Unsatisfying. For a team that has experienced as much success as the Seattle Seahawks during the last five years, unsatisfying would be on the tongue of many fans if they were to be asked to describe the past half-decade of Seahawk football. Out of the team’s four postseason appearances, Seattle could never get past the divisional round, going 2-4 overall in the postseason. While Head Coach Pete Carroll’s program has kept this team competitive in the regular season, a litany of holes has appeared in Seattle’s once ironclad image. Failed draft picks, departing veterans, and coaching turnover has marred an organization that many believed could be a “dynasty in the making” in 2014. As Seattle is about to open its 2021 offseason program, there is a hope that new philosophies on both sides of the ball are what they need to once again get over the hump and back into true Super Bowl contention.
The biggest change will come on offense, as Seattle’s zig-zaggy output was dying for a new direction. To find it, Carroll turned to one of the team’s biggest rivals and plucked Shane Waldron from the LA Rams offensive staff. Waldron put up an impressive showing as passing game coordinator as he guided an offense helmed by a mediocre Jared Goff and back-up Josh Wolfram to a top-10 unit by DVOA. While it is still very, VERY early in the process, returns from the hire seem promising. Tyler Lockett has said the new system provides, “More freedom to be able to be the receivers that we can be. We got free range to do a lot of stuff.” He also stated that there would be faster huddles, an improved tempo, and increased communication. Waldron is hoping that by speeding up the pace, Seattle can exploit a back-peddling defense from the sounds of it. This should lead to more yards-after-the-catch, big plays, and a more explosive feel to the team, which Pete Carroll has always stressed he wants in the past.
In saying all this, Seattle won’t be abandoning the run, though. In fact, The Sean McVay-led Rams have been one of the run-heaviest teams in the league under his reign. Unlike Seattle, though, the Rams are more finesse than a true power team. By utilizing pre-snap motion and tempo, the Rams have maximized the production they get in the running game. Seattle has tended to be a more slow-going team, using clearer running formations and signaling to the opposing sideline what their intention is. This is all fine and dandy when Seattle had Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, but it has been much more difficult to churn out steady production these last couple of years. A McVay-inspired change should yield better results while satisfying Carroll, who tends to lean on the run game when things get dicey.
On the flip side, Seattle decided to keep the embattled Ken Norton Jr. to control the defense. That side of the ball was equally as topsy-turvy as the offense, only in reverse. It started as one of the worst units in football history, and the pass defense was torn apart during the first nine weeks of the season by just about anyone who registered a pulse. But, a reinsertion of a healthy Jamal Adams and the acquisition of Carlos Dunlap invigorated a moribund pass rush to the point that the pass defense was, at least, kind of a strength by the end of the season. While Pete Carroll will always take a guiding hand to the side of the ball that made his name, nothing about Norton’s past really gives confidence that Seattle will perform one way or the other.
It will have to be the personnel more than anything that dictates whether Seattle can sniff a top-10 defensive finish by the end of the season. Jamal Adams should be a huge part of that; unfortunately, his no-show to OTA’s has led some to speculate whether or not the former all-pro safety will stage a holdout for a long-term contract. Those can get ugly, as Seattle only has to look into its own history to see how drama with a player as important as Adams can be. In the 2015 season, starting strong safety and defensive captain Kam Chancellor pushed for a new contract, to the point he sat out the entire offseason and the first two games to declare his intent. In response, the Seahawks started an undrafted safety (the immortal Dion Bailey) in his place to open the season to disastrous results. After a promise from the front office that they would restructure his deal, Chancellor came back and returned the once historic defense to its place amongst the most feared in the NFL. Long story short, quit messing around with Adams. You already gave up an excess of picks for the guy, give him his deal and let the team as a whole concentrate on the upcoming season.
The rest of the secondary will be the most drastic change in defensive philosophy. With the departure of pro-bowler Shaquille Griffin this offseason, Seattle no longer has a cornerback room dominated by height and length. Tre Flowers and Akhello Witherspoon are both over 6’2”, but Seattle’s best corners last season, according to PFF (DJ Reed and Ugo Amadi), both stand at 5’9”. Same for Seattle’s fourth-round draft pick Tre Brown. Unless Flowers has a massive leap in ability this coming season, Seattle will have two or three cornerbacks below 6 feet on the field at all times. Throw in free safety Quandre Diggs (also 5’9”), and Seattle will have a defensive backfield built on speed and quickness rather than physical dominance. A legion of zoom rather than a legion of boom, if you will.
Along the defensive line, there are some sure things mixed with a whole lot of question marks. Carlos Dunlap returns to the Seahawks on a cheaper deal after leading the line in sacks in the back half of the season. Seattle’s best defensive linemen, Poona Ford, will once again clog the middle while having an underrated impact in the pass rush by pushing the pocket. The solid yet unimpressive Benson Mayowa is back to chip in his normal 5-7 sacks, while young bucks LJ Collier and Alton Robinson will look to build off of solid opening campaigns. The line will be fine, but where it could take a real step forward is with the new pieces that will be integrated. Kerry Hyder joins the team from the rival 49ers after an 8.5 sack season, and Seattle will look to kick him inside on passing downs ala Michael Bennett. Aldon Smith will (maybe) join the team that he once inspired fear into, but his offseason troubles and inconsistent return to the league casts doubt on whether he’ll give Seattle anything this year. Most promising will be the debut of Darrell Taylor, who many thought could be the second-best pass rusher in his draft class. What’s new about all this is that Seattle isn’t hitching their wagon to a single-star rusher as they did in the past with Jadaveon Clowney, Frank Clark, and Jamal Adams. Dunlap is expected to be the team’s top rusher, but with the additions of Hyder, Taylor, and the return of Mayowa, the team’s sack output should be much more balanced than in past years.
Once the epitome of consistency, the linebacker crew can no longer be relied on in terms of stability. GM John Schneider and Pete Carroll chose to say goodbye to Seahawk legend KJ Wright this offseason. While still technically a free agent, the fact that he’s not participating in Seattle’s offseason program at this point would indicate that they are moving forward with 2020 first-rounder Jordyn Brooks. An athletic marvel, Brooks is a far cry from KJ Wright in terms of playstyle. The heady veteran combined smarts and superior coverage ability to still make an impact this late in his career, while Brooks leans on his physical tools instead. His tragic Pro Football Focus coverage grade attests to this, as does the fact he struggled to play regular snaps in his inaugural season. If he’s able to get to speed on the game’s mental aspects, he could be an emerging star for this defense. But it’ll be a very different feel to what Seahawks fans have grown to know and love from their outside linebacker.
Seattle is bound to look different from their classic teams this season, on both sides of the ball. The presence of Jamal Adams will mean the Seahawks will continue to lean on the blitz, causing all supporting players on the defense to operate differently. Corner’s will press, linebackers will be asked to cover, and Quandre Diggs will be operating on an island. On offense, Waldron will deploy Russell Wilson and company in a much more innovative way than before. Much more catch-and-run plays, stretch runs to the outside, and tempo will define Waldron’s early era. If it works, Seattle could once again be a feared power in the NFC. If not, expect Pete Carroll to step back in and revert to tried and true methods to produce an unimpressively successful result.