That’s the question we’re asking ourselves all offseason. It’s really the only relevant question to the 2023 season from a Seahawks perspective.
The 49ers were 13-4 last year, and very clearly the second-best team in the NFC. They were the #2 seed in the playoffs, they met Philly in the NFC Championship Game (the #1 seed, naturally), and they got pounded into submission.
The 49ers had one of the best and deepest rosters in the NFL, on both sides of the ball. They’re well-coached, and they have a quality offensive system that allows them to plug & play literally any quarterback (including Brock Purdy, a rookie last year who was taken with the literal final pick in the NFL Draft), and they’re STACKED where it counts. They have one of the best running backs (when healthy) in Christian McCaffrey. They have one of the best wide receivers (when healthy) in Deebo Samuel. They have one of the best tight ends (when healthy) in George Kittle. They have one of the best defensive linemen (when healthy) in Nick Bosa. They have one of the best middle linebackers (who’s always healthy) in Fred Warner. Now, the fact that almost all of these guys have had major injuries recently – yet were all healthy in 2022 – tells me the 49ers were exceedingly lucky last year. One has to wonder if that’s going to carry over; perhaps that’s a feather in our cap.
Where the 49ers are most in flux is at quarterback. Jimmy G is gone. Brock Purdy got injured at season’s end and is no sure thing to return by the start of this regular season. Trey Lance got hurt early on and was lost for most of 2022; he’ll be back, but now there are questions about his viability as a starter going forward. And their big hedge in all this is Sam Darnold, I guess?
Here’s the deal: talking about injuries, or pontificating on who the quarterback is going to be, leaves a lot of variables in play. I’m not interested in “What Ifs” when it comes to the 49ers. I think Brock Purdy will come back and play again; I believe he’ll be in the majority of the games this season. I also believe – as noted up top – they can roll with anyone (including Sam Darnold) and be fine on offense. They have enough talent at the skill spots to move the chains, and they have a deep enough defense to not need a lot of points to win games. Now, they didn’t have much of an opportunity to fill things out in the draft – and eventually the chickens will come home to roost for this franchise – but I’m going into 2023 believing the 49ers will be pretty much as good as they were in 2022. Without even looking at their schedule, I’ll pencil them in for 11-13 wins right now.
I want to focus on the Seahawks more than the 49ers, for obvious reasons. I follow the Seahawks more closely. This is a Seattle-centric blog. And the onus is on the Seahawks to have done enough to bridge the gap.
The 2022 Seahawks were also in the playoffs, as a wild card team, with a 9-8 record. For our hard work, we were rewarded by playing the 49ers in the first round. We got obliterated. Indeed, we lost three games to the 49ers last year, and none of them were particularly close. We couldn’t move the ball! That’s the long and the short of it; we couldn’t move the ball until we were already getting killed, and by that point it didn’t matter. None of the games were competitive, and that’s hard to do when both teams are playoff teams, who are in the same division. We know the 49ers! There were no surprises. They just beat our fucking asses, mano a mano.
This post isn’t just about beating the 49ers this year. It’s about overtaking them for the NFC West title. Any team on any given Sunday and all that; we could fuck around and luck into a win. But, I’m more interested in going toe-to-toe with the 49ers over the long haul. So, what have the Seahawks done?
- We signed Jason Myers to an extension. He’s great every other year, so I’m a little worried about what 2023 has in store. That being said, the 49ers just drafted a kicker, so I’d be more concerned if I were them.
- We signed Geno Smith to an extension. Obviously, this is much bigger news than a kicker. His contract is pretty well tied up with his performance; if he does even a fraction of a percent better than he did last year, he’ll get PAID. If he fails to live up to what he did last year, he’ll still get paid, but considerably less.
- We signed Dre’Mont Jones and Jarran Reed to plug the middle of our defensive line. They both feature vast improvements in pass rush ability, with moderate improvements in run stuffing.
- We filled out our offensive line with trusted veterans (on short-term deals) and exciting rookies (on long-term deals). Gabe Jackson is no more, but Phil Haynes returns (and figures to get first crack at one of the guard spots opposite Damien Lewis). Evan Brown was brought in to compete at center; he replaces Austin Blythe (who was a detriment for us last year) and figures to be much more competent. We also drafted a couple of thrilling prospects in Anthony Bradford (humongous guard taken in the 4th round) and Olu Oluwatimi (a savvy 5th round pick who many project to become our starting center as early as game 1).
- We signed Devin Bush and Julian Love at inside linebacker and safety, respectively. Bush is a potential reclamation project who – at the very least – should be a slight improvement over Cody Barton. Love is much more interesting, as he figures to be a major hedge against the inevitable Jamal Adams injury. Love essentially cost us Ryan Neal, but it still feels like a solid upgrade at the position.
- We brought back Bobby Wagner, which was vitally important, considering how mediocre we were at linebacker last year (again, see: Cody Barton), as well as factoring in the Jordyn Brooks injury (who figures to start this year on the PUP list, and might not be back to normal again until 2024). This improves our run defense, our communication on defense, and gives us another brilliant mind on this side of the ball to ensure players are in the right spots and doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
- Then, we went out and drafted the best cornerback and wide receiver in the class. We also brought in a couple of very promising running backs (to replace Penny and Homer), a few defensive linemen to fill out our depth, and even another safety who is getting all kinds of kudos (Jerrick Reed won’t be a starter – or even much of a defensive participant – in year one, but he figures to cut his teeth on Special Teams, and could eventually develop into a Quandre Diggs replacement down the road). It appears to be the second consecutive elite draft class by the Seahawks – with a major emphasis on Best Player Available – and as we all know, there’s no better way to quickly turn around your franchise than to draft the way we did from 2010-2012.
And that’s the rub, isn’t it? The previous iteration of a championship-level Seahawks squad took three drafts to reach. So far, this one has only had (MAYBE) the two. Granted, finding even ONE elite draft class is a stretch, for any organization. But, if we want to keep up with the Joneses, we gotta be on the ball. I will say – in comparison to the L.O.B. squad – that we are starting from a MUCH better spot compared to what the Seahawks were from 2009 to 2010 (when Pete Carroll and John Schneider took over). So, an optimist might say that we only NEED the two elite draft classes.
What do I like? Let’s start there.
I’m absolutely enamored with the non-quarterback skill guys on offense. D.K., Tyler, and JSN are all incredible; here’s hoping JSN gets healthy and stays there (it’s disconcerting that he’s still dealing with an injury he suffered in college). Kenneth Walker returns (along with DeeJay Dallas, I guess), and gets paired with a couple of rookies who look tremendous. The tight ends are fine Seahawks tight ends.
I like the potential of this offensive line. Our two hotshot tackles had a full (healthy) year to experience everything the NFL had to offer; the hope is they take a big step forward in year two. The interior should be solid, if not improved over the dead weight we jettisoned this offseason. Any amount of extra time we can give Geno Smith is only going to help him when it comes to finding all his weapons.
Speaking of, I don’t hate the Geno signing, but I especially love how incentivized it is. He’s hungry, he proved he’s at least a capable starter in this league, now we’ll see if – with all this talent around him – he can take his game to another level.
And, how do you not like the secondary? Tariq Woolen as a rookie showed he’s capable of being a top cover guy. Coby Bryant as a rookie showed he’s capable of being a quality nickel guy. We still have Quandre Diggs playing at a high level (as another veteran leader to keep guys in line). We still have Jamal Adams (who is dynamic when he’s on the field). We still have promising depth in Tre Brown and Mike Jackson. Then, you add the consensus best cornerback in this draft class, to go opposite Woolen. That makes the whole room CONSIDERABLY better. Then, you add one of the top free agent safety acquisitions in Love. Then, you add another rookie safety to the mix who looks like a valuable depth piece. The secondary is fucking LOADED. It might eventually be better than it ever was, and that’s saying something.
What don’t I like?
I’m going to single out the linebackers here, but specifically I’m talking about the inside linebackers. We were already one of the worst units last year; we might be worse this year. Bobby Wagner gets a lot of credit for what he did with the Rams last year, especially with everything crumbling around him thanks to injuries and the team losing. But, how good was he really? I think a lot of Seahawks fans saw what he did in those two games against Seattle – where he was hyper-motivated to rub it in our faces – but are ignoring the rest. And are ignoring how he’s looked the last few seasons, when he’s been in unquestionable decline compared to his prime. Eventually, it’s going to come crashing down for Bobby; maybe that’s 2023. But, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend we get his exact 2022 production; is that better than what a healthy Jordyn Brooks gave us? I dunno. There’s also a lot of doubt about Bush, and some second thoughts about Cody Barton (especially with Barton getting a multi-year deal with the erstwhile Washington Football Team). If Bobby’s worse than Brooks, and Bush is worse than Barton, YE GODS! That’s a nightmare scenario.
Then, there’s just the blanket Defensive Line, but it’s really broken down into Pass Rush and Run Defense.
I thought the pass rush last year was good, not great. It took a while before the team understood how to properly utilize Darrell Taylor (he’s not an every-down outside linebacker/defensive end; he’s more strictly a guy you want to save for obvious pass rushing situations). Uchenna Nwosu was our best performer all year. Boye Mafe was just okay as a rookie, but I’m not expecting much from him ever. Derick Hall gets the honor of being this year’s Boye Mafe – and he’s getting rave reviews so far in OTAs – but I’m not expecting anything here either. Mario Edwards was just signed as a low-priced veteran defensive end, but he’s never done much in pass rush in his career.
What should we expect from our pass rush? At best, probably what we saw last year. Dre’Mont Jones is a wild card here; if he can consistently blow things up in the middle, that’s going to make everyone’s jobs on the outside a lot easier. But, I wouldn’t hold my breath. At worst, the pass rush takes a step back, and this is still our #1 priority next offseason (just like it was this offseason).
I thought – as does literally everyone – the run defense last year was total and complete shit. We lopped off a lot of dead weight: gone are Al Woods, Poona Ford, Shelby Harris, Quinton Jefferson, and L.J. Collier, among others. And we brought in Jones, Reed, Edwards, and rookies Cameron Young and Mike Morris. We retained Bryan Mone, but he’s injured and it’s not clear when he’s going to be ready to play again. We could’ve had Jalen Carter, so that’ll forever be a major What If. We also could’ve held onto Al Woods for not much more money than what his dead cap figure amounts to, but we’re up against the salary cap and already had to convert some Tyler Lockett money into signing bonus proration, just to sign our rookies.
Could the run defense be worse this year? It was so bad last year, I find that hard to believe, but I guess I have to admit it’s possible. I’m hoping that continuity among the coaching staff will lead to a better understanding of the scheme by the players, as well as a better understanding by the personnel people as to who needs to be on this roster, to fit in with that scheme. Is there a run-plugging diamond in the rough, either among the rookies or the back-of-the-roster holdovers from last year? Poona Ford and Bryan Mone both came from out of nowhere to be major contributors for this team, so anything’s possible.
All told, where does that put us compared to last year?
If we get modest improvements out of the run defense and pass rush, we should see tremendous value from our secondary and enough explosiveness from our offense to be improved over last year. I could see the Seahawks winning anywhere from 9-12 games, as long as we don’t suffer too many major injuries. I’ve got the 49ers at 11-13 wins, so what I’ll say is I think the Seahawks have given themselves a chance. I think we’ve done enough to compete on their level. That doesn’t mean I’m expecting us to blow them out ever; I think we can eke out one victory in the regular season, and be within a game of them by season’s end.
Gun to my head, if I have to make a definitive prediction, I would say the Seahawks finish a game back. Or, maybe tied in record, but losing to them via tiebreakers. Bottom line, I’m still predicting the 49ers win the NFC West; but I do think we’ll have a better wild card spot than we did a year ago, and hopefully that means we won’t have to play them in the first round again.
So, no, I don’t think the Seahawks have done enough to overtake the 49ers in 2023. But, at this rate, 2024 is ON THE TABLE.