Pre-Pre-Season Preview: Seahawks Special Teams

Aside from digging into the various news stories, I’ve largely neglected talking about the Seahawks by design:  2017 was a bitter pill to swallow.  After such a sustained stretch of brilliance, this team was a slog to cover last year; but, they’ve jettisoned a lot of aging veterans, brought in fresh blood throughout the organization, and I would argue there’s some reasons to be optimistic (even though my default prediction is that this team will win anywhere from 7-9 games; everything would have to go perfectly in our favor to get to 10 wins or more, and when does THAT ever happen?).

So, with precious few weeks remaining until the pre-season games kick things off, I’ve got a quickie series of posts where I’ll look at the 7 areas of this team as they’re set up right now:

Without further ado, let’s talk about the Seahawks’ Special Teams.

Kickers

Sebastian Janikowski vs. Jason Myers.  The sure-footed veteran on a 1-year prove-it deal following an injury-riddled 2017 vs. a booming-legged youngster who’s bounced around the league, but has yet to put it all together.

Any way you slice it, the Seahawks are MUCH improved over the fucking disaster that was Blair Walsh.  Though, I guess we have to wonder:  are we better off than we would’ve been had we re-signed Steven Hauschka?

I still stand behind the decision to move on from Hauschka, even though he killed it for Buffalo (including a perfect 29/29 on his PATs after missing a whopping 6 with the Seahawks in 2016).  With kickers, so much of it is a mental game, which is why Walsh is out of the league now.  He missed that playoff field goal with the Vikings (against the Seahawks) and never recovered.  Hauschka essentially lost his job in Seattle because of a bunch of missed extra points and field goals (including that infuriating 6-6 tie in Arizona in 2016).  Who’s to say he didn’t need a fresh start, across the country and in the opposite conference, a lot closer to his hometown than Seattle?  Kickers can be volatile – much like bullpen arms in baseball – by being hot one year and a disaster the next, with no rhyme or reason for either; but he was looking for a pricey, long-term extension and given his performance in 2016, I don’t think it was the smartest play to keep him.

There is, however, something to be said for investing in your kicker, though, and not just dumpster diving for scraps.  So many games hinge on a field goal here, or an extra point there, that if you end up with a dud like Walsh, it can mean the difference between going 9-7 and missing out on the playoffs, or going 11-5 (or even 12-4) and maybe winning the division.

As for this battle, I don’t see the Seahawks making a rash decision here.  I think they want to solve their kicking riddle for the long term, not just patch things over temporarily only to have to fix things all over again in a year’s time.  As such, I think Myers is going to be given every opportunity to win this job, and I think it’s the appropriate move.  I mostly think that because I don’t believe this is a playoff team (I certainly don’t believe it’s a championship team, not with all the loaded NFC teams this year), and I also don’t think that Janikowski has a lot left in the tank.

But, I do think it’s a true position battle.  Janikowski has the edge because he can be relied upon.  Also, he has some cachet as a former first round draft pick and future hall of famer.  You don’t throw him away if Myers has a bad pre-season because you have a hunch that he could be the kicker of the future.  All things being equal, I think Myers wins the job.  Short of that, Janikowski is your man and you look to solve this riddle next year.

As I said before, this is all a vast improvement over 2017, as at worst you have a guy in Janikowski who will at the very least make the ones he’s supposed to make.  For that reason alone, I give this grade a B+.

Punters

Feels weird having a punter battle, but here we are.

This feels like less of a battle and more like a lamb going to slaughter, though.  Michael Dickson was widely considered to be the best punter in the draft this year and we traded up in the fifth round to grab him.  Jon Ryan is heading into his 13th season, is coming off of a down year, and is making considerably more money.  Dickson would have to totally fall on his face to lose this job.

From what I’ve seen in videos and read about online, Dickson looks like the real fucking deal!  Look, I love Jon Ryan and what he’s done for this team; he’s the MVP for crying out loud!  But, Dickson could be one of the best punters in the game, and right out of the gate!

It sounds idiotic to be excited about seeing a punter in the pre-season, but I have to admit, among all the newcomers we brought in this off-season, he’s near the top of my list.  I mean, the first time he’s able to down a punt inside the five yard line, I guarantee I’m going to scream and yell and jump out of my seat, giving high fives to all the confused people around me in that moment.  I can’t wait.

Grade:  A+

Coverage Units

This one is pretty hard to project, because it involves so many of the players at the back-end of the roster.  And because I don’t really know any of the stats or sabermetrics dealing with kickoff and punt coverage units.

I do know this:  the Seahawks have some horses on this roster.  The athleticism in our special teams units should be as good as they’ve been since 2013 or 2014.  Obviously, the name that sticks out the most is Shaquem Griffin.  We’re all sitting here wondering how he’s going to fit into the defense (will they play him at SAM, at WILL, at LEO, or possibly move him to safety?), but one thing we know for certain is he’s destined to be one of our most important special teamers.  How do we know that?  Because his twin brother – as a rookie – became our starting cornerback last year out of the gate.  Shaquem is just as fast, is slightly bigger & stronger, and all he’s missing is one of his hands (which could theoretically be a strength when it comes to shedding blockers to make tackles).  I mean, just imagine if BOTH of the Griffin brothers are playing special teams!

The Seahawks may be lacking in the superstars they once had, but I would argue our depth is stronger than it’s been in three or four years.  With that being the case, competition to make this roster is going to be as tough as it’s been in a long time, and that obviously means guys are going to have to be rockstars on special teams to get on the roster for week 1.

That trickle-down effect should mean great coverage, on top of the fact that Dickson is elite at getting hangtime (while still getting great distance) on his punts, and whoever wins the kicking battle is sure to boom a good percentage of kickoffs into the endzone.

Grade:  A

Return Game

As we’re deeper than ever in our coverage units, so are we deeper than ever in our return game.  Tyler Lockett is obviously the returning starter.  He’s coming off a full year being healthy – after being injured late in 2016 – and was really looking good by season’s end.  That’s a great sign as we head into 2018, as presumably he’s as strong as ever.  Likewise, going into a contract year, he’s going to be hungry to earn a big extension.  I expect great things.

And, if we opt to go in another direction – particularly on kickoffs, where rule changes could prove it beneficial to have multiple returners standing back there – Rashaad Penny was a top-notch returner in college.  That’s on top of having a number of receivers who could be up to the task, depending on who wins one of those final roster spots.

Not only do we have depth, but we have ELITE depth.  It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see a lot of long returns (and touchdown returns) contribute to some important wins.

Grade:  A

There are lots of question marks on both sides of the football for the Seahawks, but Special Teams will be the without-a-doubt #1 strength of this team in 2018, mark my words.  A’s across the board!

History Of The Kicker Position For The Seattle Seahawks

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Seahawks Death Week: No Post-Season For The First Time Since 2011

I don’t know if there’s any point in rehashing this one too in depth, so let’s blow through it really quick:  the Seahawks lost at home to the Arizona Cardinals.  Led by Drew Stanton and his slightly torn ACL (that still left him spry enough to repeatedly run away from Michael Bennett in the open field), the Cards racked up 259 yards en route to a 26-24 victory.  Of course, the most mind-boggling thing was their 20-7 halftime lead, but at this point should it even be all that mind-boggling anymore?  We suck early in games, period.  That only made the inevitable second half comeback all the more painful in the end, as Blair Walsh sailed yet another field goal wide of its target in the closing seconds of the game.

Of course, by that point, it was known that the Panthers – behind garbage-ass Cam Newton’s 3 interceptions – lost to the Falcons, blowing their opportunity to win their division in the process (because, against all odds, the Bucs actually managed to beat the Saints).  So, it didn’t really matter what Blair Walsh did, and missing that kick actually made things better for the Seahawks, not just in dropping our draft pick from 20 to 18, but ensuring that there’s no fucking way this front office loses its collective minds and opts to re-sign that good-for-nothing piece of shit kicker.  21 of 29, for the worst season percentage of his career.  3 of those misses were under 40 yards (not counting the extra point he also missed), and 0 of those makes were 50 yards or more.  Ostensibly, we brought Walsh in here to be a cheaper alternative to Steven Hauschka, but we also brought him in here because of his big leg.  Once it was determined that he couldn’t be trusted, he finished the season with just 1 attempt over 50 yards, so obviously that was a huge embarrassing failure of a signing.

But, you can’t blame the fact that the Seahawks missed out on the playoffs on a terrible kicker like Blair Walsh (though, you can certainly trace at least a couple of these close losses to his missed field goals).  There’s plenty of blame to go around for why the Seahawks finished 9-7 and outside of the playoffs.  We’ll get into more of that as Seahawks Death Week goes on.

Before we get to that, a few notes on this final game of the season:

Tyler Lockett looked amazing, particularly on his kickoff return for a TD.  He’s slowly but surely returning to form after his devastating injury; I would expect great things from him in 2018.

I hope the Seahawks can bring Byron Maxwell back on the cheap.  He’d be a nice depth piece to have behind Sherm and Griffin.  I would also hope DeShawn Shead can return, but I think that’s less likely.  He’s probably looking for more of a starting role, and if he shows out in workouts, could very well command a salary this team has no business matching.  Besides, Justin Coleman appears to have that slot corner position on lockdown, so there isn’t a lot of room for more DBs (assuming, of course, that the team goes out in the draft and picks up another one).

I would absolutely love it for Dion Jordan to stay on.  I’ll get to where he should play in the coming days (hint:  so long, Michael Bennett), but I thought he was clearly the best defensive lineman on the field for the Seahawks in the last couple weeks, and it would’ve been nice to see him at least get more than 50% of the defensive snaps.

I’m less high on Sheldon Richardson returning, but I’d consider it for a couple reasons:  I don’t want the Seahawks to waste their time on high-priced free agents from other teams (mostly because I want some good compensatory draft picks for 2019).  While he would certainly figure in that equation if he walked away, I just don’t know who you could bring in to fill that spot, unless you’re sure Malik McDowell can come back from whatever stole his rookie season from him.  I have my doubts there.  Obviously, though, if Richardson is looking for Ndamukong Suh-type money, then let him walk.  But, if he can be had at the right price, with an out after 2-3 years, I say jump on it!

Okay, so I’m jumping on some of my future posts, so I’ll wrap it up with this:  I think the Seahawks need a lot of work in their receiver corps.  Baldwin is a stud, Lockett is criminally under-utilized, but as for the rest … yeesh.

My Big Fat Seahawks Preview 2017

It’s insane at work right now, so I’m looking for little pockets of time to write this out and get it done on time before the weekend.  If it feels disjointed, just blame the scapegoat du jour.

I’ve already written a couple of preview-ish things on the 2017 Seahawks.  Back in April, when the schedule came out, I took a preliminary stab at predicting the outcomes.  Now that we’re just days away from the start of the season, I’ll update that with the power of new information!  Then, back in July, I took a look at the roster as we were barrelling toward Training Camp.  I don’t know how much my opinion has changed – from either of those two earlier posts – so if I harp on the same points, forgive me, but I just don’t have the time to re-read all of my blatherings.

I will say this:  whereas before I was cautiously optimistic – believing if everything broke right, it wasn’t hard to imagine this team back in the Super Bowl – now I’m a rock-hard, veiny, throbbing erection of populist Seahawks swaggeration!  I haven’t felt this confident about my team since the start of 2013!  Except, to be honest, I’ll have to walk that back a bit and say I haven’t felt this confident about my team since the start of 2014.  I mean, look, that 2013 team was CRAZY deep and CRAZY talented, up and down the roster.  On top of that, the 2013 team actually had a competent offensive line, whereas this year’s team is still very much in doubt (in spite of recent improved pre-season play, which I’ll get to in a bit).  Frankly, I was still pretty stoked on the Seahawks heading into 2014, and indeed pegged them for a repeat championship, which they had in their grasp one yard from fruition, but it wasn’t as solid a feeling as 2013.

This year is the same, in my mind.  The talent is there, no question.  In fact, in some areas, the talent is vastly improved (at least on paper).  And, the depth is in some ways back to where it was in 2013.  But, the last few years of creeping failure is clouding my enthusiasm JUST enough to have this nagging creature of doubt in the corner of my mind-grapes.  I’m doing my damnedest to give that guy the finger though, because I want to be ALL IN on the ground floor with this Seahawks team.

TL;DR:  WE’RE BACK, BABY!!!

Let’s just take this position by position, to show you how strong this team is, and to show the world how foolish it is to doubt us.

Quarterback – Top 5 in the entire league, fully healthy, in great running shape (the better to compensate for a questionable-to-say-the-least offensive line).

Running Backs – A deep stable of runners of all stars and stripes!  Lacy, the power back.  Prosise, the speed/pass-catching back.  Rawls, the good mix of both.  McKissic, the Prosise insurance.  Carson, the overall back & everyone else insurance.  If you can’t have Marshawn Lynch in his prime, then the next best thing is to stockpile 5 guys who add up to 1 Beastmode.

Wide Receivers – A Top 10 guy in Baldwin.  A burner in Lockett.  Another burner with outstanding ball skills in P-Rich.  A tall red zone threat in McEvoy.  And a rookie project in Darboh.  Not as deep without Kearse in the fold, but if you throw in McKissic and Prosise, you’ve got a lot of versatility in the passing game.

Tight Ends – A Top 3 guy in Graham.  Another tall receiving threat in Willson.  And a young blocking tight end with a good pedigree in Vannett.

Defensive Line – Off-the-charts talent all over the place.  Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are proven studs.  Sheldon Richardson is the pass-rushing interior force we’ve been looking for since Cortez Kennedy retired.  Frank Clark is an up-and-coming dominant force who should look to take a giant step into the spotlight this season.  Jones and Reed are young interior talents with a lot to prove.  Smith and Bass are young ends with a lot to prove.  This could go down as the best D-Line we’ve ever had in Seattle, and yes even better than that 2013 unit that laid waste to the entire league.

Linebackers – More off-the-charts talent in guys like Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright; guys who can cover all over the place, who are dominant against the run, and who can rush the passer on occasion.  Depth here is vastly improved over the last couple seasons, with proven vets in Wilhoite & Garvin.  Injuries should not be as much of an issue as they would’ve been in years past.

Secondary – The L.O.B. is still here and still as good as ever.  Earl, Kam, and Sherm comprise the best threesome of any secondary in the NFL.  Jeremy Lane is a solid all-around corner, with emphasis on nickel.  Shaq Griffin is the only question mark, but he’s got a good pedigree and should get plenty of safety help in the early going.

Special Teams – Blair Walsh looks like he’s starting to get back on track, but will have to prove it when the games matter.  Either way, he shouldn’t be as bad as Hauschka was last year, particularly on extra points.  Jon Ryan is still going to keep opposing offenses pinned back inside their 20 more often than not, and overall control the return game with his quality punts.  The return game is bolstered with McKissic as insurance for Lockett, should the team opt to bring him back slowly, or otherwise take some of the duties off his plate.  And, coverage units look a lot better with Neiko Thorpe, D.J. Alexander, and our rookie secondary guys.

The only real area of uncertainty is, obviously, the offensive line.  Everywhere else, the Seahawks have elite, top-shelf talent and depth.  So, let’s dig into this.

An argument can easily be made that past seasons’ O-Line groups were made to look better than they actually were because Marshawn Lynch was so money, and I’m hard pressed to go against that line of thinking.  Can any of the runners we have now live up to that and make this group of guys look better than they are?  I think, maybe, in small doses, Lacy can be that type of runner who limits negative rushes and falls forward for impressive gains.  I also think, in between injuries, Rawls can certainly be a Baby Beastmode with his style, but the question with him is how long will those healthy stints last?  Prosise has the speed to get around the edge and through holes before they close, but he’ll have to prove he can stay healthy too.

Indeed, even in the pass-protection portion of the O-Line game, the major concern is health:  can they keep Russell Wilson from getting injured?  Obviously, Wilson can help out his own cause by getting the ball out quickly and eluding pressure before it’s right on top of him; but they’re going to have to drastically reduce the amount of free runners at the quarterback if this thing is going to work.

In a lot of ways, injuries are a matter of luck, and the Seahawks were pretty fucking unlucky last year.  Not 2017 Mariners unlucky, but not too far off either.  What are the odds that Wilson will spend the entire season hobbled again?  In a vacuum, I’d have to say not very good; but with this line I think you have to consider it a coin flip at best.  Luck is one thing, but there are things a team can do to limit the amount of bad luck that comes your way.  Getting improved O-Line play is one of them.

For what it’s worth, I do think this line will be better than last year’s, and I think it’ll be better right from the start.  This is key, as there are a lot of important games early in the season, and we can’t afford to slog through 10 weeks of growing pains before we go on our annual year-end hot streak.

I think Odhiambo, with a year under his belt, will be better than Brad Sowell and 2016 George Fant.  Since Fant, last year, was about as bad as you can get, I’d say that’s a huge upgrade (and Odhiambo doesn’t even have to be GOOD to achieve this level of improvement!).  Now, obviously losing 2017 Fant to injury is about as devastating as it can get, because he really did look like he was going to take a huge step forward in his development, but I’ll take baby steps at this point over what we had last year.

Luke Joeckel looks like a solid upgrade over Glowinski at left guard.  Paired with Britt at center, I think that side of the line will be just fine.

Glowinski slides over to right guard, which appears to be his better side.  He’s been playing somewhat evenly with free agent Oday Aboushi, so it’s good to know at least the right guard spot should be adequate (and probably a step above 2016 Ifedi).

My biggest concern is 2017 Ifedi, having moved back to right tackle (where he played in college and was projected to play in the NFL).  I’ve seen this movie before, but usually it’s a right tackle who gets moved to one of the guard spots, and not the other way around.  The consensus being:  tackle is a harder position to play than guard (which is a harder position to play than center … hi Justin Britt!).  So, the rationale ends up as:  if Ifedi was pretty terrible at right guard last year, what hope is there for him as a right tackle?  Indeed, I don’t have a good answer for you there.  Again, I suppose I’ll bring up the experience angle.  The leap from rookie to second year player, particularly along the O-Line, is pretty pronounced.  You gotta figure he’s at the very least more comfortable in his assignments.  And, at his size, you’ve gotta give him the power advantage over what should be smaller defensive end/linebacker types going up against him (whereas when he was a guard, he was going up against mammoth D-tackles).  His limitations are obviously in the speed game, where his footwork comes into play.  I have very few concerns about Ifedi the run blocker, but I have a SHITLOAD of concerns about him in pass protection, as I think some of the better pass rushers can rope-a-dope the shit out of him.  We’ll see I guess.

Overall, as I said, I have hopes that instead of being the 32nd-rated offensive line, the Seahawks can jump up to the 25th-best.  Even that modest increase could prove to take this offense to as-yet-unseen heights of efficiency and scoring prowess.

Things to watch this season on offense will be:

  • 3rd down efficiency
  • Red zone efficiency
  • Yards per rush

In 2016, it seemed like the Seahawks were more prone to mistakes (penalties, missed blocking assignments) on third down, which is just a ball-buster.  No one is expecting the Seahawks to cut out the penalties entirely (indeed, some of their very best teams were among the most penalized in the league), but they’ve got to do a better job of not holding on long rushing plays, not getting called for offensive PI on pick plays, and not setting themselves back with third & long nonsense.

For the red zone, it’s simple:  find a way to get Jimmy Graham the ball.  Full stop.  He was the man in New Orleans and he had 9 or more TDs in all but one season there.  That needs to happen again, here, this season (and I’m not just saying that because he’s on one of my fantasy teams, but I’m also not NOT just saying that either, I think).

And, look for the Seahawks to get back to their rushing roots.  Beastmode may be gone, but the running backs we have now are more than capable of picking up that slack.  I’d also like to see a moderate return to the zone read, with Wilson pulling the ball back on occasion to keep defenses honest.  Also, not for nothing, but I’d like to see Wilson do this EARLY in games, to put that in other teams’ minds from the get-go.

On defense, watch for:

  • Turnovers
  • Late-game heroics
  • Quarterback pressure, hurries, hits, sacks

To get back to where we were in 2013, we’re going to have to force turnovers.  That goes hand-in-hand with pressuring the quarterback into bad decisions, as well as knocking the ball from his hand for fumbles.  That also goes hand-in-hand with the late game heroics, as we need to prevent those breakdowns we’ve seen in 2015 & 2016, and instead force turnovers to slam the door on those close games.  It’s a team game, and nowhere is that more apparent than the symbiotic relationship that is an NFL defense.

As for this year’s record, I’ll go through the schedule again, briefly.

  • Week 1 – I like the Seahawks to go into Green Bay and shock the world.  It’ll be our official announcement to the rest of the league that the Seahawks are here, they’re for real, and they’re going to stomp all over the lot of you!
  • Week 2 – A comfortable home victory against the young, rebuilding 49ers team.  Maybe not as dominant as we’d like, as they do have some young and talented pieces (particularly on defense), but a win is a win.
  • Week 3 – The Seahawks under Pete Carroll always seem to lose one road game to an AFC opponent that we’re all pretty unfamiliar with (except for last year, randomly, although we almost blew one at home against the Dolphins in week 1).  I think the Titans are really good and I could see the combination of their dominant rushing attack, and efficient passing game (particularly in the red zone) to just nip us for our first loss of the season
  • Week 4 – I like the Seahawks to get back on track at home, in primetime, against a weak Indy team.  With or without Luck, I like the Seahawks to roll.
  • Week 5 – No more losing to the Rams!  Jeff Fisher is dead, and with him so is the Rams’ proclivity of beating us for no good God damned reason.
  • Week 6 – BYE
  • Week 7 – I’m not particularly afraid of the Giants’ running game.  While they’ve got some good receivers, I think we can hold them in check and put enough pressure on Eli into forcing some mistakes.  Their defense is legit, but I like the Seahawks to do just enough in this one and win a close game by 3 in overtime.
  • Week 8 – The Texans come to town and will be sent packing.  I could see this one as a battle of defenses, with the Seahawks pulling away late.  Something in the realm of 16-3 or 16-6.
  • Week 9 – The Redskins come to town and they feel like just the sort of team who should be held in check by us.  Force Kirk Cousins into the worst game of his season, eliminate all threat of a rushing attack, and really take it to their porous defense.
  • Week 10 – Thursday Night in Arizona.  By this time, I wonder if Carson Palmer will even be playing.  Either way, he showed his age in 2016, and I can’t imagine he’ll be in for a fountain of youth situation this year.  No Calais Campbell, no monster in the middle to defend.  I think this is another game where the 12’s will make themselves heard on the road, and the Seahawks take the game comfortably in the fourth quarter.
  • Week 11 – Monday Night in Seattle against the Falcons.  I know the Seahawks took them out in the regular season last year, and I know we’ll be coming off of a Thursday game (and thus have all this extra time to prepare), but I can’t help but be concerned about this one.  I think it’ll be exciting and I think it’ll be close, but I could also see the Falcons just having our number and being able to score in bunches.  Rare home Monday Night loss for the Seahawks here.
  • Week 12 – At San Francisco, again, I think they should be relative push-overs.
  • Week 13 – Home night game against Philly.  I don’t see enough out of their offense to hold a candle to our defense.  Another comfortable, boring win at home at night.
  • Week 14 – I could see the Seahawks getting off to a sloppy start on the road, in a 10am start, in Jacksonville.  But, by the second quarter, the tide should turn and the Seahawks should take this one running away.
  • Week 15 – I SAID NO MORE LOSING TO THE RAMS!!!
  • Week 16 – Here we go!  Christmas Eve in Dallas!  In what could very well be a matchup that decides the NFC’s #1 seed!  I can’t imagine the odds of the Seahawks sweeping the NFC East are very good, but I dunno.  I just got a feeling that the Seahawks are going to sweep this road slate of impossible NFC teams (Packers, Giants, Cowboys).  This one could be another barnburner, with a late turnover keying the Seahawks to victory.
  • Week 17 – At 13-2 headed into the final week, I think the Seahawks rest a lot of guys after a quarter or two and drop the season finale, with the #1 seed all wrapped up.

13-3 is my official prediction.  The Seahawks cruise through the playoffs into the Super Bowl where they await the darlings of the NFL:  the Oakland Raiders.  Everything about that game gets my loins all a-tizzy.  Also, the idea of sticking it to the Raiders brings me tremendous joy.

The Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl LII Champions!

Okay, that’s all for now.  Let’s get this season in gear!

Seahawks Add “Competition” To The Kicker Position

The Seahawks are the kings of preaching neverending competition, then stacking the deck HEAVILY one-sided so the players they want to win this so-called competition end up getting the jobs.  It happened with Russell Wilson getting the start in the 3rd pre-season game of his rookie year against a VERY hapless Chiefs team (instead of starting against better defenses in Denver or Tennessee); all of a sudden, Russell Wilson does Russell Wilson things and BOOM, he’s the starter.  It’s happened the last two years with the O-line, with the Seahawks scraping the bottom of the barrel just so their mediocre draft picks and undrafted rookies look better.  And now, they’ve brought in a guy who’s never attempted a kick in a regular season game to compete with Blair Walsh.

I’M ON TO YOU GUYS!

John Lunsford is a guy, apparently.  As I said, he hasn’t kicked a real field goal in the NFL in his life.  His final year of college was in 2015, so I assume in the last year-plus he’s just been biding his time, practicing kicking?

I dunno, I got nothing here.  My only question is:  who do the Seahawks WANT to win this job?  That’s what’s unclear.  Both Lunsford and Walsh appear to be equally mediocre, albeit in different ways.  Maybe there’s more upside with Lunsford, with the unknown factor?  He apparently hit 12 field goals in college of 50 yards or more, with a long of 60, so the leg is there.  And the leg isn’t just going to go away; ostensibly you could see his leg get stronger and his kicks go farther the more he practices and the more he hones his craft.  Obviously, he’s going to have to get WAY more accurate than he was in college, but as I said, what else does he have to do between now and training camp?

This also doesn’t eliminate the possibility of the Seahawks drafting a kicker, or plucking one from among the undrafted, but I’d be hard pressed to see the Seahawks have three field goal kickers on their 90-man roster for any amount of time.  Which means one of these two guys would have to be cut in this scenario.

This whole situation has disaster written all over it, but I don’t know what else there is for the Seahawks to do.  Overpaying Steven Hauschka for a pretty lame season, on top of his comments about struggling with the new, longer extra point, was not something I was comfortable having the Seahawks do.  I mean, I hate the longer extra points as much as the next guy, but you can’t let them get into your head like they have or else you’re essentially done as a kicker in this league.

I guess the Seahawks are just going to have to hope and pray one of these guys nuts up and doesn’t let the moment get too big for him.  Hoo boy, does the fun ever START?

P.S.  Why aren’t there more hybrid punter/field goal kickers out there?  You’re telling me one guy can’t handle the intricacies of both jobs?  It’s all kicking!  It’s all foot hitting ball!  IT’S ALL PIPES!!!

Yeah, I Dunno: Seahawks Signed Kicker Blair Walsh

You remember; quit playin’!  Freezing cold Wild Card game in Minnesota, Seahawks trailing 9-0 until the fourth quarter when they put up 10 to take the lead, albeit with too much time left on the clock, allowing the Vikings to drive down to the 9 yard line.  The snap, the hold, the kick, yanked hard left, no good from 27 yards away, and the Miracle Seahawks find a way to advance.

Blair Walsh was the guy!  He was also the guy who hit on 92% of his field goals as a rookie in 2012 (including an insane 10/10 from 50+), making the Pro Bowl and landing on the All Pro team.  He was on track for what appeared to be a long and successful career.  Then, he missed that kick against the Seahawks, spent the offseason with everyone feeling sorry for him, and entered 2016 hoping to turn the page forever.  Instead, he was only able to connect on 75% of his field goals, while missing 4 extra points, across 9 games before the Vikings let him go.

And, uhh, yeah.  Now he’s here.  In Seattle.  On a team with their own kicking issues, to be true, as Hauschka had a hand in costing us both Arizona games, among other notable knob jobs.  Hauschka’s troubles stem not from one paralyzing, historic gaffe, but a seeming mental block he’s been unable to get over (I blame the longer extra points throwing him off).

I see this as the Seahawks covering their asses a little bit.  I don’t think the job has been handed to Walsh; he’ll still have to go out there this offseason & pre-season and earn the thing.  Counter to prior Seahawks teams under Carroll & Schneider, I think we’re going to see a real, bona fide kicking competition.  What does that mean?

It’s possible we haven’t seen the last of Hauschka.  I can’t imagine Walsh is commanding anything more than the veteran minimum – who’s going to get in a bidding war for a guy with the yips for Christ’s sake? – he’s lucky to even get a shot at a job.  We could bring Hauschka back on a similar deal – no guaranteed money – and let them duke it out.  The rub here is, it’s possible Hauschka’s market is a little more costly than anticipated.  If there are teams out there willing to give Hauschka a multi-year deal, or lots of guaranteed money, then Walsh is our backup and we look elsewhere in the competition forum.

Could that mean drafting a kicker?  Tough to say.  I have no idea who’s coming out of college this year.  My hunch is the Seahawks WON’T blow a draft pick – even a 6th or 7th rounder – but will much more likely pick up an undrafted guy and invite him to camp.

If they don’t, and they don’t go after Hauschka or another unsigned veteran, and they simply bank on Walsh turning his career around in 2017, I REALLY have to question this move more than I already do.  I mean, when have you ever heard of a Kicker Redemption Story?  All you ever hear about is a kicker missing a huge kick and never being heard from again; I’ve literally never heard of someone missing a life-changing kick, then coming back to future glory.  If this is the first, then God bless him, but I’ll be over here betting the ol’ Taylor Family Farm on him continuing to suck all ass around town.

Seahawks Death Week: The Road Ahead

So, what do the Seahawks need to do to get back to playing in Super Bowls again?

The simple answer is:  bolster the O-Line, bring in a stud running back, pump up the secondary, sign an interior pass rusher, and fill out the roster with athletes.

But, it’s never that simple.  Pete Carroll made shockwaves among Seahawks fans by indicating – in his end-of-the-season press conference – that the plan right now is to bring back the same starting O-Line that we finished with.  On the one hand, you’re not going to get anywhere without continuity along the offensive line.  Those guys need to play together, get used to one another’s tendencies, and have that sort of mental telepathy to know where they’re supposed to be and who they’re supposed to be blocking.  But, on the other hand, you can get continuity by signing me and four of my friends to play on the line, and it doesn’t mean it’ll be worth a damn if you keep running us out there year-in and year-out.  At some point, you need some motherfuckin’ talent, and talent is always going to trump continuity.

Obviously, we’ve been going on and on about how great Britt has been, so that settles the center position.  You can argue that guys like Ifedi and Fant have a lot of room to grow.  They’ve gotten a ton of experience, they got through the season mostly unscathed, they can work this offseason to get stronger and learn the intricacies of their respective positions, and they can come back next year hopefully ready to take the next step in their progression.  You can sort of make that argument with Glowinski as well, but he always seemed a better fit for the right guard position; maybe with the full year under his belt, he’ll be ready to rock n’ roll in 2017.  I think Gilliam has had it though; he’s probably as good as he’s ever going to be.  Which would be passable if the other four guys were studs, but they’re not, so I think at a minimum you have to bring in some competition for right tackle.  If I had my druthers, I’d hit the free agent market hard and pick up a good one, but I don’t know what the market’s going to look like.  You’d think there’d be at least ONE right tackle worth a damn who’s up for grabs.  I say, spend some of that extra money and pick one up.  That would make two spots on the line you don’t have to worry about, and you can flip Gilliam over to left tackle and have him push Fant in a competition for that spot.

The deal with left tackle is, obviously, Fant is far from ideal.  But, he’s who we’ve got.  You’re not going to find a superstar left tackle on the free agent market, because those guys always get snapped up by the smarter teams who actually value the O-Line.  You’re also not going to find a superstar left tackle at the 26th spot in the draft, because this is a thin draft class for offensive linemen and all the good ones are going to be drafted WAY before it gets to Seattle’s turn.  And, you’re not going to trade for one, because the cost would be prohibitive, and again I don’t think there are a ton of teams clamoring to give away their franchise left tackles.  So, the best we can hope for is to bring in competition to fight it out with Fant and may the best man win.  For what it’s worth, Fant needs to come in bigger and stronger, so he’s not constantly beaten to death by the bull rush.  Also for what it’s worth, if the Seahawks sign someone off the scrap heap, it better be someone better than fucking Sowell and Webb.

At guard, Ifedi isn’t going anywhere.  For better or for worse, the two guaranteed spots on the O-Line right now that you can lock in are Britt at center and Ifedi at right guard (barring injuries, of course).  I think they’ve come to their senses about Ifedi ever being a tackle in this league, and there would be no point in flipping him to the left side of the line since that’s his weaker side.  Plus, he’s a first round draft pick; they’re not going to give up on that kind of a talent just because he had a tough rookie season.  Hell, they gave Britt three different chances at three different spots on the line over his first three years, and he was only a second rounder!  But, at the left guard spot, I think you’ll see Glowinski and Odhiambo duke it out, which again, I don’t know if that’s something Seahawks fans want to hear, but there you go.  Now, it’s POSSIBLE the team drafts the best guard available in the first round, in which case YAY, even more competition!  I mean, seriously, this team needs to bring in as much talent as it can get, and if that means overloading at guard to finally land on the right set, I’m all for it.  I’d probably prefer that they reach for a tackle at that spot in the draft, just because I think we’re so much worse off at that position long term, but I don’t know if that’s realistic.

So, what I’m looking for out of the O-Line:  sign a right tackle, draft a guard/tackle high, and maybe sign another swing tackle off the scrap heap.

***

As for the rest of the offense, let’s start with the running game.  I like the Seahawks to draft another one.  Maybe a couple, like they did last year, but at least one.  My hunch is they’ll look to get one in Day 3 of the draft, but I wouldn’t hate it if they found a real dynamic talent in the first or second rounds.  Pit Game Changing Talent with Rawls and Prosise and I think you’ve got something you can work with.  Given Rawls’ injury history, you’re all but guaranteed that Game Changing Talent will get significant playing time.  Give me a 3-headed hydra at running back any day of the week.

At wide receiver, I don’t think you have to do much of anything.  Baldwin, Lockett, Kearse, and Richardson are your top four.  We’ve still got McEvoy in the mix, as well as a bunch of practice squad and IR guys from 2016.  Maybe you draft one on Day 3 to throw onto the developmental pile, but I think you could be best served going after a couple undrafted guys instead.

At tight end, I think you keep Jimmy Graham and I think you extend him another 2-3 years to loosen up our 2017 cap burden, while at the same time still giving us some outs in case he has another devastating injury.  For the life of me, I don’t understand the hate on this guy, considering how awesome he was in 2016.  You can piss and moan all you want about 2015, but he was still getting acclimated to our system after a career in New Orleans.  I think he’ll only continue to get better the more time he gets with Wilson.  Beyond that, I’d like to see Luke Willson back on a reasonable deal.  But, if some other team blows him away, it’s not going to kill me.  We drafted Nick Vannett to be our backup, all-around tight end, so my hope is he takes a step forward in his second year.  Also, not for nothing, but don’t be shocked if we spend a 4th or 5th rounder on another tight end in the draft, as I hear this is a good year for that position.

At quarterback, I think we bring Boykin back, but I think we look to push him by drafting another QB.  I have no insider knowledge on this, but my gut says we could even go as high as a 3rd rounder on a backup quarterback, which sounds crazy, but not as crazy as having to start Boykin if Wilson gets injured.

So, what I’m looking for out of the rest of the offense:  select another running back in the first couple days of the draft, get another backup tight end in the middle of our draft, find a diamond in the rough at quarterback (possibly as high as round 3), and hold off until Round 8 to get any more receivers.

***

Let’s go with the secondary next, because I think this unit needs the most work on defense.  I have some REAL big plans with the first two or three picks the Seahawks make in this year’s draft, and I think one of them would be best used on another safety.  Get someone big and talented, who can learn from the best.  I suppose you COULD hold off to the middle rounds for this player, but my concern is that the safety position has seen an increase in value over the years, since the Seahawks drafted the blueprint in Kam & Earl.  It’s why someone like Keanu Neal goes in the first round of the draft last year, when he might have fallen to the 4th or 5th just a few years earlier.  Also, I think this team needs someone who can play right away, because at this point I don’t know if it’s wise to trust either of our starters to play a full 16-game slate.  If they do, then that’s a bonus, and maybe you fiddle around with your defense to let the new guy get his feet wet in some special packages.

Ideally, this safety would also have excellent coverage skills, and could be used in a pinch in some nickel or dime sets, if guys get injured or whatnot.  Someone who can play both positions is exactly what this team needs right now, considering Shead is likely to start the season on the PUP list.  I think this team needs to hit the cornerback position pretty hard, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw three DBs drafted.  The Seahawks have Sherman, Lane, and a whole lotta young guys right now, so bringing in a guy who can play right away in the first day or two of the draft seems to be the smartest way to go.  If Budda Baker somehow fell to us at 26, I’d lose my shit.

Beyond that, I like the idea of the Seahawks hitting the free agent market for a dominant interior pass rusher.  I know Calais Campbell’s name has been bandied about on Seahawks Fan Twitter, and believe me, I’m right there with ’em.  I just don’t think you’re going to find any sort of game changing talent in the draft, picking where we are.  Maybe they grab another experimental player late in the draft, but I think if we’re ever going to get this sort of guy, we need to throw money at a veteran.

The rest of the D-Line is solid, I think.  I’m also a big fan of the linebacking group as well, and I hope we get a shot at re-signing Mike Morgan to be our SAM, as I don’t think this team really needs to break the bank at that position.

So, what I’m looking for out of the defense:  hit the secondary in the draft early and often, re-sign Mike Morgan, sign a superstud interior pass rusher, and maybe some experimental players at the D-Line and linebacker spots if there’s room.

***

What I like most about our chances going into 2017 is that there’s not a ton of dead weight to lop off.  I think you let Sowell sign elsewhere.  Don’t break the bank on Luke Willson.  I wouldn’t mind seeing Marcel Reece back, as I thought he did some of the best lead blocking in a Seahawks uniform since Mack Strong retired.  I wouldn’t mind seeing Tony McDaniel back at the right price.  Maybe we look to shore up linebacker, find someone in the draft a little more promising than KPL.  And, don’t really kill yourselves trying to bring back McCray.

I think the Seahawks need to look awful hard at long snapper again this year, because that was never NOT an issue with this team in 2016.  And, I think the Seahawks need to look at the kicker spot.  Was this year just an anomaly for Hauschka?  Or, is this the beginning of the end?  Kicking is such a mental game, and if these longer extra points are going to be an issue for him, then maybe the Seahawks have to look at selecting a kicker in the 6th round.  I mean, a drafted kicker couldn’t be MUCH worse than what we got out of Hauschka last year, right?  Sure, dude only missed 4 field goals all year, but two of them were inside of 30 yards.  Plus, he missed 6 extra points and another one in the playoffs.  So, you know, that shit’s gotta stop.  Plus, his last deal with us averaged nearly $3 million a year, so it’s not like he’s going to accept a significant pay decrease just to re-sign with us.  Maybe 2017 is the year we draft a kicker of the future and take our chances?  It wouldn’t crush me, I’ll put it that way.

Seahawks Death Week: Looking On The Bright Side

Hey look, I get it, losing sucks.  Teams like the Seahawks have a finite championship window.  On the one hand, that’s a good thing because it means we have a good team.  The Cleveland Browns don’t have a finite championship window because they suck!  On the other hand, that championship window is going to close sooner or later, if it hasn’t already.  For what it’s worth, I think the future still looks pretty promising, but that obviously comes with the fact that they have work to do on the player personnel side.

Before I get into the promising future, let’s take a quick look back.  We’re at the end of the best 5-year run in franchise history!  56-23-1, or a .706 winning percentage.  That easily bests any of the best 5-year runs in the 80’s, as well as that superb 5-year run in the Holmgren years.  This includes the fact that we’ve won at least 10 games AND made the playoffs AND won at least one playoff game every season since 2012.  Only the Patriots have done that, and they enjoy the luxury of having the very worst divisional opponents this side of the AFC South.  On top of that, factor in 3 divisional championships, 2 Super Bowl appearances, and 1 championship, and you could say the Seahawks have been pretty hashtag-blessed in this run.

All the while, the Seahawks have remained one of the youngest teams in the NFL.  Now, more and more, that’s a result of the back-end of our roster being filled with rookies, but the players at the top are still in their primes, which means we’ve got at least 2-3 more years of this championship window left to stress over!

First and foremost, we’ve got a franchise quarterback.  You’re not going anywhere without a franchise quarterback.  Just ask those aforementioned Cleveland Browns, or the Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, and so on and so forth.  Even in those rare instances where a team rides its defense to a title, you’re never going to be able to achieve sustained success with that tactic.  Yeah, Peyton Manning stunk in 2015 and the Broncos won it all, but you saw what happened in 2016.  Due to salary cap constraints, players get poached.  Due to the law of averages, a defense largely healthy one year suffers a bevy of injuries the next.  I mean, go back through time of all the teams with elite defenses and crappy quarterbacks – 2002 Bucs, 2000 Ravens, 1985 Bears – did any of them repeat?  The Bears didn’t make another Super Bowl until the 2006 season; the Bucs haven’t been back period; and the Ravens didn’t win it all again until the 2012 season, at which time their defense was a shell of its former self, and they were able to ride the hot hand of Joe Flacco of all people.  The overwhelming majority of Super Bowl champions – and even Super Bowl participants – had either great quarterbacks, or average quarterbacks having great seasons.

Now, is there cause for concern about Russell Wilson’s 2016 season?  Sure felt like a step back to me, but I don’t know how much you can learn about a season when he’s hobbled and still running for his life because of that O-Line.  I think it all finally caught up to him, resulting in rushed throws, which in turn resulted in a lot of inaccurate throws.  Improved offensive line play will surely result in improved quarterback play.  Or, it’ll spell doom for a promising young player who looked like he was on the fast track to the Hall of Fame.

As I mentioned before, the wide receiver group is as strong as ever.  Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett are great players.  Jermaine Kearse unquestionably had a down year in 2016, but he nevertheless brings a lot to the table with his blocking and his rapport with Wilson and the other receivers.  Paul Richardson came on like gangbusters after Lockett went down.  If we’re able to incorporate him more into this offense, we haven’t had a player with his combination of speed and catch radius EVER in the Pete Carroll era.  The person who comes closest is Sidney Rice in his prime, which I think this team would take in a heartbeat.  When you top it off with Jimmy Graham – who I believe this team not only needs to hang onto in 2017, but should probably look to extend out another 2-3 years to make his cap hits more reasonable – this offense has the weapons in the passing game to succeed.  They won’t need to hit the free agent or trade markets, nor will they need to look in the draft all that high.

Running back might be another story.  When healthy, you’ve got elite talent with Rawls and Prosise, but obviously you can’t count on either of them for a full 16-game season plus playoffs.  Alex Collins really started to play well towards the end of the season, so obviously I think you keep him in the mix.  But, this team will most definitely have to look in the draft for another quality back to throw onto the pile.

In talking about the O-Line, Justin Britt was a pleasant surprise and lone bright spot.  While there is plenty of work to do here, it’s nice to know at least ONE spot out of five is locked in.

Defensively, we’re still stacked up and down the lineup.  Bennett and Avril are still making lives miserable.  Frank Clark – already solid as a rookie – took a big leap forward in his second year, setting himself up for a HUGE third season, and likely a huge payday once next season concludes.  Along the interior, Rubin and Reed and the return of Tony McDaniel helped us maintain our status as one of the best run defenses in the league.  You never mind picking up extra talent in this group – particularly at the back end, to shore up the depth – but D-Line isn’t really the priority it has been the last couple years.

I was most impressed with our linebackers in 2016.  Bobby Wagner had a so-so 2015, and responded with the best season of his career this past year.  He was, in fact, the best linebacker in the entire NFL, which is no small feat.  Led the league in tackles, managed 4.5 sacks for a guy who doesn’t rush the passer a ton, and was just generally always around the football.  K.J. Wright continued being the most underrated defender in football, and the guy most deserving of a Pro Bowl invite who has yet to actually make it who finally got in this year!  This group didn’t see its strongside linebacker out on the field a lot, but when Mike Morgan came back from injury, he was a force, particularly in setting the edge on running plays.  Just, all around, the best linebacking unit in football, period.

The secondary, while it needs some work, has the broad strokes in place.  Richard Sherman didn’t have his best year (and, it sounds like half that year he was dealing with an MCL issue), but when he’s locked in on his side of the field, as you saw in the Detroit playoff game, he’s still a force to be avoided.  On the opposite side, DeShawn Shead got the starting nod and really acquitted himself well.  Unfortunately, they didn’t trust him enough to just leave him over there – as we saw more and more Richard Sherman following the other team’s best receiver – and I think that might’ve had something to do with our defense taking a step back.  At safety, Kam was his usual dominant self when he was on the field, and Earl was Earl (again, when he was on the field).  The fact that both of those guys missed some pretty extensive time this year, and the fact that our defense REALLY suffered accordingly, means this team has work to do in shoring up our depth in the secondary.  Those four guys, plus Jeremy Lane, were supposed to make the secondary this team’s #1 strength.  Instead, they were this team’s second-biggest weakness, when the likes of Kelcie McCray, Steven Terrell, DeAndre Elliott, and Neiko Thorpe were thrust into active duty.  Bolster the unit from the bottom up and we should see a return to former glories for the secondary.

The foundation is solid, is what I’m trying to get at!  Across the board, except for the O-Line.  We’ve just got to figure out a way to get the complementary pieces in place to get us through the hard times.  As luck would have it, 2017 presents a unique opportunity to really pump this team full of talent.  The Salary Cap should be upwards of $170 million.  Our dead money is currently less than $1 million.  Add that to our contracts already on file, we’ve spent approximately $135 million on our 2017 roster.  The best part, though?  Our list of unrestricted free agents is pretty weak.  The most expensive player on that list is Steven Hauschka, and we might end up looking in another direction at kicker anyway, given how poor of a season he had in 2016.  Then, there’s Luke Willson, who figures to test the market and see if he can get himself a starting job somewhere.  If he comes back to Seattle, it’ll likely be on a very reasonable deal.  As for starter types, Mike Morgan and Tony McDaniel could be had on small deals as well.  Beyond those guys, we’re talking about the bottom of the roster:  McCray, Sowell, Thorpe, Marcel Reece, Tukuafu, Jeron Johnson, Brandon Williams, and Damontre Moore.  So, you know, it’s not like there’s some big contract we need to take care of on our own roster.

I’m fuzzy at best as to what the free agent market is going to look like, but that’s a topic for another day.  For now, let’s just bask in the glow that we’ve got a very good football team, with some very smart people running the show, and we’re really not THAT far off from competing for the top seed in the NFC and the Super Bowl.

Seahawks Death Week: The “2016 The Year” Of Football Seasons

There’s just nothing to like about that season by the Seattle Seahawks.  Not a damn bit of good came from it.  That’s two years in a row of spinning our tires in the mud, with not a lot to show for it.  All we got was another year older.  Instead of being the next great dynasty, we’re just another good team.  One Super Bowl win, with the hope that we’re able to squeeze another one out of Russell Wilson before he moves on.  More and more, it’s looking like instead of a Brady/Manning/Roethlisberger situation, we’ve got a Drew Brees situation.  Maybe one title is all this group gets.  Maybe we spend the rest of our time with this core just slowly getting worse, until it’s just Wilson and Carroll, and a bunch of stiffs, regularly finishing in 3rd and 4th place in the NFC West.

The worst part is, I don’t even know how to define this season.  Yeah, the O-Line stunk, but they didn’t stink in every single game.  Yeah, we lost Earl Thomas, but there were plenty of times where this defense looked inept with Thomas in there.  If you go game by game, it’s a pretty frustrating exercise.

***

The Seahawks barely beat the Dolphins at home in week 1; the offensive line was definitely our primary fault in that one.  Wilson’s ankle got rolled up on, and that was the genesis of Hobbled Russell Wilson.

The Seahawks lost on the road to the Rams in week 2; again, the O-Line was crushed.  We lost three field goals to one, in the second game where the offense was totally out of sorts.

The 49ers were some home cooking in week 3; but, then Wilson got rolled up on again, this time injuring his knee, sending him to work with a brace for the rest of the regular season.  No fun there.

The Jets on the road were supposed to be a big test in week 4; they ended up being 5-11 on the year and one of the worst teams in the NFL.  The Seahawks, with Hobbled Russell Wilson, won by 10 points and settled into a much-needed BYE week.

The Seahawks were able to squeak by the Falcons in week 6; I think we all know enough of that game.  One bright spot was that, even in spite of a disastrous third quarter, we were able to fend off a last-minute drive, like we weren’t able to do in 2015.  The defense, when most everyone was healthy, was certainly better in 2016 than 2015; but the defense was rarely healthy.

Just when we were hoping to build on some momentum of a 3-game winning streak, we went and tied the Cardinals in week 7.  The third game out of six for the Seahawks where the offense was absolutely manhandled.  Of course, had Hauschka not been a ninny, this would’ve been a win.

The Seahawks followed that up with a road trip to New Orleans, and a baffling defeat in week 8; but, a defeat very similar to ones we have every year.  Not a good look for our defense, but the fact that our offense was held to 13 points (the other 7 attributed to an Earl Thomas fumble return for TD) against that defense is unconscionable.  Four games out of seven where the offense was a fucking trainwreck.

The Seahawks played the Bills on Monday Night Football in week 9; turns out Rex & Rob Ryan are the cures for what ails this offense.  It was less encouraging for our defense to give up 25, but they were able to foil a 2-minute drive at the end of the game to lock it up (again, shades of this not being the 2015 season).

In a game everyone expected the Seahawks to lose, they went into New England on Sunday night and upset the Pats 31-24.  Even with Michael Bennett on the shelf, this was a watershed game for our defense, as Kam returned and locked down Gronk in New England’s final series.  This was also a coming out party for C.J. Prosise, showing what this offense can do when it has a healthy, dynamic running back.

The Seahawks followed this up with a dominating performance over a then-contending Eagles team at home in week 11.  Prosise had another big impact in this game, with a 72-yard touchdown run, before leaving injured and not returning for the rest of the season.  Not a ton of people talking about the loss of Prosise as the 2016 Seahawks’ downfall, but let’s just say if we’d had him healthy for the full season, things might’ve gone a lot differently for this offense.

On the heels of another 3-game winning streak – and probably the best 3-game stretch for this team in the 2016 season – the Seahawks went to Tampa in week 12 and had their fifth terrible offensive game of the season.  This one is all on the O-Line, but one could argue things might have gone differently had Britt been healthy.  Either way, after going down 14-0 in the first quarter, and giving up no points the rest of the way, that was a real missed opportunity for the Seahawks, allowing the Bucs to hang around in contention for a while longer.

Injured guys started trickling back for the next game, at home, against the Panthers in week 13.  Britt was back, Bennett was back, Rawls had worked his way back to being a workhorse, Wilson was on the mend.  For the first time in a long time, things were FINALLY looking up for the Seahawks.  We crushed the Panthers, 40-7, and this was around the same time where we always go on our late-season runs of dominance.  But, because 2016 is the fucking worst, this was the same game where Earl Thomas broke his leg and was lost for the season.  Hashtag WeCantHaveNiceThings.

It was hard not to be deflated over the Thomas injury, but I refused to believe things would fall apart just because he was out.  We still had Kam after all!  Well, week 14’s game in Green Bay should’ve been our first clue that the rest of this year would just be a formality.  Aaron Rodgers did Aaron Rodgers things and the Seahawks were blown out for the first time since 2011.  Also, this was the sixth terrible offensive game, but mostly due to Russell Wilson’s interceptions.

In week 15, we handled the Rams on Thursday Night Football, in the game where Richard Sherman put Darrell Bevell on blast.  He would go on to put most everyone else on blast the rest of the year, in what should’ve been our second clue that the rest of this year would just be a formality.  The Seahawks don’t lose their cool.  Even when they lose their cool, it’s for a reason.  There wasn’t much of a reason for this.

In spite of the Seahawks being an up-and-down team, they held their fate in their hands.  All they needed to do was beat an underwhelming Cardinals team at home, then finish off the 49ers on the road.  Simple, right?  Win those two games, lock down the 2-seed.  Lock down the 2-seed, get the first round BYE.  Get the first round BYE, then host the Falcons in the Divisional Round instead of the other way around, and maybe our crowd does enough damage to their offense to allow the Seahawks to win and host the NFC Championship Game for the third time in four seasons.  But, the defense gave up 34 points to the Cardinals in week 16, and all of that was washed away.  The third and final clue that the rest of this year would just be a formality:  now we’d be a 3-seed, be forced to play in the Wild Card round, and have to go on the road to the Falcons, where we would go on to lose.

The Seahawks were able to take down the 49ers in week 17, but it was a lot closer than it should’ve been.  Was it us taking it easy, knowing the Falcons would lock up the 2-seed in a matter of hours?  Was it the defense continuing to struggle without Earl Thomas?

Then, the big Wild Card win at home.  The last hurrah, over a pretty inept and banged up Lions team.  Not a lot to learn from that, and ultimately the next game would look nothing like this one.

***

I mean, how do you wrap your head around a season like that?

To start, you can’t say a damn thing about it without getting into the offensive line issues.  This was the second year in a row that the Seahawks went with a bullshit, makeshift O-Line, instead of ponying up the money for proper blockers.  Justin Britt had his position moved for the third time in three seasons, and that was the ONLY move that worked.  He’ll go into the final year of his rookie deal in 2017 as our starting center; that makes me happy.  You can take the other four guys and throw them in a fucking volcano for all I care.

The Seahawks, in their prime, 2012-2014, always got by with Just Okay offensive lines.  Adequate, middle-of-the-road, doing just enough to let Marshawn Lynch run by them, and to let Russell Wilson run around them.  Then, slowly but surely, all the good parts were stripped away:  Unger traded away; Giacomini, Carpenter, and Sweezy allowed to hit free agency; Russell Okung – probably the most talented of the bunch – also allowed to hit free agency and sign a terrible deal in Denver.  Ending up with two rookies, a second-year player getting his first starting action, a third-year player switching positions for the third time, and Garry Gilliam, the only guy starting in the same spot from the year before.  Oh, and don’t forget the two free agents – Sowell and Webb – who were terrible, lost their starting jobs, and won’t be around beyond this season.

And, I get it.  I understand what the Seahawks were doing.  There’s only so much money to go around, and they preferred to give that money to their star players at the skill positions.  Wilson, Baldwin, Graham, Bennett, Avril, Wagner, Wright, Thomas, Sherman, Chancellor.  Those guys take up a lot of money.  Where can we save?  The O-Line!  Hell, we’ve got Tom Cable, surely he can build them up to be respectable by season’s end!

They damn near did it in 2015.  It looked like, once Patrick Lewis took over at center, things settled down for that unit.  Then, we got into the Divisional Round, against the Panthers and their ferocious interior linemen, and that unit was reduced to rubble.

But, without much of a choice, they did the same thing again in 2016.  As I mentioned, Britt was moved to center and that worked.  Glowinski was drafted in 2015 to be a guard of the future for this team, so why not let him work on his craft in actual games?  Germain Ifedi came at the price of a first round draft pick in 2016, so there was no way he wasn’t starting.  They made it through the season mostly unscathed, and you can ALMOST see a future with those guys in those spots, but they’ve got a lot of work to do.

And, while the guards made PLENTY of mistakes, and were often the worst parts of this unit, in my book they’re taking a back seat to the tackles, who were God-fucking-awful.  George Fant was a tight end in college, and here he was as our starting left tackle.  He was almost constantly over-matched, when we weren’t chipping defensive ends with our tight ends and running backs to give him a little help.  Gilliam was a little better – particularly later in the season, when he essentially had his manhood questioned by the coaching staff – but he too was often overmatched.  Together, neither of them are starting talents in the NFL.  Gilliam is a guy who might be a swing tackle for a good team, a 6th guy on the line who can start for you in a pinch.  But, he has no business being in there everyday.  Fant should’ve had this year to just develop in the background, but since this organization did absolutely nothing to replace Okung – aside from signing Sowell, who is a known commodity as one of the worst tackles in football – Fant was put in a position he had no business being in.  And, in that sense, he did all right.  He could be another guy who is a quality swing tackle, but he probably shouldn’t be a starter either.

This team needs, at a minimum, two new offensive tackles.  Ideally, one high in the draft and one as a free agent.  Luckily, we’ve weathered the storm of our salary cap being up against it, and should have enough extra money to make some moves, as 2017’s cap looks to be up to $170 million or more.  Not so luckily, we draft 26th again, and no quality offensive tackles will be there waiting for us.  I don’t know what the free agent market is going to be like, but things are going to get REALLY salty in Seattle if this team sits back and does nothing.

***

Aside from that, it’s a lot to do with what I was talking about yesterday:  our shoddy depth.  Starting with the 2013 draft, let’s look at who panned out:

  • Luke Willson – backup tight end
  • Spencer Ware – quality running back who we waived; he’s playing well for the Chiefs
  • Paul Richardson – 4th receiver, started coming on in this year’s playoffs with Lockett injured
  • Justin Britt – starting center, with 2016 being his first good year
  • Cassius Marsh – backup pass rusher & special teamer, 3 career sacks
  • Frank Clark – quality defensive lineman
  • Tyler Lockett – quality receiver & returner
  • Mark Glowinski – guard, started in 2016
  • Germain Ifedi – guard, started in 2016
  • Jarran Reed – quality run-stuffing defensive tackle
  • C.J. Prosise – quality running back who can’t stay healthy

That’s it, and I’m really stretching the definition of “panned out” with some of these guys.  The quality guys who we still have on this team include:  Britt, Clark, Lockett, Reed, and Prosise.  Beyond that, when you talk about this team’s depth, it’s a lot of young guys who haven’t really gotten a chance to start – because they’ve been boxed out by all the studs we’ve got starting on this team – but these same guys also aren’t making the most of their opportunities when they do find themselves on the field.  That means the coaches are failing them, or that they’re just not working very hard, but I don’t think this coaching staff or this team would sit by and let a bunch of slackers fuck around in practice.

Also, not for nothing, but when I talk about depth, I’m mostly looking at the secondary.  The depth on the O-Line is, I’m sure, a real problem, but so are the starters, so why beat that dead horse?  There’s solid depth at receiver – as shown by how P-Rich stepped his game up in the playoffs this year like a fucking CHAMP!  PROUD of you, boy! – and at tight end.  There’s also good-enough depth at D-Line and in the linebackers’ room to get by.  Where this team – and particularly this defense – struggles is when we get into the depth in the secondary.  When Kam Chancellor goes down (as he seems to do every year now), and when Earl Thomas goes down.  When, inevitably, Richard Sherman goes down (because he’s such a monster tackler; I can’t imagine those shoulders will hold up forever).  Or, like in this last game, where Shead went down with what looks like an ACL.  We thought Jeremy Lane would be enough – and I think he did okay, I’m not in this big hurry to run him off the team – but this team needs more back there.  It’s a shame too, because that’s supposed to be Pete Carroll’s specialty.  He should be ashamed of the depth we had back there in the secondary – particularly at safety – and he should be looking to shore that up in a major way in the upcoming draft.

No team stays healthy for a full year, but you’ve got to have guys to come in there and pick up the slack.  We weren’t able to do that this year.  That, and our O-Line troubles, doomed us for two years in a row.

It sounds insane to be this disgruntled about a team that hasn’t been to a Super Bowl in the last two years, but that’s what comes with success.  We’re not very far from those teams, in terms of talent and in terms of years, but we’re also trending in the absolute opposite direction.

I Really Wish I Could’ve Seen The Version Of That Game Where Kevin Pierre-Louis Didn’t Have That Dumb Holding Penalty

Believe me when I say that I would never blame a single play or event as to why the Seahawks lost to Atlanta.  There are SO MANY factors, and not even factors in that game, but across the entire season, and possibly across many seasons.  Having the worst offensive line in the league.  Losing Earl Thomas.  Losing out on the 2-seed by getting beaten by Arizona on Christmas Eve (or, shit, how about losing out on the 2-seed by settling for a fucking tie in Arizona earlier in the year when Hauschka had an opportunity to give us the improbable victory).  An inability of this coaching staff to coach up its depth players for when they’re pressed into duty thanks to in-game injuries.  Those very in-game injuries themselves, like DeShawn Shead and Germain Ifedi.  Russell Wilson being alarmingly inaccurate this season (and in particular on that pass in the third quarter, down by 16, when he had Doug Baldwin wide open in the endzone and overthrew him).  The pass rush not getting home.  Our zone defense being completely and totally ineffective, thereby not giving the pass rush more time to get home.  Our entire blitz package being a complete failure.  Marshawn Lynch retiring before the season.  Trading Unger for Graham.  Signing Percy Harvin.  Letting Golden Tate go.  Losing Dan Quinn as a defensive coordinator.  I could go on and on and on.  There’s never any one thing that decides a football game, even a game decided by one score, but ESPECIALLY a game you lose 36-20.

P.S.  Look who guessed Atlanta would score 36 points this game

And I get that momentum isn’t a thing, so I’ll try to avoid talk of that mumbo jumbo.  But, what IS a thing is being sent backwards from the Atlanta 7 yard line to the Seattle 7 yard line thanks to one stupid fucking holding call on Kevin Pierre-Louis – who was pancaked by the blocker, then proceeded to compound his ineptitude by pulling the blocker down with him like a fucking moron – which led to the Seahawks losing 3 yards on first down before losing the other 4 yards on a safety because our backup rookie right guard stepped on our quarterback’s foot, leading to this fucking Three Stooges scenario where Wilson falls on his ass and gets landed on for 2 points going the other way.

What was a 10-7 lead, with the Falcons forced to punt on a 3 & Out, with Devin Hester – in what I’m hearing will be his final game ever – returning a booming punt 80 yards, with the Seahawks facing first and goal and at a MINIMUM poised to add another 3 points to our total, with a better than average chance of taking a 17-7 lead and changing the entire complexion of the game; instead became a 10-9 lead, with the Seahawks free-kicking it away to the Falcons, who promptly drove it down and went up 12-10, then holding the Seahawks to a 3 & Out, followed by the Falcons going up 19-10, and the rest is history.

All because Kevin Pierre-Louis made one idiotic mistake, which was compounded by a baffling series of mistakes.

Still, I’d like to see what that game would’ve looked like with the Seahawks up 17-7.  Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference.  Maybe we still would’ve lost.  But, I’ll tell you this, we wouldn’t have been trailing 19-10 at halftime in this scenario, with the Falcons set to get the ball after half.  Worst case, we probably would’ve been tied at 17 at halftime with the Falcons set to get the ball after half.  And, even if things would’ve shaken out like they did for most of the second half, we at least would’ve been within 7 points with the ball late in the fourth quarter.  We at least would’ve had a SHOT!

And, who knows?  Maybe if the Falcons are down double-digits, maybe they start making the mistakes.  Maybe they press, trying to get back in the game.  Maybe Matt Ryan – who was one of the most mistake-prone quarterbacks in the entire NFL just one season ago, when he had a mind-boggling 21:16 TD to INT ratio and led to my keeper league fantasy team dropping his ass in the final week, to avoid even the TEMPTATION of keeping him for another mediocre season – would’ve made some of those Matt Ryan poor decisions that led to so many turnovers in the red zone.  He may end up with the MVP award this year, but he is NOT a good quarterback, and he’s certainly not the most valuable player in the NFL I’m (not) sorry to say.

That game, the one where Kevin Pierre-Louis doesn’t exist, would’ve been SO MUCH more enjoyable.

But, no, I’m not blaming one guy for one massively stupid penalty.  He can go fuck himself for being an overall disappointment though!  One of many duds we’ve drafted and failed to develop since 2013.  Does John Schneider deserve a little slice of blame?  You betcha.  They all do.  Every last man, woman, and child on this team.

So begins Seahawks Death Week for another year.  Where I complain about the season that was, try to keep things a bit in perspective, and look forward to what this team needs to do in the coming offseason to get back on track and start winning their way into the top seed of the NFC again.  Because, apparently, this team is only able to nut up and play with heart when it’s got homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.  Without that, it’s one road loss in the Divisional Round after another.