we ultimately failed to achieve our goals. Because, if that’s the case, then maybe an argument can be made that this is actually a team on the rise, and this year can be seen as an aberration. However, if the 2023 Seahawks are objectively worse, then this is a team going in the wrong direction. Then, we have to start questioning how good these last two draft classes actually were. Then, we’re left to wonder how long it’s actually going to be before things turn around.

I’ll start with the defense. Heading into the season, what was the biggest problem area, the biggest area of need, the part of the team we all knew needed improvement? The defense. In 2022, we gave up 361.7 yards per game (26th in football); in 2023, we gave up 371.4 yards per game (30th in football).

You know what sucks? Every team that was worse than us in 2022 improved. Detroit went from 32 to 19, Minnesota went from 31 to 16, Houston went from 30 to 14, Chicago went from 29 to 12, Las Vegas went from 28 to 13, Atlanta went from 27 to 11! This isn’t, like, small baby steps of improvement. These are LEAPS AND BOUNDS! And it’s not like we’re talking about teams that all made the playoffs; they were all varying levels of mediocre-to-bad in 2023. Yet they all also saw significant improvements on defense, in one season’s time.

If we keep going back, in 2021, the Seahawks were 28th in yards per game, in 2020 we were 22nd (but still gave up over 380 per game), in 2019 we were 26th. In 2018, we were 16th; that’s the last time we were even kind of okay. Before that, we were obviously very good. But, starting with 2019, that’s five years of being one of the worst defenses in all of football. Of being a defense that absolutely CANNOT compete for a championship. With a head coach that prides himself on being defensively-minded. We’ve been stuck in the shit for half a decade now; meanwhile, all these shitty defenses from 2022 are kicking ass in 2023.

Where did we struggle the most in 2022? Rush defense (150.2 yards per game, 30th in football). How did we fare in 2023? When we got rid of a lot of dead weight and put the majority of our resources into shoring up this part of the game? 138.4 yards per game, 31st in football. So, we improved our number of yards allowed per game, but still ended up worse compared to the rest of the NFL.

The two teams worse than us in 2022? Houston (32) and Chicago (31), who finished 2023 6th (!) and 1st (!!!) in rush yards per game allowed. IN ONE YEAR, they went from the worst to the best!

I mean, this isn’t fucking rocket science! We’re talking about Houston, who had a total coaching regime change, and Chicago, whose head coach in 2022 was just finishing his first year and was already on the hot seat. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are among the most stable franchises in the sport, yet again, we’ve struggled on defense for half a fucking decade. Un-fucking-believable.

To round it out, the 2022 Seahawks gave up 211.5 passing yards (13th); the 2023 Seahawks gave up 233.0 (21st). The 2022 Seahawks gave up 23.6 points per game (25th); the 2023 Seahawks gave up 23.6 points per game 25th). We literally gave up one more point than a year ago. The pass defense – particularly the secondary – was supposed to be our biggest strength (even discounting Jamal Adams as “likely to be injured” heading into the season); yet it was kind of mediocre, in spite of the fact that we got more Jamal Adams than I ever thought possible.

Just a little more housekeeping, for context. The 2022 Seahawks were +2 in turnover differential; the 2023 Seahawks were also +2 in turnover differential. We actually turned it over less in 2023, but also generated fewer turnovers, which is how we get to that number. That’s interesting to me, because if you would’ve told me prior to 2023 that the Seahawks’ offense would have 6 fewer turnovers – knowing what I knew about the perceived improvement of talent on defense – I would say that’s HUGE, and might’ve translated to 2-3 more victories. Instead, that perceived talent improvement never really materialized.

For a little more context, the 2022 Seahawks had 45 sacks (tied for 7th); the 2023 Seahawks had 47 sacks (tied for 11th). Another interesting stat is the 2022 Seahawks gave up 62.7% completions (10th), whereas the 2023 Seahawks gave up 66.7% completions (26th). So, in spite of being slightly better at generating sacks, it looks like we were actually softer all around, and probably not generating as much pressure on the whole. Or, you know, maybe we just faced significantly better quarterback play in 2023 than in 2022; you can’t rule that out either. Maybe both are true!

What do my eyes tell me about this defense? It’s tricky, because I believe we were actually significantly more talented in personnel in 2023 than we were in 2022. I think Jarran Reed had a fabulous season. I think Leonard Williams is the best all-around defensive lineman we’ve had since Michael Bennett (very different players/body types, but similarly dominant in everything that they do). I think Dre’Mont Jones is as talented as advertised, but likely wasn’t utilized properly. I think Boye Mafe took a HUGE step forward. I think Devon Witherspoon is deserving of every single accolade that comes his way. I think Jordyn Brooks is an animal, and it’s tremendous how well (and how quickly) he came back from such a significant injury. I thought Tre Brown, Mike Jackson, and Julian Love all shined at times. I thought Riq Woolen was injured for most of this year and that likely explains his step-back (I still think he’s great in coverage, but when he’s hurt, he’s going to be a liability in the run game).

That being said, I think we were another wide-body short on the interior, to significantly plug the run. I think Bobby Wagner likely helped in that regard, but probably not as much as everyone thinks. Wagner obviously had his struggles in pass defense (to the point where he probably should’ve been taken off the field on every 3rd & medium-to-long), but we also had no one behind him to fill in (linebacker depth was non-existent yet again); I also don’t think Wagner was the fix-all in the run game everyone’s making him out to be. How many times did he too get swallowed up, or jump the wrong gap? He’s old! He was old two years ago!

I also thought Quandre Diggs looked a little old. I thought Jamal Adams – aside from a few plays near the LOS here and there – looked legitimately bad. Maybe he was hurt all year, but still, he looks toast. And, I think the outside linebacker play was atrocious outside of Boye Mafe and Uchenna Nwosu (who got knocked out 6 games in), and I’m not even sure Mafe is any good at setting an edge. What I know for sure is that Darrell Taylor and Derick Hall are 100% NOT good in that regard, and it’s a huge hole for us.

A lot of these were problems in 2022, though. We couldn’t set an edge then either. Our linebacker room was unquestionably worse with Cody Barton getting significant reps. Adams was still hurt, Diggs was still getting up there, and we were obviously missing out on beef in the interior line.

So, how do you explain this across-the-board drop-off in defensive production?

The coaching staff. Clint Hurtt and Co.

He’s not a defensive coordinator. We learned that in his first season in 2022, and it’s been nothing but cemented into my brain in 2023, when he was gifted better talent, and his unit produced worse results. He needs to go.

***

Now, let’s go to the offense. Spoiler alert: it also looks like it’s worse in 2023 than it was in 2022.

2022 total yards = 351.5 (13th); 2023 total yards = 322.9 (21st). 2022 passing yards = 231.4 (12th); 2023 passing yards = 230.0 (14th). 2022 rushing yards = 120.1 (18th); 2023 rushing yards = 92.9 (28th).

So, passing yards remained stagnant, in spite of total stability at the QB spot, and arguably an improved wide receiver room with first rounder Jaxon Smith-Njigba replacing Marquise Goodwin. And we’re talking about a DRASTICALLY worse rushing attack, in spite of the fact that Kenneth Walker played in the same number of games (all as the lead back), while we added the robust talent of Charbonnet (taking the smattering of 2022 carries given to DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer, and Rashaad Penny the few times he was healthy).

Okay, so point to the offensive line. Obviously, there were lots of injuries across the board causing this unit to suffer. Except, we took 46 sacks in 2022, vs. a combined 37 in 2023. Team passing, okay, you can attribute some of that to Drew Lock playing in 4 games (starting 2). But, Geno’s per-game numbers year over year obviously declined (fewer yards per game, lower completion percentage, fewer yards per attempt, lower passer rating).

Also, if your O-Line is so banged up, wouldn’t you WANT to run the ball more? In 2022, we attempted 425 carries; in 2023, it was 382. In 2022, we attempted 573 passes; in 2023, we attempted 575. Geno attempted a little over 33 and a half passes per game; but Drew Lock attempted 32 per game in his two starts, so it’s not like we really took it easy on him. Yet, neither quarterback benefitted from extended competence out of the rushing attack. As a team, we averaged 4.8 yards per carry (4.9 yards per carry if you take out two massive losses by our punter) in 2022; we could only muster 4.1 yards per carry in 2023.

So, what’s THAT all about? We thought we really had something with our new O-Line coach in 2022. But, while improving on our sack numbers (in basically the same number of drop-backs), we took a massive nosedive in our running numbers. I guess we have to HOPE that it’s just injuries and things are bound to positively regress in 2024. But, there’s also a number of personnel decisions we have to make – along the interior, particularly – that has been one of our greatest weaknesses since time immemorial.

All told, our 2022 Seahawks scored 23.9 points per game (9th); our 2023 Seahawks scored 21.4 points per game (17th). An already-bad defense somehow managed to get worse, and a decently-good offense became painfully mediocre. In spite of the fact that the offense had a ton of carry-over, improved in both the running back and wide receiver rooms, and had a quarterback who couldn’t have been more motivated to better his career-best numbers from the previous season.

Does that also come down to coaching? Because, to me, that comes down to coaching.

***

Here’s my ultimate ruling on the question at the top:

I think, personnel-wise, the 2023 Seahawks were better than the 2022 Seahawks. However, I think the play on the field was worse. The numbers bear that out, even if their records were the same. We were -38 in point differential in 2023, meaning we probably overachieved. The NFL record 7 go-ahead TD passes by Geno Smith in the 4th quarter or OT sort of proves that point. We had a +6 point differential in 2022, which seems appropriate for a 9-8 team. So, while things were disappointing for Geno Smith, and some of the other veterans in 2023, I don’t think they were so much worse that it cost us. Ultimately, I put it on our coaching staff – our coordinators specifically, though Pete Carroll certainly doesn’t get a pass from me at this point – as the reason why the 2023 Seahawks were worse.

I believe, with more competent leadership, the 2023 Seahawks should’ve won more games and reached the playoffs.

That doesn’t mean I believe this team was good enough to win the NFC West. They clearly had a ceiling that was much lower than the 49ers. But, I do believe we should’ve beaten the Rams at least once, if not twice. Win one and we’re in the playoffs. Win both, we’re 11-6 and playing in Tampa in the first round of the playoffs (while the Rams would’ve been 8-9 and on the outside looking in, where they belonged).

So, in that sense, it’s pretty clear why Pete Carroll needed to go. We can’t really tell at this time if it was a matter of the messaging not getting through, or too much meddling by Pete in the personnel decisions to keep around these guys who are getting up there (saying nothing of giving up a second round draft pick for half of a season of Leonard Williams). But, I believe we didn’t have the proper staff in place to get the best out of these players. A more run-focused offensive scheme (becoming almost exclusively either a run or play-action team), with more attention paid to stopping the run and generating pressure by being blitz-heavy on defense, likely would’ve enhanced our win/loss record.

What we couldn’t do were the same things we’ve done the last 5+ years. What we couldn’t do was declare a shift towards a 3-4 defense, only to pretty much play a random hodgepodge of the exact defensive fronts we’ve used all along. What we couldn’t do was give up huge defensive cushions underneath – hoping to take away the deep ball – only to give up the deep ball anyway, and everything else opposing offenses wanted to do. Change it up! Drastically, if necessary! But, do SOMETHING.

This team did nothing, and mediocrity was our end result. Let’s hope that doesn’t continue on into 2024.

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