As time wound down toward the end of Super Bowl XLVIII, there were several questions floating around Met Life Stadium. Was this one of the NFL’s greatest defenses?? Are we looking at the birth of a dynasty out in Seattle?? The first question is a resounding yes and the next question can’t be answered for a few years. Yet one point definitely remains, how can the Seahawks not be the odds on favorite to defend their crown in Super Bowl XLIX out in Arizona next February??
They just re-signed WR Sidney Rice to bolster the receiving corps along with a healthy Percy Harvin. The front office just signed Pro Bowl S Earl Thomas and CB Richard Sheman to long-term deals. It’s only a matter of time before they ink a deal with QB Russell Wilson.
Next is the feel good story that shapes the Seahawks different from other NFL franchises from a culture standpoint. The signing of 6th round pick OT Garrett Scott knowing he had a heart condition, allows him his full compensation of $550,000 even though they had to release him. Guarantee that struck a positive chord in every player across the league. If you thought free agents wanted to play for Seattle now, this move will resonate for years to come.
Quarterback: The Seahawks seem slated for a 7-10 year run with Russell Wilson at the helm. Yet make no mistake he still has to improve his ability to go through his progressions within the structure of the offense.
Think back to the NFC Championship where Russell was really in a slump. Up until that 4th quarter touchdown bomb to Jermaine Kearse, we weren’t sure Wilson could make a play to end the ball game. Too many times if his first read wasn’t there, he’d take off. Coach Pete Carroll’s staff does a great job in calling play action roll-outs and half rolls where he has two reads. Sure this limits throws to half the field. However Wilson’s decision making of when to run or when to throw has been great. It was off kilter for those first two playoff games though.
For the season, Wilson completed 63.1% of his passes for 3,357 yards 26TDs to only 9 interceptions. Terrific numbers but his game has to evolve. When the Seahawks are in shotgun they normally run slants and go routes. Teams will adjust and start throwing zone blitzes in an attempt to force him to be hesitant and cut off running lanes with speed. The Seahawks also should watch for delayed blitzes designed for him to pull the ball down and scramble into an area where a defender will be headed.
If The Chancellor of Football has seen this on film, you better believe Jeff Fisher, Bruce Arrians, and Jim Harbaugh within the division have. Yet because of his decision making and ability to run, their playoff level at quarterback.
Offensive Backfield: For all the conversation, the NFL is a passing league and the running back has been devalued, here is exhibit A on quite the contrary. Marshawn Lynch is the attitude and toughness of his team. From an X’s and O’s standpoint his downhill running style is why Russell Wilson is effective. Teams have to honor that stretch run which makes the play fake so successful. When they don’t, Lynch bursts through for 4.2 yards per carry. Last year he did so while running for 1,257 yards and a career best 12 touchdowns.
Lynch runs with fury and reminds The Chancellor of Marion ‘The Barbarian”Barber yet he doesn’t seem likely to burn out in the next year or so. He sets the tone for the entire Seahawk football team. This year they may have to spell him in games to keep him fresh for the stretch run. If he’s able to power the team to another Super Bowl win, his resume becomes a Hall of Fame one. Still Super Bowl quality at running back.
Receiver: This is where the offense needs improvement the most. A rejuvenated Sidney Rice could help them stretch the field. Doug Baldwin is a gritty receiver who won’t wow you but slips to get open when Wilson scrambles and catches passes in traffic.
However the Seahawks have a serious jolt of speed with 2nd round selection Paul Richardson. If Harvin can stay healthy, this group could be lethal from multiple receiver (3 or more WR) sets on the field. First is where will Harvin line up?? In a slot position? Wing Back? Out of the backfield. While opponents concentrate on Percy, the Seahawks now have several receivers who can get deep.
The player who should be on the field more this year is Jermaine Kearse. Going into his 3rd year he should fully know the system. He just passes the eyeball test at there is more potential to his play than Baldwin. This year will also be a full year with Percy Harvin in the mix. This is still a receiver by committee group. If Sidney Rice can be the player he once was this could be a playoff caliber group. As of right now they’re average.
Offensive Line: The most misleading statistic afforded this team all year would be the 44 sacks allowed in 2013. How many times on rolls and scrambles were defenders able to track down Wilson to shove him out of bounds behind the line?? Those are recorded as sacks. Yet it’s a give and take scenario with Wilson making a rusher miss when protection breaks down.
Led by Pro Bowl Center Max Unger, this is a relatively young line with no starter past his fifth season. In pounding up the middle, Seattle in obvious power situations (3rd/4th & 2 or less) converted 60% of the time. For a straight ahead running team with 509 rushing attempts, to be tied for 5th in the league with just 6 negative rushing plays, says a lot about their blocking. When you can power your team to 2,188 yards, 14 TDs, and a 4.3 yard average, you’re playoff caliber up front.
Defensive Line: Now the best off-season move last year happened on day two of free agency when they plucked DE Cliff Avril, formerly of the Detroit Lions. His addition along with Michael Bennett allowed the team to terrorize opponents with a 3 DE alignment in Nickle and Dime sub packages. Bennett had 8 1/2 sacks while lined up inside Avril who had 8 as well. These two combined for 10 forced fumbles that usually broke the back of opponents.
Brandon Mebane is the stay at home Defensive Tackle that offsets this. So when teams run draws and screens, he’s nomally there with the linebackers to make a play. Seattle did lose DE Chris Clemons, but he had his least effective season with only 4 sacks. One replacement for the 3rd rusher is 3rd year player Bruce Irvin #51. He was used more at linebacker in 2013 yet amassed 8 sacks as a rookie. Still a Super Bowl level group up front.
Linebackers: Did you know that Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith wasn’t a week 1 starter?? That’s right the man who sealed both the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl has to beat out KJ Wright #50 (80 tackles/4 passes defensed) for the OLB position on the weakside.
Yet Smith had a great postseason to boost his resume. In the regular season he started 8 games had 54 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 sack and 2 interceptions. He will definitely be on the field to accompany MLB Bobby Wagner (120 tackles/ 7 passes defensed/ 5 sacks). With another season like that he will replace either Bowman or Willis of San Fran in the Pro Bowl. Don’t forget Bruce Irvin also aids here. Defensive speed is the mantra to this group and it cleans up what makes it past the front four with aplomb. This is a playoff level group. They need to force a few more turnovers.
Secondary: The reciprocal advantage to a pass rush is a secondary that won’t have to cover more than 5 seconds. When the secondary play extends beyond that, it allows the pass rush more time to get to the quarterback& you get the coverage sack.
Both happen in Seattle. Starting with the coverage of reigning Taylor Blitz Time Defensive Player of the Year in Richard Sherman. He led the NFL with 8 interceptions, returning them for 158 yards and that significant touchdown. He also was 7th on the team in tackles with 48, defensed 17 passes and recovered 2 fumbles.
By the time you add Pro Bowl FS Earl Thomas (105 tackles/ 5 ints/ 11 pass defensed/ 2 forced fumbles) & the thunderous shots by Pro Bowl SS Kam Chancellor (99 tackles / 3 ints/ 12 passes defensed/ 1 forced fumble) you have one of the best secondaries in history. That’s what a championship can elevate you to. Three of four in the secondary in the Pro Bowl. That’s beyond outstanding and now Sherman and Thomas are signed to long term deals.
Seattle did lose Nickel Back Walter Thurmond and regular starting CB Brandon Browner to free agency. However Byron Maxwell manned one of the corners after Browner’s suspension, and picked off 4 passes and defensed 11 others while starting 5 games. This is a Super Bowl caliber secondary if ever there was one.
Overall: This juggernaut has been the NFL’s best for the last two seasons and will be for a third. Although they are league champion you still can’t put a finger on where you would start to attack this team. One of history’s finest defenses and they come at you in waves with no true focal point. Right now the rest of the NFL is in a conundrum. Everyone is lining up in multiple receiver sets and playing in space. Seattle performs best here and Chancellor, Wright, and Wagner are there to lay pads on receivers.
They stay to the ground and minimize offensive mistakes. Since they take long drives and dominate time of possession, opponents feel rushed to score and get back into the game. This plays into Seattle’s hands again where they have taken the 2007 New York Giants’ blue print of 3 DE alignments, and tweaked it. Instead of 3 power rushers they have ends who are speed rushers. Couple that with the crowd noise and this is going to be a 14-2 or 15-1 team when you look at their schedule. A possible loss to St Louis on the road in week 7 and maybe one more in Arizona in week 15 look like the only hiccups. Carroll’s team should bludgeon their way to Super Bowl XLIX easily.
Next up: The Denver Broncos
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